In reality, Melbourne’s offerings extend in all directions – especially west.
Footscray is a perfect example. This quintessential western suburb offers a cornucopia of hearty, healthy and delicious cuisine – from countless different cultures. The suburb’s first wave of new arrivals came in the form of settlers searching for gold. They moved onto land whose traditional owners, the Kulin, had resided for thousands of years.
Since then, successive waves of migrants have begun to call Footscray home. Post-World War II Greek and Italian communities were followed by Serbian, Macedonian and Croatian arrivals.
In the 1970’s a strong Vietnamese population grew in the suburb soon followed by families from East Africa. Unsurprisingly, the hugely diverse community makes Footscray one of the most fascinating food destinations in Australia.
One of the suburb’s most prominent champions is Lauren Wambach, whose Footscray Food Blog introduces people to tasty treats in the west.
When Lauren moved into Footscray eight years ago there was little writing on the area’s cuisine. “Food blogs were all about fabulous places in the city and fine dining, but there wasn’t really anything in the west,” she said. “But I very quickly fell in love. It had that thing I craved, which was a really beautiful and rich multicultural area.”
Lauren said she appreciates the fact that there’s so much variety in the suburb’s cuisine, which is broad enough to support regional variations in national cuisines.
“I just love that borek in the western suburbs can mean so many different things,” she said. “You can have Macedonian borek, which is beautiful homemade pastry layered with ricotta, or you can have Turkish borek, which is Turkish bread that encloses Turkish salami and egg. The fact that you get so many variations in the west just goes to show how diverse our community is.”
Coca-Cola Amatil’s business development executive for the area, Glen Hutchinson, gets to sample the best of the region’s cuisine as part of his working day. He’s a familiar face in Footscray’s Vietnamese restaurants. “They all tell me they’ve got the best noodle soup, so I go around and try all the noodle soups,” he said. “It’s pretty tough.”
Iraqi families come from all across Melbourne to eat the food Qzim Abdullah learned to cook at his father’s restaurant back home. “The families in here, they’re Iraqi,” he said, gesturing to tables sharing curries, fish and lamb cooked over coal. “We use different spices. Indian, Bengali curries, they use the same spices. But my style’s different - the spices are much different.”
There’s so much on offer in Footscray that you could eat a different cuisine every day of the week – and then some. But it doesn’t mean you can’t have your favourites. “No, no, no,” laughed Qzim. “I still eat my own food!”