As far as cultural diversity in food goes, the Australian spotlight has always shone strongly on Sydney and Melbourne, leaving the Sunshine Coast a little in the dark.
But according to new social trends, as the multicultural makeup of the traditionally ‘white’ Queensland region is changing, so too is the food.
A spokesperson from the Sunshine Coast Regional Council tells SBS that although Australia as a whole is culturally diverse, multiculturalism is a relatively new trend that’s growing at a fast rate in the region. In 2016, six per cent of the population came from non-English speaking backgrounds. While this figure may seem small, the increase is significant: the number of people from a non-English speaking background rose by over 26 per cent in the five years prior.
It’s this boom in diversity that’s helping to make a huge mark on the region’s food offerings.
“The region is definitely becoming more diverse. It’s just like a flower that’s starting to open up.”
Member of the council’s Sunshine Coast Multicultural Advisory Group, Dr Beverly Kabuya Muito, moved to Buderim from Kenya over three years ago. She recalls how she struggled with the lack of diversity in restaurant offerings when she first arrived in the Sunshine Coast.
“For the longest time after we arrived in the Sunshine Coast, we did not see any other black people,” Dr Muito tells SBS. “My daughter was the only black kid or ‘other’ [non-Anglo person] in the whole school.
“At that time, there were not a lot of international restaurant options in the area. There was really only one Thai and Indian restaurant. If you wanted to go out and buy some quick and cheap cultural food, like $10 dumplings, you couldn’t. But now we have that and more.”
She adds that even though her family is still the only black family in town, “these days you can now see more of the ‘other’ group: people who are not completely white like Asians and those of mixed race”.
“The region is definitely becoming more diverse. It’s just like a flower that’s starting to open up. I remain hopeful that one day soon, I’ll get a Kenyan restaurant to eat at along the Sunshine Coast.”
A council spokesperson tells SBS the Sunshine Coast population currently represents 156 countries, 45 faiths and 96 languages. Spoken languages emerging on the Sunshine Coast are Mandarin, Punjabi, Afrikaans and Korean.
“It’s assured that international migration and visitation is not going to slow down, and the multicultural horizon of the Sunshine Coast is going to expand rapidly,” the Sunshine Coast Regional Council spokesperson tells SBS.
To cater for the growing population, more culturally diverse restaurants are being built to give diners more food choices than just modern Australian. Take The Wharf in Mooloolaba: it’s a new eating precinct that features Latin, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Greek restaurants. The Ocean Street area in Maroochydore also offers Mediterranean, Peruvian, Middle Eastern, Indian and Japanese options.
“If you walk around the Ocean Street mall around 3pm, you’ll also see some of the chefs and hospitality staff from the restaurants on a break,” says Dr Muito. “You’ll see that some of them are not white. So even in that way, businesses in the Sunshine Coast are starting to accept an international influence.”
General manager of Food and Agribusiness Network – Sunshine Coast region, Emma Greenhatch, explains that only good things can flow from further cultural diversity.
She says food tourism has become a new focus for local farmers, restaurateurs and small producers. “From a food industry perspective, we have so many incredible food producers here, but most of Australia and the world doesn’t know about them yet.
"They don’t have an awareness of the region itself and what’s coming out of here. But there are a lot of different ingredients grown around here, like native bush foods, and subtropical fruits like dragon fruit and lychees.”
Greenhatch is hanging her hopes on one big event that could be set to make the Sunshine Coast synonymous with food tourism. It’s a new culinary festival titled The Curated Plate that will take place across multiple locations in the region from 5-15 August.
“The Curated Plate will put the spotlight on the region as an emerging foodie destination,” says Greenhatch. “Across the whole program, there’ll be a host of events with big name chefs that will attract primarily an interstate audience. It will be important so people realise there’s so much more to the Sunshine Coast than just Noosa.”
Celebrating the relationship between chef and producer, the festival focuses on food experiences to promote the quality of regional produce. But what’s interesting is the strong international flavour of the festival, which pushes the region’s growing interest in diverse foods.
Japan’s Zaiyu Hasegawa (from restaurant Den) is being flown in for the festival. Argentine chef and Sunshine Coast local, Alejandro Cancino, will also participate in a number of festival events, along with New Zealander, Monique Fiso, who’s known for making headway to revive Maori cuisine.
While all the big names are exciting, Greenhatch is most thrilled about the festival’s The Food Fair event in Maroochydore from 9-11 August, which aims to celebrate local food producers and artisans, from people of all cultural backgrounds.
“It will be a mini-festival with market-style setup where lots of producers provide attendees with food samples. There’ll be chef demos, talks, music and food.”
Overseas born exhibitors will showcase cheeses and African foods, while Indigenous flavours will feature at the fair. Joseph Shaich Yusuf from Falafel Baraka will be at the food fair, selling homemade falafels, Middle Eastern sweets and traditional dips created with locally sourced ingredients.
“I want to introduce people to our culture through the food we are making,” says Shaich Yusuf. “So the falafel I cook for my family is the same as the falafel I cook at the markets I visit, and the same falafel that I will offer people to taste at The Curated Plate.”
Shaich Yusuf, who was born in Jerusalem, tells SBS he’s been living in the Sunshine Coast for three years. Over that time, he says, he’s seen multiculturalism and an interest in foreign foods grow. By selling falafel at The Curated Plate, he hopes to foster a greater sense of harmony between people from the Middle East living in the Sunshine Coast and Australian-born locals.
“The first question people ask you about the Middle East ‘is it safe there?’ I tell them that Jerusalem is not just what they see on the news – there’s so much more to it than that and there are so many nice people there.”
“I want to introduce people to our culture through the food we are making.”
While Shaich Yusuf says he’s looking forward to being part of the first Curated Plate, he’s more excited about how the festival could change the culinary fabric of the increasingly diverse Sunshine Coast.
“I believe that, in some ways, it will make the Sunshine Coast a food destination. I think the festival will make people [who live here] start to think more about different types of food. In a few more years, it will just be a different place here.” In other words, he says, watch this space.
To find out more about The Curated Plate, click here.