“We dream big. We want to change the culture of Melbourne and the way we think about food and its connection to place and people.”

Sarah May

It’s a universal truth that food is the cornerstone of culture. The memories they conjure, the connections they create, the communities they build … Food plays a critical role in our lives. This is perhaps never as important as it is for migrants, as food serves as a beautiful reminder of – and connection to – home.

It is this idea that inspired the development of Aunty Spices, a Melbourne based social enterprise that connects food, culture and storytelling. Run by migrants and the children of migrants, Aunty Spices highlights the true cuisines of Melbourne, with profits being put towards the social inclusion of migrant women in Australia.

Co-founder Sarah May – a second generation Chinese-Australian – grew up with a mother who travelled to and from Wuhan in China as a migration agent. “The migrant experience was a huge part of my childhood and my story,” she said. “But even so, I don’t think I could ever understand the true process of migration. The shadowing of expectation, the unknown, the cultural differences, the shock. So we hope to support migrants and to connect with the people and the stories from which their rich culture stems.”

Aunty Spices began with this intent in mind, starting as a home-delivered spice kit. The business was formed in response to Monash University’s Leave No One Behind startup competition, which they went on to win. The program supported Sarah and her partners in developing and testing a social enterprise idea that improves social inclusion in Victoria. According to Sarah, it equipped them with critical innovation and entrepreneurship skills enabling them to solve some of today’s most complex social challenges. All while tackling some of the growing disadvantages and inequality in Victoria.

Today, Aunty Spices is a one-stop shop for curious foodies to immerse themselves in Melbourne’s diverse cuisines, with a selection of offerings alongside their spice kids, including live tutorials and stories from the migrants who have developed their recipes. Their website boldly states: “We dream big. We want to change the culture of Melbourne and the way we think about food and its connection to place and people.”

Sarah also feels passionately that Aunty Spices provides a space and an opportunity for migrant mothers to have something of their own. “Migration can be really isolating,” she said. “And as a mother, you’re not necessarily able to get out into the community as easily. We wanted to highlight that reality and explore how to help, which landed us in food. Aunty Spices celebrates the everyday meals that women make for their families, that are surrounded by memories.”

When it comes to her own memories around food, Sarah ashamedly admits that as a child, she rejected traditional Chinese food, and veered directly toward the options most young children favour – the golden arches! “It was a lack of understanding about where I came from,” she said. “But when I became a teenager, and my mum started cooking for me as she was around more, I started to develop a fascination with my Chinese heritage and the context around food. How you source it, where you find it, how you cook it. It’s the little special moments that connect you to your heritage and bring the past to the present.”

The future is looking up for Aunty Spices, and the team are particularly excited about being included in Made By Many Hands. “We’re looking forward to the affirmation and confidence that this platform will provide us with,” Sarah said. “And the ability create an explicit connection with other migrant businesses, and of course, more Aunties with more recipes to share.”

Published by Amy Malpass-Hahn, Freelance writer