Stepping Stone for Migrants? The Reality of Chinese Food Delivery Apps in Australia

Located in the heart of Sydney’s inner west, Burwood Chinatown has branded itself as a modern Asian food paradise that provides the ‘best authentic Asian street food’.[1] Unlike its counterpart in Sydney’s CBD—which centres on a pedestrian laneway that begins and ends with two 50-year-old red ceremonial gates—the younger, vibrant Burwood Chinatown is a two-level shopping plaza–turned–food court. It features instagrammable neon signs of Chinese internet slang hanging from the ceiling, street food stalls in between grey brick walls, along with several mascot sculptures of giant pandas in yellow hoodies.

As years passed, Sydney’s original Chinatown no longer served as a community hub, gradually becoming a cultural attraction for local and international visitors alike. At the same time, Burwood grew to become one of the suburbs where large numbers of the Chinese diaspora live, along with Sydney’s Chatswood and Melbourne’s Box Hill.

Inside Burwood Chinatown, the signs of Chinese specialist delivery apps are everywhere. (Source: Wing Kuang)

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 48.8 percent of the population in Burwood is of Chinese ancestry, with 29.9 percent born in China.[2] With 16.6 percent of the population aged 25 to 29 years, more than three times higher than the New South Wales average, the suburb is dominated not just by recent migrants from mainland China but also by students and young working professionals.[3] The demographic skew of Burwood has led to its vibrant Chinatown and paved the way for one of the most rapidly developed sectors in Australia: online food delivery.

Since 2016, the online food delivery sector has gone through exponential growth in Australia, accelerated by COVID-19 lockdowns. In 2023, the sector recorded AU$1.3 billion in revenue, up 180 percent over seven years, despite an ongoing cost of living crisis in the country.[4] Yet the market is highly concentrated in the hands of a few multinational companies. After the exit of UK-based delivery giant Deliveroo in November 2022 citing tough competition,[5] Australia’s food delivery market was left with three big players: UberEats (54.5 percent), Australia-founded Menulog (27.5 percent) and DoorDash (15.0 percent). Other players make up 3 percent.[6] Both UberEats and DoorDash originated in Silicon Valley.

At Burwood Chinatown, every food vendor collaborates with food delivery platforms, evident from the colourful placards of delivery platform logos at their counters and from the large posse of delivery riders in yellow or blue jackets and helmets standing and waiting in front of the food stalls, scrolling their phones, with their vehicles parked outside the plaza. However, the platforms that dominate Burwood Chinatown are not from Silicon Valley or Australia but two Asian food delivery apps: HungryPanda 熊猫外卖, which originated in the UK, and Fantuan 饭团, which originated in Canada. HungryPanda offers a choice of languages, including English, Chinese (a choice of simplified or traditional characters), Japanese and Korean, while Fantuan offers choices of English, French and Chinese (simplified or traditional characters). Despite the language options, the two platforms are dominated by Chinese-language users.

Like the physical, concrete Chinatowns that served as a one-stop community hub for the Chinese diaspora, these food delivery apps have shaped the daily experience of newly arrived Chinese migrants in Australia, especially during the pandemic. However, these delivery apps face distinctive challenges as Chinese diaspora-oriented digital platforms operating in the West, including questions about the treatment of their delivery drivers and the sustainability of the diaspora economy.

The non-Silicon Valley apps born in the West

Launched in 2017, HungryPanda was first created in the United Kingdom by former Chinese international student Eric Liu, who saw the potential of developing an online Chinese food delivery platform tailored to the needs of the Chinese diaspora community in Britain.[7] The platform expanded to France and New Zealand the following year, and in 2019 it was launched in the United States and Australia. As the app expanded, it incorporated more cuisines and languages, with Asian food as its core business. The app has also attracted venture capital, including US$130 million in its Series D funding round in 2021. Today, HungryPanda claims more than six million users worldwide, partnering with more than 100,000 merchants and 80,000 delivery riders.

Despite its achievements, HungryPanda did not have a smooth start in Australia, as the country had had its own online Asian food delivery app, EASI, since 2014.[8] The Melbourne-based business claimed it had 1.5 million Australian users, worked with around 20,000 vendors and partnered with 25,000 delivery riders.[9] In March 2022, HungryPanda acquired EASI for AU$50 million, making it a leading player in specialist online food delivery service, available in nine cities and towns.

But the same month the HungryPanda–EASI deal was completed, a Canadian Chinese food delivery app also entered the Australian market. Fantuan was founded in 2014 in Vancouver, where almost 20 percent of the population are of Chinese heritage.[10] Besides Canada and Australia, the app is also available in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its Australian business mainly operates in Sydney and Melbourne. In December 2023, Fantuan secured US$40 million in Series C funding from a US grocery e-commerce company as well as investors from the United States and China.[11] The deal, along with HungryPanda’s in 2021, shows optimism from the sector about the potential of these Asian food delivery platforms and confidence in consumers from diaspora communities.

Despite roots in the West, HungryPanda and Fantuan are on a different path from Silicon Valley rivals such as Uber and Doordash. They built their businesses by specifically offering Chinese diaspora communities modern, authentic Chinese food that tastes like home. Their focus on offering services in Chinese won them loyalty from new migrants and international students still adapting to an English-speaking environment. Their growing number of users in turn helped them accumulate an increasingly long list of Chinese food vendors that also rely on the specific customer groups targeted by these delivery apps. They grew strongly during the COVID-19 lockdowns when dining out was impossible.

As elsewhere, following their initial success, they expanded their focus in Australia from Chinese food to Asian cuisine more broadly as well as local fast food chains. As specialist delivery apps they proactively court restaurants well known in the communities with the hope of being the first one to secure contracts—especially exclusivity contracts—with the restaurants, according to the food vendors I talked to.[12] Like their Silicon Valley competitors, which expanded their delivery services to grocery shopping, both HungryPanda and Fantuan have launched similar services for Asian grocery stores. In Burwood, one Asian gourmet snack shop that sells bags of marinated duck neck and other traditional Chinese snacks told me they joined these two delivery platforms ‘for convenience’, as ‘everyone is using them now’. They also actively support community events and traditional cultural festivals through sponsorships and advertising.[13]

A stepping stone for new migrants

In a Hong Kong café in Burwood, Joe and Qing (not their real names) sat with me after they finished their deliveries for the day. It was the winter of 2023, and both Joe and Qing had heard predictions of extreme heat in the upcoming months. Joe recalled that a couple of years before, during a hot summer in Sydney, he suffered damaging sunburn on his face even though he had applied sunscreen and covered his face while doing his deliveries.

Both men were in their fifties and spoke Mandarin with a strong Malaysian accent. Although news reports often describe food delivery riders as young international students and backpackers on working holiday visas,[14] a proportion of riders for these specialist delivery apps are middle-aged men like Joe and Qing who came to Australia to support their families in Malaysia, China or Taiwan. However, the size of the proportion remains unknown as there is no accurate data available. As Australia does not offer low-skill work visas, some of the riders I talked to were in complicated ‘visa-hopping’ situations in which they secure and keep their work rights through various types of temporary visa. Their visa conditions plus their poor English skills limited their employment options to farm work and other low-skill jobs. Food delivery became their stepping stone to other work.[15] The process of becoming a food delivery rider is simple: download the app, sign the job application, demonstrate valid work rights in Australia and go through road safety training on the app. Chinese-language delivery apps like HungryPanda and Fantuan are the first choice for newly arrived migrants with limited proficiency in English. Unlike international students, whose work hours are capped as part of their student visa requirements, riders like Joe and Qing deliver food as a full-time job with no limits on working hours. Many riders sign up for several platforms as they are considered contractors, not employees.

As a full-time rider, Joe told me that during the pandemic—when there was a huge shortage of migrant workers as a result of the border closures—he could earn around AU$300 for eight hours of work. Income consists of delivery fees from each order plus bonuses from the platforms for reaching a certain number of orders. Both Joe and Qing came to Australia with the hope of making more money than staying at home. Their incomes as delivery riders in Australia could not only cover their daily expenses but also support their families in Malaysia.

But making a living as riders can be challenging. Because not all orders are of the same value, to maximise their income, many riders will take several orders at a time. They might engage in ‘order-grabbing’ 抢单, by which, in addition to the orders allocated to them, riders also lay claim to unallocated orders while still in transit. Order grabbing has sparked concerns about road safety, as many riders were found scrolling their phones while riding on the road. In an interview with me, HungryPanda confirmed that they no longer allow riders to take unallocated orders along the way. They also confirmed that they have adopted a computerised system to allocate orders that avoids unfair arrangements, with human coordinators stepping in when the riders report an error.

Despite all these measures, road safety for delivery riders has been a major concern in Australia, with at least 13 riders killed on the roads since 2017 and frequent major accidents.[16] The need to complete the delivery within the required time to avoid penalties and get new orders is the main reason riders take risks on the roads.[17] Riders and labour advocates also raise questions about the speed and simplicity of the sign-up procedures.[18] When fatal accidents occur, the employment status of delivery riders as contractors makes it difficult for victims’ families to seek compensation from delivery platforms. In September 2020, HungryPanda delivery rider Xiaojun Chen died on the job in Sydney. After a two-year legal battle, his widow was finally granted AU$830,000 compensation.[19] The landmark case later pushed HungryPanda, UberEats and other key food delivery players to announce stricter road safety policies, to launch mandatory safety training sessions for new riders and to extend riders’ insurance schemes.

A delivery rider checking his phone on the road. (Source: Wing Kuang)

In October 2023, in the wake of the Labor government passing new workplace legislation that imposes minimum wage standards on gig work, Uber warned that customers would have to pay 85 percent more for food deliveries, although commentators said the claim demonstrated how badly they were underpaying their delivery riders.[20] In February 2024, Parliament approved the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Act, which said that gig workers could receive minimum wages if they demonstrate that they are engaged under a services contract and work for a digital platform with low bargaining power under the contract.[21]

While the Closing Loopholes Act sparked hopes among delivery riders for improving their working conditions, for many of them, it is too difficult to advocate for themselves in conflicts with delivery platforms. Some of them have joined the Transport Workers’ Union—the national advocacy organisation for transport workers – to defend their rights, including around safe practices. There have been protests and organised meetings with the delivery apps management, and the union has helped members to lodge fair work dismissals.

But mobilising workers unfamiliar with Australia’s legal system comes with challenges. Joe and Qing, who are both members of the Transport Workers’ Union, told me they had ‘very positive’ experiences with the union. When the union organised protests, they would share the information in the WeChat groups with other delivery riders, but only a few would end up joining them.[22] In my interview with the National Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union, Michael Kaine, he told me his organisation actively approached migrant workers to support them.[23] However, due to the fact that they were constantly on the road, it was challenging to mobilise them compared to those who work in the physical venues.

The sustainability of diaspora economy

Despite being created for the Chinese diaspora community, delivery apps like HungryPanda and Fantuan have so far avoided the ownership and data-sharing controversies that dog TikTok. While they were to some extent inspired by the success of China’s own food delivery apps Meituan 美团 and E Le Ma 饿了吗,[24] both HungryPanda and Fantuan were founded in Western countries in accordance with the laws of the United Kingdom and Canada. Although they have investors from China, their influence is limited in comparison to TikTok’s Beijing parent ByteDance.

But these specialist delivery apps might face consequences from changes in immigration policies. In December 2023, the Australian Government released a migration review that set higher barriers for international students to stay after graduation and cracked down on the abuse of student visas as a pathway to work in Australia. The review also targeted the phenomena of ‘visa-hopping’—a tactic that several of my interviewees have adopted in order to keep working in Australia legally – to prevent visa applicants from exploiting the temporary visa system.[25] It remains unknown to what extent the new migration review will affect the supply of delivery riders—where the majority of them are visa holders—in Australia. Noticeably, due to the rise of cost of living, there has been an increase of English-speaking delivery riders using and joining HungryPanda, even though the app’s primary language option is Chinese.[26] The surge echoes the growing trend of Australians working two or more jobs—including food delivery—to ease their financial burdens amid the continuous rises of interest rate in 2022 and 2023.[27] As government policies gradually put in place while Australia’s per capita recession is estimated to extend, there may be significant changes in the future of both delivery riders in Australia and the sector.[28]


[1] Burwood Chinatown, ‘Our story’, Burwood Chinatown homepage, retrieved 29 March 2024, online at:

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘2021 Burwood (NSW)’, ABS, 2021, online at:

[3] Ibid.

[4] IBIS World, ‘Online food ordering and delivery platforms in Australia – market size, industry analysis, trends and forecasts (2024–2029)’, IBIS World, August 2023, online at:

[5] Praveen Menon, ‘Britain’s Deliveroo exits Australia, citing tough competition’, Reuters, 16 November 2022, online at:

[6] IBIS World, ‘Online food ordering and delivery platforms in Australia’.

[7] HungryPanda, ‘About us’, HungryPanda, retrieved 29 March 2024, online at:

[8] Ibid.

[9] Anthony Macdonald and Kanika Sood, ‘UK’s HungryPanda buys Melbourne food delivery business Easi’, Australian Financial Review, 10 January 2022, online at:

[10] Justin McElroy, ‘Majority of metro Vancouver residents now identify as visible minority, census data shows’, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 26 October 2022, online at:

[11] Fantuan, ‘Fantuan raises $40 million series C round, led by e-commerce platform GrubMarket’, PR Newswire, 5 December 2023, online at:

[12] Wing Kuang, ‘Chinese delivery riders in Australia: They worked hard during the pandemic, then got replaced by new immigrants during post-COVID’ 澳洲華裔送餐員:疫情時用命搏,疫情後卻被新移民取代, Initium Media 端傳媒, 29 September 2023, online at:

[13] HungryPanda, ‘HungryPanda supports Dragon Boat Festival celebrations in Australia’ 熊猫外卖HugryPanda助力澳大利亚端午节活动, HungryPanda, 24 June 2023, online at:

[14] Lydia Feng, ‘Death of latest Sydney food delivery rider Adil Abbas prompts calls for reforms to overseas licence rules’, ABC News, 21 August 2023, online at:

[15] Wing Kuang, ‘Chinese delivery riders in Australia’.

[16] Edwina Storie, ‘“I can barely survive.” We ask delivery riders if they feel safe on the job’, SBS News, 28 August 2023, online at: survive-we-ask-delivery-riders-if-they-feel-safe-on-the-job/qd8wysl06

[17] Ibid.

[18] Samantha Hawley and Lydia Feng, ‘The delivery riders at risk for your dinner’, ABC News Daily, 7 September 2023, online at:

[19] Isabel Roe and Issac Nowroozi, ‘Family of food delivery driver Xiaojun Chen, who died at work, granted $830k compensation’, ABC News, 23 June 2022, online at:

[20] Jordyn Beazley, ‘Uber warning that food delivery prices could spike 85% shows gig workers are underpaid, experts say’, Guardian, 17 October 2023, online at:

[21] Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, ‘Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Act 2023’, Australian Government, 26 February 2024, online at:

[22] Jason Om, ‘This food delivery rider spoke up against Hungry Panda. Then they called the police on her’, ABC News, 18 March 2024, online at:

[23] Wing Kuang, ‘Chinese delivery riders in Australia’.

[24] Fantuan, ‘Fantuan raises $40 million series C round’.

[25] Nick McKenzie et al., ‘Trafficked’, Age, November 2023, online at:

[26] Wing Kuang, ‘Chinese delivery riders in Australia’.

[27] Greg Jericho, ‘A record number of Australians are now working more than one job to make ends meet’, Australia Institute, 8 September 2023, online at:

[28] Michael Janda, ‘“Tepid” GDP extends Australia’s per capita recession, hinting November’s interest rate rise may have been “unnecessary”’, ABC News, 6 March 2024, online at:

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