Diverse dishes and the stories behind them

Bringing together locals, who were not born in Australia to share special dishes from home and the stories and memories behind each dish. Then sharing those dishes at a community dinner series, together with portrait photography, written stories and films about each cook’s memories and experiences. The diners welcome the dishes into their local cuisine by the empathy arising from a proper understanding of each cook’s background. The project is low waste and works with local providers to maximise use of produce that would otherwise go to waste. Clients from the local homeless charity are invited to each dinner. The community attending the dinners are encouraged to sit with new people and share properly enriching conversation.

Outcomes from our Fremantle project were far reaching and magical - get in touch to find out more!


The film shown to the attending community before serving the fantastic dishes from the heart from Wales, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil.
perth history cooking from home social enterprise multicultural


I was born in the north of Portugal with a Brazilian father and a Portuguese mother. We came to Rio, Brazil when I was five. When we got to Brazil I remember my father, leaning against a black car in his beige suit and two-tone shoes, waiting for his family. He was 26 at the time, looking very dapper. I told my mum ‘That’s my dad’.

While we were still in Portugal I remember my grandmother, my dad’s mother. She used to take us in a soft cane basket to the fields to work the land. And I remember she was so kind to us. Our treat for the week was on Wednesdays, when the guy used to come with fresh fish. She used to buy four sardines, and my mum would bake little corn breads in a bun for us and grill the sardines on charcoal. That for me was the best treat.

My mother used to do one-pot dishes, soups and things, of whatever they had on the land. I was always close to her because I had a curious mind so I used to watch. My mum used to cook on one of those little ironing pots, with three little legs and a handle. I just have memories of her doing the soups, or her and my father making the wine; they used to sit us on the edge of this space that looked like a giant trough, and I used to watch them squashing the grapes with their feet.

Meat was non-existent. Too expensive. But in the mornings we’d go down to the basement of our place (because our place was probably about 60cm off the ground, on granite stones) where we used to keep some animals to keep the house warm. We had a pet goat, called Chibita, and I can still feel the texture of her teats and me squeezing to get the milk, and the warmth of the rush of the milk into my little mug. I used to put the corn bread into it while the milk was still warm, and I’d slurp the bread. That was my breakfast. I was the only one that liked her milk. This breakfast was probably common because people in Portugal used to dip bread into a lot of sauces to fill them up. And my mum used to have the corn bread with whatever was left from the night before. She’d drink it with her coffee but it was barley coffee not normal coffee. It was comforting to hold that bowl with my two little hands, because it was warm, but I didn’t like the taste.

In Rio our place had my dad’s corner shop at the front and our residence at the back. My mum used to take care of the family and four distant cousins, who worked in the shop, who she didn’t really know. The shop was very similar to Kakula Sisters; everything by the kilo. The shop front was onto the main road. The building that the shop and residence was in was so beautiful. Big timber windows. All of the houses in the area were beautiful. In 1958 everyone in the neighbourhood dressed so elegantly and was polite. The back road behind the property had our school on it and it was just beated soil. It had big mango and tamarin trees on it, which we used to pick before school.

We would serve clients from when I was five (my dad used to put a box on the edge of the counter for us to serve from). We’d play in the streets safely at the back street. But because my father had a shop he felt that we couldn’t fully mix with people. We had a job to do, we had to serve, we had to act a certain way. We were a family, we ate together, slept together and all had to work. And we didn’t have toys because they were a waste of money. I never thought that we were poor because we didn’t have toys; I used to make my own toys, make my own Havaiana (thongs) using cardboard and a piece of cloth, and stick red paper to my nails so it looked like they were painted.

We would go to the beach in Rio as a family on a Sunday and the smell of lime and prawns always takes me back there. On these beaches you could buy anything except a house and furniture. My father used to buy little shrimps in skewers; very crispy. He’d buy one for each of us but whoever received theirs first had always finished by the time the last person in the family received theirs so he eventually would buy the seller’s whole tray. Everyone was allowed to wear a bikini except us. We were sitting fully clothed on the beach, dying of shame, but at least we had these incredible shrimps to eat.

Dinner was always served from the middle of the table and everyone served themselves. It was always very excessive. My father used to say ‘Always prepare food for a battalion. Never let anyone feel like there wasn’t enough to eat.’ Food was so important to them, it was the way that they showed love. When my father worked out that I liked rock melon he got a whole box of rock melon for me from the shop. And food was to be respected. ‘Only take what you’re going to eat’. Nothing goes in the bin. Whatever is left over in the pan we can do with but we can’t do anything with what’s left on your plate, unless you have what’s on your plate tomorrow.

In Rio, breakfast was coffee and milk, fresh bread from across the road. Lunch was a cooked meal; black beans were cooked with bay leaves and left in a big pot in the fridge. You’d warm it up and serve it with rice. If you had money you’d add meat to it. My mother was a child of war but my father wasn’t as he was younger. So he always felt richer than she did. He would go and buy a whole rump of meat. My mother would put it in the freezer, freeze it enough to be firm and then cut it into steaks so thin that you could see the light through them. I grew up with the taste of my father and the knowledge of how to do something with nothing from my mother.

My father used to shut up shop at 8pm and we’d all have dinner together. It was black beans and rice and sometimes potatoes, with olive oil and fresh garlic. My mother might do a steak for him, with onion. We might have tripe, marinated for three days in the fridge with red wine. I used to love that. My father always had the top of the table and my mother always had the seat closest to the stove. That’s how I do it now, too.

My cousin came to Australia in the 70s and was always saying good things about the country. I came in 1975. One of his friends fell in love with a photo of me in an album – because people say I take good photos – and I came here to marry him. I went from Rio to Roeburne up north, where my husband at the time was working. It was in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Some Portuguese music speaks to me a lot, it gives me goose bumps. I miss my friends in Rio, but I have brought all of my siblings to Australia and this is home now.

perth history cooking from home social enterprise multicultural


I was born in Cardiff, Wales and lived there until I went to university aged 18. I’ve got two brothers and as the only daughter I often helped mum out in the kitchen, washing dishes and other odd jobs. We moved into Brooklyn Close when I was six. It was a new development on the edge of Rhiwbina and behind our house there was a stream, fields and horses. As a child I spent many hours playing outside on the street with the other kids living in the neighborhood, until mum would come outside and call out ‘it’s time to come home for tea!’

My dad owned a grocery store about 2km from home, and because he was building the business up, he invested a lot of time and money in the shop, and it felt like money was always tight at home. My mum was extremely frugal in the way that she spent money, kept things for a rainy day, and always used up leftovers. There was a sense of comfortableness but with a background of financial pressure.

Mealtimes were very much a family affair. We ate simply, all together as a family. Staples in our house were meat and two vegetables, often fish on Friday, a full roast dinner on a Sunday with apple pie and custard for dessert. Grandpa often came over for Sunday dinner and loved to tell us stories. Roast dinner was always chicken, lamb or beef; never pork as my dad refused to eat roast it after it had made him sick.

Breakfast was usually cereal, toast and marmalade. When we were at high school my mum would cook us bacon and eggs, sometimes black pudding as well and send us off to school with full bellies. My mum always set out the breakfast table the night before; plates, bowls, silverware, cereals, jam, and honey, all ready for the morning. Because he worked so close to home, my dad would come home for lunch. Mum often served soup, not homemade soup but tinned; Heinz or Campbell’s. I’d help mum with the cooking, but Campbell’s came as a concentrate so the help I provided was mixing the can of condensed soup with a can of water until it was smooth and then heating it up in a saucepan. And we always had dessert because, I guess, my dad had a sweet tooth. One of mum’s favourites was milk jelly (normal jelly but made with milk instead of water to be more nutritious). Another regular dessert was Angel Delight; a pudding mix that comes dried in a packet in a variety of flavours like strawberry, chocolate and butterscotch. You just empty the packet in to a bowl, mix it with milk and leave it to set for about 15 minutes. Not really cooking at all!

We always ate together. It was a very significant part of our life. Even though dad would work late, when he came home we’d come back to the table to sit and have tea and cake with him. We always ate in the dining room; a room separate to the kitchen. It had a round table. My dad liked to listen to the news on Radio 4 or The Archers. There wasn’t a great deal of conversation at the table because we were listening. We definitely talked, but my father was often very tired at the end of the working day and sometimes he shut the conversation down: ‘We’re not going to talk about that anymore’.

The evening meal was traditionally bread and different spreads like jam, honey and fish paste, a cheese board, a bowl of fruit, cake and a pot of tea. My parents always drank their tea from special cups and saucers that had been a wedding present (Wedgewood Iced Rose). There would always be cake; my mum was a great cake baker and I have fond memories of her running the Kenwood food mixer, putting the sugar and margarine in and whipping it until it was super, super light to make cake like Victoria Sandwich (two layers of sponge with jam, butter cream and icing sugar).

When we visited granny, she often made Welsh cakes. These are griddle cakes made with dried fruit and baked on a bake stone and dusted with sugar. Alternatively, we might have bara brith, a very dense sweet fruit loaf, sliced and spread with butter.

My mum always plated meals in the kitchen – serving up just the right amount of meat and potato and veg. It was probably a reflection of her frugal mind set. Dad usually got the best piece of meat and mum probably gave herself the smallest, fattiest pieces. Gravy was served in a jug to put on your own meal, together with extra condiments like mustard and bread sauce.

Looking back, I didn’t learn to cook while I was living at home. When I left home my mum gave me my first cookery book, Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course. I have used the book for more than 35 years, the cover is tatty, there are many book marks, food stains and cooks’ notes. When I was first married, I went to cordon bleu cooking classes and I used to test out all of my new recipes on my husband; cheese soufflé, haddock mousse, saltimbocca romana, zabaglione. There were successes and failures.

A few years after coming to Australia, I became a single parent raising three children. To cope I had to put more structure into my cooking. I decided to teach my children to cook. I felt that it was an important life skill and that it would take the pressure off me. Every Sunday night one of the children was nominated as dinner chef and they took turns to choose what to make. We’d spend beautiful quality time in the kitchen, learning to cook, making a mess and then all eating together.

By the time my children left home I was confident that they all knew how to cook and could look after themselves. We all still love that family time, eating together and sharing food.

perth history cooking from home social enterprise multicultural


I was an interior decorator and landscape architect before coming to Perth. I think art is everywhere. Not only on the page or in architectural design. It’s everywhere. It’s in the food we eat. It’s on the table. Inspiration is everywhere. Everyone should serve food in a way that expresses themselves and meets their own style.

I come from Bursa in Turkey, near Istanbul. Turkish hospitality is very famous across the world. The cuisine there includes a lot of fish – fresh and eaten on the day it is caught. We fry or grill it. We cover it with sea salt as a special technique. Turkish recipes in general are very fresh and light. They are good for lots of different diets. Fresh veggies are grilled or roasted in the oven. We eat fresh veggies when they are in season. And every area in Turkey has a special way to prepare for winter. We make tomato sauces and pickles, some dried veggies for winter time when we don’t find veggies naturally and fresh. We also use veggies and meats together; cabbage and zucchini stuffed rolls, vine leaves or eggplant with mince and we have a lot of dips and soup. Soup is very important, especially in winter. In winter we usually start each meal with soup and finish with dessert.

I have a big extended family. There are six of us children. We emigrated from Bulgaria to Turkey when I was about one year old so the food we ate growing up was always a mix of these cuisines. My grandma raised us. We didn’t have enough food, there was always worry about whether there was enough. No food was wasted. Food was very valuable.

A local legend says that Noah’s ark landed on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey and there wasn’t enough food on board. The last meal served on the boat was made up of all of the boat’s remaining 20 ingredients. In our area we still have a dish based on this legend, which we eat about two months before New Year. The dish is called aşure (‘a-sure-eh’) and it is a pudding. We still cook it, it’s a soupy dessert. We add grains, beans, sugar, whatever you have in your house – pomegranate, orange juice, zest of lemon. We hand it out to our neighbours whenever we make it. It is lovely.

My father was a tradesman. He travelled a lot in Europe. My mother worked for five years in Germany. After that we were altogether and she stayed home and so had the time to cook really difficult recipes and share them with us.

I grew up in an apartment. In my neighbourhood everyone would have their own recipe that they are very good at. Whenever they cook that dish they hand it out to their neighbours. My mother was particularly good at pastries so she’d share out those. She’d use different techniques, such as with milk, or different cheeses. One technique was to put filo pastry into hot water, then onto a tray, then serve it as 15 layers of pastry with different cheeses in between. This was a special dish; we call it su boregi, or water pastry.

Before I got married my mother did the cooking. But after I got married I did all of the cooking. I used to always wander about new recipes and new meals so I have always been very interested.

Family time – lunch and dinner was very important, and breakfast too, on the weekend. We share with each other problems from our day and talk. During the rest of the day we are going in different directions but around the table we share. We needed to wash our hands before we come to the table and we needed to wear clean clothes and arrange our hair. But the rules weren’t very strict, it was quite free. We could talk at the table as we grew up, once we had finished eating. Good manners were the most important.

My husband and I came to Perth because of my husband’s job and we might stay for the next five years or more.

perth history cooking from home social enterprise multicultural


I come from Bandung, Indonesia. The city is surrounded by mountains. I have two younger sisters. We lived with my parents at our house. Everyone lived close to each other so you’d just go to someone’s place and play. It was quite nice. The area was full of young families so there were a lot of kids.

My father was a technician and my mother was a housewife. She cooked a lot and we loved most things she cooked, except one thing. She loved coconut milk so much. We have a sort of veggie soup, and she’d often cook it with a lot of coconut milk and it would last for days and days. She would make us eat it and she would refuse to cook anything else until it was finished. We would almost throw up.

We went to a Christian school. We always had to go to Sunday school and then mark off our attendance in a book as proof of our attendance. We weren’t religious at home. My family is closer to the Chinese culture really. There were foods that we ate at certain times of the year as part of our culture, such as a special fish, veggies and noodles at Chinese New Year, with each food representing a different meaning for the coming year. Also, at home we’d cook more Chinese food than Indonesian food because it’s easier – there are more herbs and spices in Indonesian food than in Chinese food. In Indonesia there are also lots of opportunities to buy readymade meals of Indonesian dishes so it was more convenient to do that.

In Indonesia there isn’t any difference between the food we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We can have the same meal at each. The point is to just have something so that our stomachs aren’t empty. We would eat whatever is already coooked or whatever is available on the table and in the kitchen, or even buy from people selling food on foot or from a motor bike in front of our house. We might have nasi goreng (fried rice), yellow rice, bread, a doughnut, or whatever is left over from dinner. We’re not fussy, we eat everything – you just need energy to go through the day.

Eating together in my family would have been rare. If you were hungry you could just eat at any time. Everybody is busy around the house. In the morning when us kids have to go to school, my mother would usually have something ready for us. We would either sit and eat it or just grab it and go if we are in a hurry. It was a bit ‘no rules’ - just free. But my family does have one rule; when you eat with elders around we have to offer them something one by one out of respect, no matter how many people there are.

We were still at school for lunch and my dad was at work so usually when we came home from school my mother would ask us kids to have a late lunch and then do our homework. She didn’t serve everything on the table. Everything was on the stove and we’d just grab whatever we wanted.

My dad was always home a little bit late at dinner time and my mum didn’t want to have dinner late as it would make her gain weight so we’d eat early. Again, my mum just made sure we had food to eat but we served ourselves mostly and meals weren’t at a set time; ‘You’re not a princess that should be served, just serve yourself’. It was very important to finish our meal though. The plate should be clean, not even one grain of rice left. ‘The rice goddess will cry if you don’t eat it.’ So we used to have our plates clean and my mum would ask to see our plates to check; ‘You can leave the table when the food is finished’.

We had a square table but sometimes us kids liked to get our plates and go to the living room with the TV on sit on the sofa or even on the floor. Sometimes it was nice to sit at a table and share a story with my sisters though.

It depended on the food but mostly we used a spoon to eat. We’d rarely use a knife or fork. Even with the whole family it was rare to use a full set of cutlery, beyond a spoon. When it wasn’t wet food or a soup, so fried chicken and chilli or fried noodles, we’d use our hands and pick the meat from the bone with our fingers.

I ended up in Perth because my husband got a job here. I’ve found that I’ve made friends here through cooking; I knew no one when I got here. Now I cook more Indonesian food than Chinese food, because I have found that being far away from my homeland makes me miss my culinary origins. And my cooking has created bonds here between me and other Indonesian people as well as, hopefully, with many others from other nationalities.

Cooking is how you show you care and love. It unites the family and builds bridges with others. Cooking is not just about food, it’s about love.

The film shown to the community attending before serving the amazing dishes from Indonesia, Lebanon, Wales and China.
perth history cooking from home social enterprise multicultural


I was born in Beirut, Lebanon. I grew up there but I spent a lot of my childhood summers in the south, where my parents initially came from. Down there I would help my grandfather pick figs and prickly pears, some of my most cherished memories.

We lived in an apartment in Beirut, in the Bourj Hammoud district, a mixed area with a lot Armenians. As I left before the war, I only remember Lebanon as a really beautiful place, one of the most beautiful in the world, in every aspect. It was known as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. Lebanon is coastal along the west and mountainous along the east. The distance between those two is only an hour so it was popular to ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon.

It was a fascinating place back then because all religions and communities lived side by side - Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Lebanese, Armenian and Turkish. It was a real melting pot. We all celebrated each other’s festivals. Christmas was very popular, and Eid of course. I went to a Christian Brothers’ school even though I was from a Muslim background. I used to love that school; I’d take Friday off because I was Muslim (to allow me to go to the mosque), then the Christians would take off Saturday and Sunday too. So three days off, who wouldn’t like that!

When we were off school we’d play in the streets and then we’d go home at dusk. I always loved the smell of cooking coming from the other apartments, especially the Armenian ones as it was so different to ours. It made me curious to try other cuisines.

Eating as a family was the most important thing. We’d all finish school at the same time, dad would come in and we’d sit round the table. My mum always cooked and she was a great cook and really influenced the way I cook and look at food. All of my family (four sisters and two brothers) can cook really well. My brother Abed is amazing at sweets and desserts, something I was never good at.

I really discovered my passion for cooking when I was about 10 years old and in the Scouts. I found myself always looking after the food when we went camping. We used to catch everything, like fish and little birds. The smaller the fish the better because you could cook them on the barbecue and even eat the small bones as they were soft and tender. It’s why I love the smell of a barbecue now.

Food is life in Lebanon. You’d get up in the morning and talk about what you would cook and eat for the day. Then you’d shop for the produce, and back then it was not in a supermarket, it was the green grocer, the butcher, the spice shop and the baker. Then you spent a long time preparing it, then you cooked it, then you spent a long time eating it. A mezza (a sort of banquet) can and should take hours to eat. Then afterwards you talk about how great that was and the conversation will turn to the next meal.

When I left Lebanon I found myself in Dublin and there I met my wife. I love the Irish culture too, as they love to dance, tell stories and party like the Lebanese. I also love their music. I opened my first Lebanese restaurant in Dublin 30 years ago with my brother and he still runs it to this day. It’s called the Cedar Tree. I started it because I love to cook. At the time I didn’t really know how to run a restaurant but my passion for cooking kept me going and it seemed to work. I owned and ran three restaurants there and then opened one here in Fremantle when I moved here. It was also called the Cedar Tree and we had it for about 10 years. I also had a food truck for a few years but now I’m retired and just cook for friends, and my wife of course.

I got fed up with the weather in Ireland so I read about Perth and saw it has a Mediterranean climate. While I miss being close to my family, who are now in Ireland, I love Australia, especially Fremantle as it has been very good to me. I’m an Aussie now!

Cooking for lots of people is my favourite thing to do. I cook every day and I love to do something special for my friends to enjoy. I’m very honoured to be involved in this project.

And what takes me back home? It is the sound of Middle Eastern music and the food, especially if there’s an open charcoal barbecue, which takes me straight back to cooking fish as a Boy Scout.

perth history cooking from home social enterprise multicultural


I was born in the south of China, in a city by the seaside called Xia men. It’s a small city but it’s very beautiful. In my childhood I always went to the beach and played in the sand. Sometimes I’d catch things that my parents would cook; oysters, snails, seafood. Whenever we were at the beach we’d have snack foods like satay sticks, noodles and rice cubes. When I was in primary school I essentially lived with my cousins and aunties. We lived nearby and always ate together, around 20 people at a big round table. It was a happy time. We called our cousins ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. But because we only had one table we couldn’t all sit together. The kids had to eat standing up or perhaps wait and sit down once the adults had finished, or take their food and eat outside in the street. Food was put in the middle of the table and we served ourselves using chop sticks and spoons. Children could take from a dish once all of the adults had taken from it (and when I was much younger some was always taken first for my grandma and grandpa too). When it was a celebration we would add another table so that everyone could sit together.

We always went to my oldest auntie’s house. She cooked for us. We’d just help, buying some vegetables or washing dishes.

Because there was a lot of people at each meal we supplemented most dishes with rice, then ate vegetables and fish with it. We also had special fried noodles, and at Chinese New Year time we always had plenty of food, everything deep fried.

Because we lived by the seaside there was always fish. My favourite dishes were simply cooked fresh fish or seafood; steamed or cooked with soy sauce. We also used a lot of satay sauce for satay sticks and noodles. When I smell shallots cooked in oil it always reminds me of the cooking from my childhood.

We’d eat all lunch and dinner together. But in the morning people didn’t all sit down together because people had to go to work or school. So there was space for the children to sit at the table and eat! We’d have porridge with tofu or bean curd, with a pickle for crunch. Us children always used to talk and joke but as soon as an adult walked in we’d have to be quiet. And we had to have clean hands, though this wasn’t often enforced. After dinner the children all took it in turns to help. The boys would go and get water from the weir then the girls would use that water to wash the dishes.

I learnt to cook when I was a little older. We’d all come home for lunch and there’d be a short time to cook, eat, nap and then go back to work. So we’d all have to work hard to cook as fast as we can to fit everything in between about 12pm and 2pm.

China was very closed off from news and information about the rest of the world for 20 or 30 years when I was little. When it became more open lots of people decided to move; many to Japan and Canada. I decided to have a look at Australia. I started learning English and got a visa.

Australia is so different; especially the culture and the food. But the weather and the flowers are similar - I can look at the flowers here and it reminds me of my home town. I still cook traditional food for my children and my husband. But my kids like Aussie food. I had to learn how to make pizza, spaghetti, sandwiches. They’ll go to a party and eat a quiche or something and then ask me to make it. So I have to research, but it’s fun for me.

The film shown to the attending community immediately before serving up the amazing dishes from Italy, Indonesia and Fiji.
perth history cooking from home social enterprise multicultural


I was raised in Fiji and am the oldest of four children. We lived in a big house with lots of land at the side and the back. At the back was a sloping valley where Fijians would come and plant cassava and taro on land that we didn’t use. Next to our house was a big yard where kids came to play soccer.

Our neighbourhood was quite urban and modern. There were schools and buses and amenities around us. Houses were all different, some big and some small, but because we lived in Suva, the main city, there were no huts / bures. There was a mix of us Indians, Fijians and a few English and Chinese people.

My dad always had a business. He was versatile. He started off with a drapery import business and had a sewing factory, and then went into duty free, and finally diversified into a bookshop. Dad would go off to the shop and mum would bring him lunch. She looked after the business while he ate. Us kids would cook dinner before they got home from work.

Breakfast at home was a cup of tea or milk (milk for youngsters, then milky tea, then tea – depending on your age). During the week, mum cooked a vegetarian curry, roti, rice and dahl for lunch. For school mum gave us a curry and rotis, then when we came home we had whatever was leftover on the table. Dinner was a lentil curry and roti, or seafood on Wednesday. Saturday was seafood or chicken and Sunday was always meat (but no beef for religious reasons), roti, rice and dhal. We all ate dinner together, and every meal together at the weekend.

I remember when I was very little we used to sit on the floor for meals but as we got older we had a round table in the kitchen. There were no set seats. Mum served the first serve then if someone wanted more it would be either mum or me serving. Dad never served as such. Most Indian families serve men and boys first and they’d get the freshly made rotis, but unlike other families we all sat together and had our meal. Eating together brings everyone closer and you get to hear how everyone’s day was. This encouraged everyone to share problems and happy stories. I have continued this with my family as it helps to bond us.

If it was a public holiday we’d go for a picnic and we would take fried fish or prawns and puris (fried bread) – it’s the same dough as roti but fried so it’d puff up. They’d go really well together. We often ate on the beach. On holidays we always cooked special bbq meatballs on a coal fire. Whenever I smell a barbecue or those flavours it takes me back home. On Sundays if we did not go to the beach than we would go to the wharf where the tourist and cargo ships came in. The warehouses would contain dried coconut and ginger ready for export. So when I smell either of those I am reminded of home too.

We followed the Hindu religion and all of the Indian festivals. Mum prayed every morning and we prayed at home every evening at 7 – 730pm. Dad was a committee member of a temple in the area. Dad also used to organise folk dancing for Navratri which is celebrated just before Diwali. We enjoyed the Hindu festivals, and festival food, which is all vegetarian. There was also a lot of fasting; on certain days we didn’t eat meat or seafood. Most Indian girls used to fast on a Monday and /or Thursday to get a good husband and for wealth and prosperity. On those days we had one meal and as many nuts and pieces of fruit as we wanted. When I was a teenager, it was very trendy to fast on those days - I think it was very healthy and also kept us slim.

In our home we had to do exactly as we were told, especially if the instruction was coming from dad. Everyone would wash their hands when they first came home, ready for dinner, because we would eat with our fingers. In Fiji we were like wild kids, we never wore shoes around the neighbourhood.

I miss the way we lived in Fiji. It’s very different to here, the sense of community in particular. If you did something at home, people in the next suburb would immediately know what you’d done. I do miss the community spirit and the different races living together in harmony. Your race or religion didn’t matter. No matter what background you came from, Christmas, Ramadan / Eid and Diwali festivals were each like a big celebration. For Diwali there’d be candles, lights, firecrackers and food in the front yard and anyone was welcome to walk in and eat whatever food they wanted. Eid and Christmas was similar; people shared food with friends, family and strangers. You didn’t need to explain it, everyone just knew about each other’s religions. I do miss that.

I’m a culture and design enthusiast from East Indonesia, Flores Island. I moved to Perth four years ago.

perth history cooking from home social enterprise multicultural


Indonesia is the biggest archipelago in the world with more than 17,000 islands so has significant cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity within it; Hindu practices (Bali) to Sharia law (Aceh), strong Catholicism (Flores) and the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the Mentawai. My mum is from Java Island and my dad from Flores Island so they are culturally very different.

I grew up in Bekasi, the inner periphery of Jakarta. Everyone knew each other in our neighbourhood. Every morning all mums would gather on the street to have a chat and buy veggies from passing sellers. On weekends my mum would shout to each of us kids “What do you want to eat?” when standing with the seller. Only now I prepare food for my husband do I realise how much effort it is to prepare food for the family every day. I strive to be creative and find ways to use leftovers!

My mum would prepare each meal and put it on the table. Everyone would take some and we’d sit in the lounge room to eat, talk and watch TV. We’d be on the ground or on chairs (my dad doesn’t like sitting on the ground). Home cooking for Indonesian families focusses on serving a number of dishes and rice. A meal is never just one dish. Rice is a big deal for us. We can always tell if it has not been cooked well! Spicy food is also very important, and each region has its own sambal paste.

After my grandma passed away I decided to move to her place, on Flores Island. I may speak about my grandma as if she is still living with me. I feel she is. Whilst travelling through remote islands to get to her place, I realised that my real sense of belonging is in the authentic, simple lifestyle of remote villages. Since then I refer to Flores Island as the place I come from.

At grandma’s we lived in Tuakepa, east Flores. The village is really peaceful and among nature. Everyone knew each other although we didn’t live close. Everyone in the village was family even though we didn’t share blood (although we were all from the Lamaholot tribe). We always shared food, coffee and more. You just ran to your neighbour, “Can I have some salt?” “Go, grab it! It’s in the kitchen.”

Most people in the village were farmers of coffee and candlenut. Every morning my grandma and uncle (or uncle and his wife, after grandma died) would go to our plantation up the hill behind our house. They’d clean it up and check on the produce. Sometimes they’d bring passionfruit or huge, delicious avocados back for us to eat.

Most of our food came from the nature around us; veggies from bushes or plantations near us, fish from the local fisherman (because we lived close with ocean), and sometimes we would hunt for a wild pig if our chicken and pig farms weren’t ready yet. We didn’t really eat beef because it’s quite expensive. We didn’t often eat rice for the same reason. Instead we usually ate corn and cassava. In the morning we ate Jagung Titi with coffee. It’s our version of cereal but we use coffee instead of milk. It’s white glutinous, sticky corn pounded on the top of rock. That corn would also be our snack while we drank coffee or welcomed guests.

On our island coffee was really special for us; not only a drink but a source of life. Every family had a coffee plantation that they earned money from. It also was our drink in the morning, afternoon, and evening - the equivalent to tea in Britain or beer here! We also have “tuak” for special occasions, a traditional alcohol made from distilled palm.

As I explain this I can’t help but cry. Telling this story takes me back home and reminds me of so many people that I miss, especially my grandma. Migrating to Australia was not an easy choice. I have made so many sacrifices. However, the reason for my migration is worth the fight; my husband - a really beautiful and kind man that I met on my travels. He told me “I can take you out of Indonesia, but I cannot take Indonesia out of you.” He is right. After four years here I’ve tried my best to build a home, starting with my home cooking. I hope that my husband really enjoys the exposure to Indonesian food!

To wrap up I would like to tell you something. Be you and make your own story. This journey made me realise we don’t need to change ourselves or be similar to people around us. What we need to do is embrace what we have, our identity especially, and contribute to the community. In the end diversity is more wonderful than similarity. At first I tried hard to be similar to everyone here so that I could feel as if I belonged in this new home. Then I realised that I would make it like that. We are not the same. What I can do is embrace myself and preserve my identity while contributing to the cultural fabric of Western Australia.

Terima kasih.

I grew up in Rome, in a good residential suburb. We had a nice apartment with a park all around it. We used to have a holiday house one hour from Rome in a place called Colle Romito, near Anzio, on the sea. We’d go there for three months every year. Some of my best memories are from there.

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I grew up Catholic but my parents weren’t practicing. My grandmother took me to Mass every Sunday and I used to love it; singing in the choir, giving my pocket money to the church to help the poor. I felt really religious. Then I opened my eyes when I was 18 and said ‘Nup, I don’t like it any more’. After Mass on a Sunday it was typical to buy a tray of little pastries called ‘pasticcini’, have lunch together at home, then share the tray. Lunch could vary but we always had pasticcini with my grandparents.

Tomatoes and all herbs, especially basil and parsley, take me back to my childhood. Every time I cook a simple tomato sauce it reminds me of my Nonna, Nora cooking it with fresh tomatoes. I’d look over and ask ‘Ah what are you doing?’ ‘Just a tomato sauce, a simple one’. Also peaches and summer fruits remind me of summer, and artichokes, which I love. In Italy they are amazing.

At the holiday house my mum used to make an amazing dish with big tomatoes, put rice in them and bake them in the oven with a little olive oil and basil. Simple, but amazing taste. We’d also have fish and potatoes (but they would taste very different to how fish and potatoes taste here!) and a little white wine, coffee after, then an ‘ammazzacaffè’ - a liquor. And because it was summer there’d be these long lunches. You’d sit at the table. My dad would play his guitar and we’d sing sitting with all of our family and friends. And then you’d go for a walk around the town.

At the holiday house we also had a woodfire pizza oven outside. Each season we used to have at least two big pizza dinners to celebrate my parents’ birthdays, both in August. My dad used to invite everyone and make, like, 30 pizzas. We only had pizza at home for these celebrations. In Rome my mum never made pizza, we’d just have it at a restaurant. It was a great experience helping my dad to do the pizzas, putting them on the long-handled wooden rack like a shovel. And again my dad used to play the guitar so we’d all sing. They are just my best memories.

There was always wine with a meal. For us, wine is not alcohol. We don’t get drunk, we just drink a little bit with food. When I was a teenager I remember my parents always offering wine to me and I was disgusted – I didn’t like the smell. They used to tell us ‘It’s good for your health, you should have at least one glass a day’. Having limoncello or amaro after dinner was all about health too, a digestive. I only noticed that people were using wine to get drunk when I was 24, in Paris.

Although my dad helped sometimes, my mum did most of the cooking at home. We ate as a family every night for dinner. But we also used to go back home from school or work for lunch, so my brother, mum and I always had lunch together. Then we’d have a little rest for an hour and get on with the afternoon. The day is very long there. We have a break in the middle and then we can last longer. Dinner is at 8 - 8:30pm, and you’d only go out with your friends from about 10pm. The disco starts at 12am!

For breakfast I used to have milk (then as a teenager, tea with lemon and sugar) and biscuits, or ‘fette biscottate’ – a hardened bread - with jam or Nutella. Breakfast was always sweet. Italians would balk at the idea of having something salty or savoury at breakfast! For lunch we would usually have pasta or salad. Simple. For us salad is just veggies – lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and fennel. Dinner is usually meat or fish and veggies. Veggies include chicory, broccoletti, cauliflower.

We always sat in the same seats. My dad insisted that we use silver cutlery; ‘Why should we keep it in the drawer?’ He’d say about normal cutlery ‘You can’t feel it, it’s not heavy enough.’ And he’d have the news on, which was always a depressing war or kidnapping story. We had to help setting the table and tidying up. In Italy it’s very important to set the table properly every day; table cloth, the right dishes for the right food (a pasta bowl for pasta, a flat dish for meat), cutlery (fork on the left, knife on the right, fabric napkin under the knife and we had personalised napkin rings). It is fundamental that bread and water are on the table too. And we didn’t have a dishwasher.

As a girl I had to help more than my brother. My mum tried to teach my brother but grandma would scream ‘Boys shouldn’t be doing these things’. He only started helping around the house when he moved in with his girlfriend at 35; mum was doing everything for him until then. That is typical of Italian mums.

I really miss the taste of tomatoes and the taste of the natural spring water in Italy. And from Rome I really miss having a nice cappuccino and croissant at the bar close to where I lived, which was ready for you in one minute (not like here where it takes so long!).