1980s New Asian food choices

Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash

With the White Australia Policy firmly in the past new Asian food choices emerged on the restaurant scene. The arrival of refugees from Vietnam saw Vietnamese restaurants opening in Melbourne and Sydney.  Although the first Japanese restaurant in Australia opened as early as 1953,  it wasn’t until the mid-’80s that Japanese food became mainstream.

Following the collapse of the South Vietnam regime and the end of the war in 1975, Vietnamese refugees began to arrive in Australia. They formed communities in the Melbourne suburbs of Richmond, Footscray, and Springvale, and the Sydney suburbs of Cabramatta, Canley Vale, and Canley Heights.  Soon restaurants appeared catering to the new arrivals and offering dishes new to Australian palates, such as bánh mì, phở and gỏi cuốn (rice paper rolls).

The first Vietnamese restaurant in Cabramatta, according to food writer Emma Do, was Pho Tau Bay, which opened on Park Street in 1980 after some years of operating in someone’s garage. I can no longer find confirmation that the first Vietnamese restaurant in Melbourne was the Kinh Do in Hartwell, but in the early 1980s many such restaurants sprang up along Victoria Street in Richmond.

The new Asian food choices included Thai food. While the first restaurants appeared in the ’70s, Thai cuisine enjoyed immense popularity in the 1980s.  Chinese restaurants, too, were being transformed with many beginning to offer upmarket decor and sophisticated menus that went beyond the Aussie-oriented sweet and sour.

Kuni’s menu

Japanese food also increased in popularity during this time. The earliest Japanese restaurants, catering largely for visiting businessmen, had opened in Sydney in the late 1950s and the 1960s. In Melbourne, Sukiyaki House opened in 1970,  Teppanyaki House in 1975.  Kuni’s Japanese restaurant was opened in 1977 by Kunihiro Ichikawa, who came to Australia as a student in 1974. It was one of the earliest Japanese restaurants in Melbourne to offer a full menu including the (then challenging) sashimi and sushi. But it was during the 1980s that, like other new Asian food choices, Japanese food was embraced by Australian diners.

By the end of the 1980s, the ability to use chopsticks was becoming an important social skill in an increasingly multicultural dining scene.

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