Celebrating food diversity.

As I begin typing this post I have next to me, ready to be savoured later this evening, some new cookbooks. All three focus on very different cuisines: Dalmatian, Thai, and Middle Eastern. Over on the stove top I have laksa bubbling away, while nearby sits a plate of crumbed chicken schnitzels and some napoletana sauce ready for parmigiana for the kids. On the other side of the kitchen sits a pot in which is soaking some salted bakalar {bacalao} for tomorrow. And as I sip my Italian prosceco I can’t help thinking how fortunate I am to live in such a multicultural country like Australia.

“Typical” Australian spread: cooked prawns, antipasto platter and melon, baked ricotta, pear and rocket salad, babghanoush, hot dogs, and crusty bread.

At the same time, however, it occurs to me that the very name of the Dalmatian cookbook might actually leave some people feeling annoyed. The reason for this is that some people with Croatian ancestry, albeit born and bred here in Australia, insist that we’re all just Croatians, and shouldn’t focus on regions or differences, shouldn’t define our identities or our “Croatian-ness” by which region our parents or grandparents came from. To be honest they’re the kind of people I’d just as soon avoid {and do} because by pretending that regionalism doesn’t exist, by pretending that all Croatians {both in Croatia and abroad} eat the same food and all speak the exact same language, we aren’t celebrating all the rich diversity that’s in abundance in such a small country. And what’s not to celebrate? Geographically and historically Croatia is a land of stunning diversity, from it’s people to it’s landscapes to the many various dialects spoken, and yes: to all the various foods and regional cuisines.

Stir fried noodles with snow peas, scallops, prawns, and bean sprouts.

Growing up we weren’t exposed to a lot of different cuisines, and Italian was probably the most familiar outside of what we ate at home, and the cuisine I always loved best. I mean seriously, pasta and pizza? I was sold before I even got to the third grade. These days Italian food is much like Dalmatian food for me: soothing, familiar, comfort food at it’s best. It’s probably not a coincidence that both are Mediterranean based and therefore quite similar in lots of ways. Northern Croatian cuisine is much more Austrian and German influenced, and apart from crumbed schnitzels, not as familiar to me as that of the coast and south.

I love that my kids are far more adventurous that I was at their age. Of course eating in Australia in 2017 compared to when I was growing up is like two completely different countries when it comes to food, and they’re luckier than they’ll ever know to have so much variety at their doorstep. They’re also old enough to be eating out without their parents, so we get to hear about the amazing pho they had in one place, the sticky fall off the bone ribs they had somewhere else, the tapas spread that was awesome. I love their sense of adventure in trying new foods, and in the last decade or so I’ve make a very conscious effort to broaden all of our taste palettes, because it just seems wrong to box yourself in food-wise when there is so much out there.

Eggplant stuffed with quinoa, chickpeas, and pine nuts and topped with golden haloumi.

Our neighbours {who we have adopted and love insanely much} are Lebanese, and it’s thanks to them {and their Taita} that we discovered the amazing cuisine of that country, so much so that many dishes have become staples and not only do I like cooking them, but everyone loves eating them even more. The social side of eating shouldn’t be ignored either, because often times that lavish spread is more about welcoming and feeding the people you love than it is about nutrition or just eating something for the sake of it.

But the thing about all the foods I love to cook, the one thing they all have in common, what I love the most, is that there are so many regional variations, so many ways to make the same thing, so many sworn “authentic” versions of any given dish.

And with 912,000 Google hits for “how to make baba ghanoush” how can that be a bad thing???

  1. I love reading about your heritage and I think I’ve learned so much more here and there about Croatia and those roots. There can be so much identity and history found in food!!

    Reply

    1. It’s true isn’t it, food can be a way of keeping cultures alive when you think about it. Croatia’s history is just so different according to the region, I’ve no idea why anyone would try to deny that.

      Reply

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