Recently I undertook a walk along Lygon Street, Melbourne’s first Italian foodscape, established by migrants in the 1950s.
Despite the introduction of other food cultures, the street largely retains its Italian origins. As I walked, I smelled roasting coffee beans from cafes and wafts of garlic and tomato from kitchens. I heard Italian spoken amongst restaurant staff. I observed that many of the traditional family restaurants are run down, there are tired touts and empty storefronts. The food I tasted at Universal was generic Australianised Italian food that I know, due to my travels in Italy, bears little resemblance to real Italian cuisine. To me, the street evokes a sense of faded glory, the remains of a once-vibrant community.
Lygon Street is not a particularly nostalgic place for me. As a family, we largely avoided it. We believed the venues were of poor quality and either overpriced or too cheap, catering for tourists or university students. Brunettis was the only place worth crossing town for.
This remains true today. However, I did notice attempts to reinvent and reinvigorate the street with contemporary Italian arrivals such as Pidapipo and Baker D Chirico.
Ultimately, Lygon Street is a reminder of culinary xenophobic 20th century Melbourne.
In modern-day multicultural Melbourne, Italian cuisine is normalised. Italian restaurants have proliferated and Italian food is a feature of Australian home cooking. This is consistent with Ashley et al’s thesis that the national diet is an adaptable concept that absorbs foreign influences. The stagnation of Lygon Street thus indicates the successful integration of Italian food and culture into a broader Australian cuisine and identity. Nowadays, Lygon Street is of little culinary relevance.
Anderson, Lara. “Migrant foodscapes: Lecture 5,” Euro20007: A Taste of Europe (Parkville, The University of Melbourne, 10 February 2017).
Ashley, Bob, Joanne Hollows, Steve Jones and Ben Taylor. “Chapter 5: The National Diet.” Food and Cultural Studies, London: Routledge, 2004, 75-89.
Lygon Street sign: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2008/11/03/1225560694903.html.
Featured image: http://villanuffkaviews.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/carlton-italian-festa-2015.html.
Other photos are the property of the author.