Representing Chinese-Australian Food in Regional New South Wales

Mandarin Palace in Lismore bizarrely advertises that it serves Australian & Chinese food… and yet it exclusively has Chinese items on their menu. The manager and servers are all Anglo-Australian.

On the one hand – what is “Australian” food? Diverse Indigenous foods are our only unique cuisine – but most non-Indigenous Australians do not eat these regularly. Aside for a few novel culinary inventions by Anglo-Australian hybrid cultures, the rest of what is considered Australian is a local mish-mash of migrant dishes. In this sense, what is considered “Chinese food” in Australia is not part of “traditional” or modern meals from China.

On the other hand, are the owners catering a little to xenophobic people who want to eat Chinese food without thinking they’re eating Chinese food? This is common in the area where I grew up, where people were intensively racist of all people of colour, but still like eating their foods.

The latter is what Australian sociologists Zlatko Skrbis and Ian Woodward might call cosmopolitanism (picking and choosing parts of other cultures without full acceptance) as opposed to multiculturalism (embracing and celebrating difference). In this sense, food is an important marker of ethnicity and Otherness.