Want to take a trip around the world in a single day? Just start walking around Melbourne.
With over 140 nations represented and 251 languages spoken in Melbourne’s diverse neighbourhoods, it’s one of the world’s most harmoniously blended cities. From the first wave of European settlers in the 1830s to the fourth wave of Vietnamese and Cambodian migrants in the 1970s, Melbourne’s welcomed residents from around the globe with open arms. Today that includes a lively mix of international students.
Whether you’re a born and bred Melbournian or coming to study from abroad, being a student in Melbourne is an exciting experience. The city’s diversity means that there’s no shortage of new cuisines to try, music festivals to attend, and complex art to admire. We’ve spoken to three locals to find out how to best take advantage of Melbourne’s worldly vibes.
Guide Monique Bayer is the owner of Walk Melbourne Tours, making her an expert in finding the hidden nooks and crannies that make Melbourne so special. Her tour company puts an emphasis on the city’s diverse food and coffee culture, and she states that ‘we showcase what Melbourne does like nowhere else through coffee, dumplings, rooftop bars and sweet treats, all while exploring Melbourne’s famous laneways and arcades.’
With so many cultures represented, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Melbournians love to try new experiences. Bayer says that the reason why Melbourne’s food culture is so remarkable is due to ‘Melbournians! It’s only because they are willing to go out, experiment and explore with their food and drink that allows chefs and baristas the opportunity to offer the vast range of high quality things to try!’ At the same time, having access to so many cultural opportunities means that ‘Melbournians are curious, discerning and self-effacing. If you’re not doing a great job, you’ll pretty soon be cancelled out.’
She sees little downside to living in a melting pot like Melbourne, stating only that there is ‘too much choice! But seriously, all this exciting food and drink comes at a cost.’ Fortunately, cash-strapped students still have plenty of chances to dine out on a budget. Monique mentions that ‘You can also get food at all price levels and you can eat out at each meal. Breakfast is a big deal, especially on weekends and brunch food can be incredibly sophisticated.’ Exploring Melbourne’s varied suburbs can yield tempting treats for adventurous eaters, as Monique suggests to explore the ‘laneways and arcades to find the food treasures’, and also that ‘you can also have some really fun experiences if you head to Chinatown in the area between Swanston and Russell St – from Chinese dumplings to Japanese ramen to Thai curries.’
Another cash-saving tip that provides the chance to really soak up Melbourne’s multicultural flair is to ‘Head to the markets! Footscray, South Melbourne, Prahran and Queen Victoria Market just to name a few… the night noodle markets held each November are great. You might also like to follow a few of the food trucks on social media and check out where they are. Often the food is inexpensive and on trend.’
Andrea Palacios is CEO of Blue Studies International, an organisation founded in 2006 to help place international students in schools in Australia and support them along the way. As Andrea states, ‘At Blue Studies International, we change the way international students experience their studies overseas by empowering them to achieve their personal and professional goals.’ This puts her in a good position to discuss Melbourne’s international influences, particularly as she first came to Australia as an international student from Colombia herself. She notes that foreign students have the impression of Melbourne being ‘safe, multicultural but the weather is temperamental!’
In Andrea’s experience, Melbourne is a perfect place for international students. She says that ‘Melbourne is clean, green, welcoming, friendly, multicultural and open. Its people are very friendly and helpful and it is a safe place to be. The opportunities are abundant and the resources are plenty.’ The only downside to such a wide range of cultures in one place is that ‘you have to be open minded and accept different cultures and its behaviours, some of these things could be cultural shock but it is part of living in a multicultural city.’
Students who want to get out and explore this side of Melbourne have numerous options. Andrea believes that the blend of cultures is apparent in every corner of the city: ‘from Fitzroy to Footscray, St Kilda to Brighton and beyond. My favourite is Fitzroy, a place where you can really experience an exciting blend of cultures – I had Ethiopian food and Kenyan beer just the other day!’
While an obvious way to experience Melbourne’s international culture is through its food and drink, Andrea also mentions the array of cultural events. ‘There are festivals all year round from different cultures and they aren’t hard to find – Greek Festival, Spanish movie festival among many others. Melbourne is the best place to taste foods from different countries, learn about different customs – folklore, see and experience different activities such as folk music, theatre, performances and so on. A big one that integrates all the cultures is Moomba festival in March, held every year.’
Food blogger Agnes explores Melbourne’s exciting culinary scene at her website, Off the Spork. Originally from New Zealand, she finds Melbourne’s diversity to be an exciting new experience. ‘Coming from NZ, where there isn’t the same amount of cuisines available, the first time I ate at an Ethiopian restaurant was eye opening. Not only was it delicious, but the whole concept of everyone eating with their hands from a shared platter, as well as consuming the ‘plate’ (the injera bread) was great.’
She seconds Monique’s suggestion to go out for breakfast, saying that ‘There’s also a strong café culture – Melbournians love their brunches!’ This includes the coffee, which she describes as ‘generally excellent.’
In addition to brunch, Agnes suggests that students interested in dining out on a budget visit the lesser-known neighbourhoods. ‘If you stay out of the trendy suburbs, it’s much more affordable to eat out! Sometimes good quality and cheap can be found together… I’m going to give a plug to Footscray, since I live close enough to consider it my backyard.’
If you’re interested in trying out the latest food trends in Melbourne, Agnes says that ‘In the past couple of years, Korean, and Latin American food have been on the rise. Also American comfort food, although that might not be a moment but a permanent fixture.’
Overall, this passionate foodie gives Melbourne’s dining scene top marks, stating that ‘it’s vibrant, interesting, with a great range of different cuisines and cultures, spanning from quick cheap eats to high end fine dining. Basically there’s something for everyone – you could eat out every day and never get bored.’
Get Out and Explore
Clearly, a good way to experience Melbourne’s diversity is through its food, according to these local experts. Don’t miss a trip to markets like the Queen Victoria and Footscray for enticing cuisine, music, and art.
A varied calendar of festivals takes place throughout the year in Melbourne as well, including the Indonesia Street Festival, Buddha’s Day, and South East Asia Festival. Many of these take place in public areas including Federation Square and offer free entry. The Immigration Museum is another good place to learn more about Melbourne’s international past, present, and future, hosting lively events and special exhibitions. International adventure is just around every corner in Melbourne, making it a dynamic place for students to learn and explore.