Even for a medium-sized city like Brisbane, Fortitude Valley’s Chinatown is small. And sometimes surprisingly sedate on a busy Friday or Saturday night.
But maybe that’s because the city’s actual Chinatown is 16 kilometres south, in Sunnybank. That’s what Lisa Smith reckons anyway. “People definitely call us the real Chinatown of Brisbane,” she says. “But then Chinatown is wonderful as well. We both have something to offer.”
Smith is the marketing manager for Sunnybank Plaza and Sunny Park shopping centres. But she’s also the organiser of the Sunnybank $2 Food Trail, as well as a bona-fide local, having grown up and gone to school in the area. While Smith doesn’t disagree that Sunnybank is the “real Chinatown” of Brisbane, she also thinks that, in 2016, it’s a far too narrow way to define the area.
Modern Sunnybank arguably started with an influx of Taiwanese migrants in the late 1980s, attracted to Australia by the government’s business migration program (Queensland now has the largest Taiwanese population in Australia, with the majority of them based in Brisbane). Since then, successive waves of Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian and mainland Chinese migrants have diversified the area and its sprawling collection of shopping centres. Sunnybank Plaza, Sunny Park and the competing Market Square house more than 100 restaurants between them.
“You can feel like a tourist in your own town, walking around here,” Smith says. “It’s an experience that’s grown organically and word has gotten out about that.”
Hence the Sunnybank $2 Food Trail. Introduced in November 2014, the concept is simple: over one afternoon and evening, local restaurants and vendors offer samples of their best dishes for just $2. “The first trail, we had about 6000 people in attendance and 22 outlets involved, and it exceeded our expectations,” Smith says. “Word got out and people jumped on the following winter trail; 20,000 people came from all over the region with 30 vendors getting involved. It’s just continued to grow from there.”
The success hasn’t been just in the numbers, the food trail nabbing a clutch of domestic and regional shopping-centre association accolades — impressive for what are relatively small centres.
This Saturday’s event is projected to attract more than 20,000 people, sampling the wares of more than 40 local restaurants, all offering mini dishes such as noodle soups, barbecue stir-fries and deep-fried dim sum, all priced at $2 a serve. The event will also include live entertainment and the addition of two Asahi-sponsored bars.
Could you do this anywhere else in Brisbane? Smith is emphatic: “No. Let me tell you, a few people have thought about it,” she laughs. “We have something no one else has, with the size and authenticity of the offering. Maybe in the southern cities … [but] we’ve had people comment on how well it works in Brisbane, just in terms of how integrated the cultures are here. Everyone is making the most of the diversity in Brisbane in a positive way.”
The Sunnybank $2 Food Trail takes place this Saturday June 18 from 2pm to 8pm at Sunnybank Plaza and Sunny Park shopping centres.