Learn what makes your heart beat.
Melbourne’s Chinatown has such a vibrant character in that stepping into its chaotic streets feels as if you’ve entered a different continent. The colours, the smells, the rich architecture and history will give you a full experience of a wholly different culture.
The food scene is definitely alive in this Asian hub, with a plethora of wonders waiting to be discovered. There’s a lot to be excited about, but it can also be daunting at the same time. Which is why in time for Chinese New Year, we chat with food expert Allan of Melbourne Food Experiences to share his insider knowledge of some of Chinatown’s classic favourites and must-visit streets. Read on and you might just find it easier to score a delicious meal next time you visit Chinatown and then, soon realise: There’s no place quite like it.
Hey Allan. First of all, I’m curious how you got into the industry of providing food experiences.
My background has always been in food. I was a chef here in Melbourne for many, many years. I’ve also been a food writer and critic, and I also write cookbooks and food guides all about Melbourne.
In 2002, I was asked by the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival to run some food tours. At the time, food tours were a very new aspect for the city, we didn’t really have them. It was a lot of fun for a couple of weeks, then people kept asking if we were going to run them again. And then from there, it just grew and grew and grew!
I understand your food tours go through Chinatown?
Yes! Chinatown is a feature of Melbourne Food Tour 1 and 2. In the tours, we talk about the history of the area, how it’s changed and what makes it exciting and vibrant today. We have many tastings along the way, we taste a variety of incredible Chinese food, and also including these amazing Indian samosas from a family who have been making them in Chinatown for over 40 years.
Chinatown is also the hub for some fantastic hidden cocktail bars. So we make sure our visitors find out about those as well.
What’s the best time of year to visit Chinatown?
Well, Chinatown is a hub that’s always exciting, there’s always people, it’s always bustling. That’s the great thing about it. Whenever parts of the city are quiet, Chinatown never is! Which is why I love it.
What are some things one should see or do in Chinatown?
Another unmissable thing would be to have a Chinese egg custard tart at Maxim’s Bakery in Little Bourke Street. That’s my top 3.
How different is Melb’s Chinatown from other Chinatowns?
Melbourne Chinatown has been kind of boosted by international students and what they required was affordable food. So the explosion of affordable food and of amazing variety in the last 10 years has done a lot to boost this hub.
What do the people who come on to the tours have in common?
People who come to the tours really want to get a taste of Melbourne, be with a real local food expert, and get up-to-date with the latest and greatest food places.
Could you round up your key reasons why one should join your food tours?
People will get a real taste of Melbourne, and we take you to find the hidden gems in this food city. We bring you to this wonderful underground tea shop, which people wouldn’t know was even there, unless someone takes you. You’ll get a taste of what is hands-down, the best gelato in Melbourne–
Oh! Which gelato place is that?
Oh, I can’t tell you. You’ll have to come to one of the tours, haha! But yeah, our guides are really amazing locals who are very knowledgeable about the stories, the chefs, and the history of the Melbourne food scene. One of our guides, Cam Smith, is the host of a food radio show that’s been running for over 30 years. So imagine having someone like that to hang out with and talk you through food for four hours!
People learn so many stories and walk away absolutely inspired and excited about Melbourne. They just can’t wait to bring friends back to visit the restaurants, bars and food shops. They get to enjoy the city over the weeks and months ahead based on what they learned from that one tour!
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