From Our Table, To Yours

Words by Caitlyn Mcmahon
Art by Kelly Zheng

In a culinary smackdown, Melbourne would take the cake as the creative and humble foodies’ paradise.

While the city continues to grow, the relaxed dining experience has grown to highlight the importance, simplicity and diversity of cultural relationships with cuisines.

Everyone does it a little different, but the beauty of sharing cultural traditions has transformed this city into an internationally reputable and multicultural dining hub.

In our family, barbecues mean well done T-bone steaks marinated in olive oil and Vegeta, slung over a fire of lined briquettes. Fish’n’chip Friday is pulling apart a freshly caught whole snapper with your fingers. Coffee is cooked on the stove and pancakes are thin like crepes, void of maple syrup.

As a child I yearned for meat pies, vegemite on toast and those smiley face hams you buy from the Coles deli. I so desperately wished my grandmother would treat us to a pavlova covered in strawberries with passion fruit dripping down the sides, even just once. My mother still laments the primary school lunches of salami and cheese antipasto baguettes, that she describes as uncanningly similar to that scene in The Wog Boy.

It was normal to spend every day after school with my Baba and Dida, a ritual my mates found a bit strange. I grew up in a loud but loving Croatian-Australian family in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I have spoken two languages simultaneously my whole life. We speak Croatian at home, at the shops, on the netball court and maybe even in front of you if you’re the subject.

Growing up I was frustrated by having to pick the peas out of my goulash and annoyed that we had to turn off The Simpsons to watch Croatian news each night. Now, my sisters and I giggle about our experiences and reminisce on fond memories of playing with Barbies while Baba exercised on the crosstrainer, how we didn’t know English words for body parts or why our friends didn’t have the same names for their grandparents.  

My Baba has always spoilt us, especially with traditional cooking from her tiny Dalmatzian island Krapanj. Her recipes are difficult to condense and impossible to write down. When I ask her for methods or measurements, she just shrugs her shoulders and laughs. A bit of this, a pinch of that, three stirs to the left and one to the right. Then she grabs a čajna žličica (teaspoon) and it’s up to me to decide if it needs more salt or perhaps a pinch of her secret ingredient—Vegeta, a stock powder.

I have endless memories shared around Baba’s kitchen table, under the shade of the giant fig tree and in her veggie patch. My love and appreciation of home cooking comes from the smell of her frying up garlic and the sounds of her slicing home-grown tomato cucumber salad.

Chatting to friends from diverse backgrounds, I’ve made a list of four must-try winter recipes. From Croatia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon and China, each of these personal dishes were handed down from generations with deeply significant ties to family and heritage.

When leaving home behind, traditional family recipes are the gifts we must hold onto and pass on.

Pašta fažol – Croatian Bean and Pork Soup

For years, Pašta fažol was literally the bane of my existence. My mum and her siblings remember the same frustration of slaving over the soup and not being allowed to leave the table until you had finished it.

Now, I could easily knock back three bowls. The traditional Dalmatian dish is essentially just beans, pork pancetta and cavatappi tube pasta. Hey, maybe I’m spoilt, but Baba now makes a veg alternative.

What you need:
  • 400g dried red kidney beans
  • 100g smoked pork bones
  • 5 litres water
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large brown onion diced
  • Olive oil
  • 150g pancetta, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • ¼ bunch of parsley
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 60g short pasta
  • Salt and pepper to taste
What you need to do:
  1. Soak the beans overnight to soften
  2. Add olive oil to a deep pot, add onion and pancetta. Fry on a medium heat.
  3. Once the onions change colour, add strained beans with smoked bones
  4. Fill with cold water and cook for around 30 minutes on a medium heat
  5. Add carrots, garlic, parsley, tomato paste and paprika and season accordingly
  6. Continue to cook until beans are soft
  7. Add pasta and cook until soft

பறிப்பு Parippu – Sri Lankan Dhal Lentil Curry

Christian Zebish grew up in Melbourne eating his mother Patsy’s aromatic, colourful curries and mustard-coconut chickpea snacks.

Patsy comes from Dehiwala—a suburb in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Characterised by fragrant spices, mouth-watering pickled fruits, chutneys and sambols, Sri Lanka is known as the spice island.

Flavour explosive and made honestly out of love, Patsy continues to share dishes from her mother and grandmother with her own children.

What you need:
  • 1 cup orange lentils, thoroughly washed
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes
  • ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 3-4 curry leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Coriander leaves
  • Salt
  • Lime juice to taste
What you need to do:
  1. Chop the onion and garlic thinly. In a pan add oil. Once hot add the onion, garlic and curry leaves.
  2. Cook until the onion is translucent, cook for a further 2 minutes until the onions go brown. Add some chilli and transfer into a bowl.
  3. In the same pan add thoroughly washed lentils, water, pinch of turmeric, cumin, mustard seeds. Cook until the water has almost all evaporated—Patsy says this should take about 10 minutes.
  4. Add coconut milk and simmer slowly on low for further 5 minutes.
  5. Season with salt, lime juice and coriander—if you’re into it.
  6. Take your tempered onion mix and add to the pan. Simmer for a further 2 minutes.
  7. Serve hot on rice!

Patsy says you can also add chicken to this one.

ملوخية – Lebanese Mulukhiyah

Whether you’re popping in to say hello or spending the day, there’s always a spare plate at the Rajab table.

The family run a humble Middle Eastern grocery store in the northern suburbs, keeping traditional ingredients and recipes alive and accessible in Melbourne. Famous for its abundance of mixed grains, spices, fresh herbs, and fruits and vegetables, Lebanese food is full of variety and packed with flavour.

The smell of soaked nalta leaves reminds Adam Rajab of visiting his grandparents in Beirut before the war. Reminiscent of his childhood, home cooking and family holidays remain integral to his identity and preservation of culture.

What you need:
  • 1 brown onion, chopped
  • 300g diced meat (the amount is really up to you, you can use beef, goat or chicken. If you decide chicken, you will need a whole chicken cut into 4 pieces)
  • 1 litre water
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 800g of frozen or fresh chopped mulukhyia
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 garlic
  • 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil to fry the garlic
  • Lemon juice to taste
What you need to do:
  1. Saute the onions in the 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  2. Add the beef cubes or the chicken cutlets, sear for 3-4 min on each side
  3. Add the water to just cover the meat
  4. Cook over medium heat until the meat is done
  5. Add the frozen mulukhyia and stir until it thaws completely and then comes to a boil
  6. In another pan add the 1/4 to 1/2 cup of olive oil and the cloves of garlic and cook over medium low heat until you can smell the garlic (don’t brown it)
  7. Add the oil and garlic to the mulukhyia and lower the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes
  8. Add salt to taste
  9. Serve with a generous amount of lemon juice.
  10. You can serve it with some short grain rice or some pita bread. 

排骨莲藕汤 Chinese Pork Rib Soup served with Lotus root and Sea Grass

We’re spoilt for choice in Melbourne with a plethora of Asian restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores. While many people consider Chinese to be concentrated to one cuisine, it actually has many different styles of cooking from various regions.

It’s been four years since Jackie Wu moved to Melbourne to study fashion. He often takes a break from the sewing machine to indulge in authentic homemade Chinese dishes passed down from his grandmother and mother. This humble and nourishing lotus root soup has been a traditional dish in China for hundreds of years.

Jackie says cooking for guests is his way of sharing an authentic piece of home, honouring family and showing his thanks for friends and opportunities.

What you need:
  • 1kg pork ribs
  • 500g lotus root
  • 200g sea grass
  • 60g ginger, sliced
  • 30g spring onion, diced
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 1 litre water
What you need to do:
  1. Soak pork ribs in ½ litre water and bring to the boil
  2. Scoop out the boiled blood foam floating on the water
  3. When almost completely cooked, remove pork ribs and rinse in cold water
  4. Put the remaining ½ litre water in the pot with pork ribs
  5. Add sliced ginger and diced spring onion
  6. Start boiling on high heat
  7. Add in the diced lotus root and sea grass
  8. Once the water is boiling turn flame down to low heat
  9. Place the lid on top and slow cook for 40-60 minutes
  10. Add salt to taste

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s