Each year, more and more Victorians are spending time in the western suburbs of Melbourne. And one of the main reasons is food.
With its popular market and banh mi shops, Footscray might come to mind first, but what about making your way just a bit further, to Sunshine? Like Footscray, Sunshine has a large Vietnamese population, but the suburb is even more diverse, with a mix of migrants from 138 different ancestries.
“It started off with migrants from Europe, the Pacific Islands and Vietnam. And then, newer migrants came from India, Afghanistan, Africa and Burma. It’s reflected in the food options. You can walk down the street and you can have anything from Vietnamese to African to Indian to Ethiopian to Afghan, all on the main road,” explains Carson Luk, the Sunshine Business Association president.
His mum runs Xuan Banh Cuon, their bustling family restaurant specialising in Northern Vietnamese cuisine.
“When we started the restaurant, we didn’t really know what we were doing but we got a lot of help from the community. If we ran out of meat because we didn’t anticipate the demand, we’d call up the local butcher and 10 minutes later, he would rock up with the meat we needed. It happened with the vegetable and grocery people, too,” recalls Luk. “I was really overwhelmed by the community spirit and togetherness.”
Until recently, Sunshine had the reputation of being unsafe. “Our community struggled with various things, but the way we united to overcome these struggles is what gave me a good impression of the area,” says Luk. From a revamped train station to additional lighting and security, the council and community have worked together to improve the situation.
“The majority of the 80 or so restaurants and cafes in Sunshine are small businesses, family businesses, [run] by mum or dad with the kids in the background. There’s heart and soul,” says Luk.
Classic Curry, a Northern Indian restaurant, is one of these family-owned businesses. Aashu Vasudeva’s parents had been operating the original restaurant in North Melbourne since 1995; a decade ago, they decided to open a second location in Sunshine. “We felt it was the new market that would be booming, which is happening now,” she says. “In ten years, it changed quite a bit. There’s a lot more people, working-class people and families.”
"You can walk down the street and you can have anything from Vietnamese to African to Indian to Ethiopian to Afghan, all on the main road.”
Most Sunshine restaurants and cafes are concentrated together, which makes them easily accessible by car or public transport. Once you’re there, you can create your own food tour and walk between all the restaurants.
A few dishes you don’t want to miss: banh cuon with ground pork and wood ear mushroom (at Xuan Banh Cuon), Ethiopian siga watt with injera (at Gojo), Persian date omelette (at Cafe Sunshine and SalamaTea), a bowl of bun bo Hue (at Co Do), curries and rice on banana leaf (at Panjali Malaysian and Indian Restaurant) and various sweets (at Afghan Shaheen). And don’t forget to stock up on fresh produce at the fruit and seafood markets.
“Sunshine is a very good place with different restaurants and very reasonable prices. It’s multicultural, close to the city, close to everything. It’s not only restaurants but also grocery stores and markets,” says Gojo owner Daniel Alemar.
If you’re not sure where to start, Sunshine Food Fever is back this month as part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. The guided tour will take you to three restaurants; Gojo, Classic Curry and NNB Dessert House. “It allows us to showcase our culture and people get to experience a lot of the world in a couple of hours,” says Vasudeva.