Friday, April 3, 2009

Food for thought

"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are" - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

My passion for food and my love of writing has brought me to Australia to pursue a Masters in Gastronomy, the one and only course offered by Le Cordon Bleu in this subject is here in Adelaide. So why in the world did Australia get this privilege? The country fuses people together through their food and culture, allowing a platform for dreams to come true, giving migrants a chance to start life afresh and build businesses from scratch. Australia multi-cultural society has come to be home to the Greeks and Italians to Vietnamese and Thai as well as everyone in between Asia and Europe, be it the Sudanese and Brazilian, you can find all kinds of people and their food here Down Under. Australia is truly a melting-pot, and this goes far beyond the myriad of cultures, traditions, race and religion that live in harmony and more importantly share and relish each other’s food! The unique intricacies of migrant lifestyle are apparent in the local food culture, one that prides itself on being called Modern Australian. You are probably as puzzled as I was when I first arrived trying to decipher what exactly that meant. Modern Australian is an amalgamation of ideas and inspiration from the migrant communities that can be found across Australia. Cooking techniques from one corner of the globe incorporate recipes from another and chefs constantly borrow and adapt flair and style from different parts of the world to create something truly unique: fusion food as it is broadly known, although Aussies don’t exactly love the term!

The shores of this vast continent have welcomed migrants seeking out new homes, running away from the dangerous perils of war, fighting and natural disasters such as flooding and droughts. With them they have brought their foodways, their culinary heritage in the form of recipes and intricate know-how, weaving spice and diversity to an already colourful kaleidoscope of cultures. In this way Australia has become a home away from home, recipes reminiscent of childhood days are the preserve of migrant peoples, tracing their journey. The familiar accustomed aromas of their homelands continue to flavour their homes, allowing them to hold onto their intrinsic identification and be proudly Australian at the same time.

A visit to the local Aussie farmers market, the grocer around the corner or food-court gives an insight in to the acceptance of migrant lifestyles into mainstream white Anglo-Saxon Australian lifestyle. The abundance of fresh produce ranges from European favourites like blueberries, blackberries and currants to exotic Asian fruits like durian, star-fruit and passion-fruit and Indian varieties, the mango and guava. All these are available all year round thanks to Australian’s coming to love and consider these fruits and vegetables familiar, demanding them to be stocked, and owing to the fact that the country’s vast terrain and alternating seasonality allows for it.

The first white settlers: the British convicts brought with them their love for steak ‘n’ kidney pies and fish ‘n’ chips. The Greeks and Italians, referred to as the WOG’s (welcome overseas guests) have made mezze and anti-pasta a way of savouring a meal here in Australia, and that all important glass of vino has become imprinted in local lifestyle. The Eastern Europeans: Germans with their baking skills and mastery of meat products has ensured a large variety of smoked and cured delicacies. The Asians, (refers to anyone with Oriental features from Taiwan to Thailand) dominate the markets with interesting varieties of Chinese green, leafy veggies and about three-hundred kinds of noodles and rice have made stir-fry a national Aussie favourite! Spices and chillies have found their way into all sorts of dishes thanks to the Curry’s … yes the official Indian nickname here in Australia!

I must admit when I first got here and people asked me if I was fresh off the boat and if I were a ‘Curry’ I was confused, then upset, quick to anger and finally disgusted at the flippant usage of labels to identify and differentiate people. After all I never came on a boat, and being widely travelled it seemed like an insult to refer to me in that context!
However, it seems second-generation Aussie born-Indians are more than happy to be referred to as Curry’s. While I am still not comfortable with these labels I have come to realise that while migrant cultures have the food of their roots it is perhaps the only connection to their heritage or ethnic history, since most have never visited their ethnic county or been back since they migrated.

To wrap this up I must say to each to their own – to some having a mate that’s a curry might be quite normal, however, I’m an old-fashioned kind of girl in this respect and still prefer my curry in a bowl thank you very much!

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