Food intake patterns of 545 adult Melbourne Chinese were studied in 1988 and 1989 using a 220-item food-frequency questionnaire appropriate for Chinese eating practices. Men and women were compared, adjusting for age, time in Australia and education. Men consumed more rice and alcoholic beverages as energy. In women, the energy intake was derived from foods of traditional Chinese types. There were two types of consumption patterns: in the first group were those who acculturated towards an Australian way of eating by replacing some traditional Chinese foods, such as rice, pork, leafy green and cruciferous vegetables, soups and tea, with 'new foods', such as wheat products, red meats and coffee; in the second were those who limited their intake to a handful of traditional Chinese foods as the major source of energy. The educated, the professional and those with an administrative profession, the Australian-born and those with a longer length of stay fitted into the first group, and were more acculturated towards Australia than those born in the People's Republic of China or Vietnam and who migrated at an older age. The first group may benefit from the best of both worlds, but may risk the diseases of an industrialised society. The second group may be trapped at a cultural crossroads and may be unable to make appropriate food choices. Public health efforts in Australia, where one in every five is overseas-born, should provide for nutrition and health education for new and aged migrants of non-European cultural backgrounds.