When former Italian food journalist Carlo Petrini became involved in a campaign to stop a McDonald’s opening in Rome in the 1980s, the ideals behind that protest grew into what is now known as the Slow Food movement, an internationally recognised concept, entrenched in the ethos of food lovers everywhere. Petrini founded the first association in 1989 as a counter to the rise of fast food and fast life.
Today, Slow Food International has more than 100,000 members in 150 countries. Its philosophy, under the banner of “good, clean and fair”, is that everyone has the right to enjoy good food, but also the responsibility to protect the traditions of food that make this pleasure possible. ‘Good’ refers to the quality and taste; ‘clean’ points to processes that respect both the environment and the animals; and ‘fair’ aims for accessible prices for consumers and a fair economic return for those who produce the food.
Slow Food Perth houses three of Australia’s 36 local branches, known as convivia, and has about 200 members. As Western Australia’s population is made up of people from more than 200 countries, one of Slow Food Perth’s projects, Slow Food at the Edge of the World, aims to collect food stories and recipes from migrants and refugees.“We wanted to document recipes that have been handed down through families before they are lost forever,” says Pauline Tresise, co-leader of Slow Food Perth. What Pauline has discovered is that many of these women, particularly refugees, have no written record of their recipes or what they experienced in their family kitchens before they came to Australia.
“Nothing is written down, which is why we want to preserve these stories. They’d come to my house and see all my cookbooks and ask me: ‘why do you need them?’. And after being in the project for a while, I realised that this reaction was because they carry their recipes within them and pass them down through demonstration. They measure by handfuls and vary recipes depending on the weather and how much moisture there is in the air,” she says.
Pauline has noticed big changes in the women who have participated in the project. "They've become more relaxed and more accepting of cultural differences. Sharing recipes has allowed them to compare their lives through common ingredients and how they are used differently in each culture." Visit slowfoodperth.org.au.
Ines Quintanillou, El Salvador
Crab in pepita sauce and plantain empanadas
I arrived in Australia with my family from El Salvador in 1992. We first went to Tasmania, then, after about six months, we moved to Melbourne but this was only for a year, and then, we moved permanently to Perth.
The recipe for the crab in pepita sauce was a family tradition at Easter because that’s when we would eat seafood.My mother taught me how to make this dish in our family kitchen in San Salvador, where I grew up, when I was 17 years old. She said that Easter was the right time to cook this crab dish, and I understood that this was a tradition, being passed from mother to daughter. I still cook this for my family in Australia, but my children don’t have quite the same attachment to it that I do; to them, it’s not a big deal.
The plantain empanadas are quite popular in El Salvador; they’re a sweet snack and are a part of our culture. Kneading and shaping food is very common in El Salvadorian cuisine. Other dishes that require these methods are papusas (fried corn patties filled with cheese) and tamales (steamed masa wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves). People from my country find these dishes easy to make because we’ve been making them our whole lives. We also make them together as a group, which saves time.We often have Australian friends over to our house and they really enjoy eating my plantain empanadas because they’re so different to the sweet pastries they’re used to.We’ve been able to find most of the ingredients for these empanadas in Perth, although plantains are not always easy to find – if we use bananas, the empanadas taste different, but they’re still delicious.
Farangeez Ahmadi, Iran
Iranian lamb and herb stew with barberry rice
I was born in 1940 in Bahar, a town in north-west Iran. My childhood memories are of preparing meals with my mother and daily visits to the markets. When I was 17 years old, I met my husband and moved to the nearby city of Sanandaj, where I lived for 29 years. I arrived in Australia eight years ago with my family and now live in south Perth. My husband has since died and I live alone, but one of my daughters is nearby.
I like the freedom Australia offers and I’m happy here, but I regret the loss of Iranian traditions. We have so many rituals especially around the start of the seasons, such as the longest night of the year when we share stories with family and friends, then enjoy a meal together.
Norooz, meaning ‘new day’, is celebrated on the first day of spring and marks the first day of the Persian New Year. Families exchange gifts and rosewater is given by children to their parents and extended family, and is then sprayed to make the house smell sweet before guests arrive.
Most Iranian meals are based on herbs, fruits and vegetables. Rose petals are also used in cooking and are sometimes mixed with cumin, cardamom and cinnamon to create a mixture called advieh. Pickles are also often served with meals. I make onion pickles with homemade vinegar. I think commercial vinegar tastes like chemicals, so I like to make my own. I seal grapes in jars, leave them for a year, then squeeze out the liquid, strain the mixture and bottle the vinegar. I also use the vinegar to make preserved garlic, which takes seven years to age. The quality improves each year and the result is sweet, dark brown garlic.
One of my family’s favourite dishes is Iran’s national dish, ghormeh sabzi (lamb and herb stew). I learnt to make it by watching my mother in the kitchen from a very young age. I serve it with barberry rice with a tahdig (crust) made from potatoes or pumpkin. I don’t need to time how long the rice and vegetables will cook. I just listen to it; I can hear when the moisture is gone and then I know it’s ready.
Natalina Cherubino, Italy
Pasta with fresh beans and potatoes and saint martin fruit pies
I was born in Casa La Rocca in Calabria in the extreme south of Italy. Back then, it was a village with no roads or infrastructure. My childhood memories are all about food and the land; you planted the food, you grew it and then you ate it. We ate according to the seasons, we didn’t go to the supermarket and we never had sweets. When I was about seven or eight years old, we moved to Australia.
The pasta and fresh beans, which my mum taught me how to make, is a recipe that is very prominent in my memory. The most important thing about this dish is the freshness of the ingredients – using canned foods will not give the same result. You chuck everything in the pot and within an hour, it can be on the table; it’s magic. It’s a simple dish, which you can also add ingredients to. If you feel like it, add pancetta or bacon to enhance the flavour.
The pitta di San Martino is like a Christmas mince pie in terms of tradition and flavour, and the recipe has been in my family for hundreds of years. I remember my grandmother collecting the fruits and nuts each season. She would preserve the grapes and figs by drying them in a trestle in the sun, and the almonds and walnuts were from her orchard. Each year, a few weeks before Christmas, she would chop up all the fruit and nuts, and cook everything with homemade vino cotto (cooked grape must) over an open fire for about an hour. A week later, she made the pastry and prepared many pies; it was all about sharing. My grandmother was the lady everyone went to in the village for pitta di San Martino. As a child, it was a special time. We never received Christmas presents, but we celebrated with food and by going to church. These days, I make the pitta and sell it at the farmers’ markets in Mount Claremont and Subiaco in Perth.
I went back to Casa La Rocca for the first time in 55 years, hoping to write a book about it [Natalina has written about the village and its food traditions in a book titled La Rocca]. I did not analyse my feelings at the time, but it is a lost paradise and I get teary just thinking about it. It is a ghost village now. There are a few people left, but not many. Some still survive by selling their produce, like goat’s cheese, but most of those villages are now full of wild pigs. The main theme of my book is how important it is to go back to your roots as those connections stay with you forever. My mother never went back to Casa La Rocca, but I know that she wished she had. That’s why it is so important for recipes to be handed down from generation to generation – it helps keep the connection.
Bakhita Emiliano, South Sudan
Beef, spinach and peanut stew and broad bean balls
The spinach and peanuts with beef is a very traditional Sudanese dish and is a favourite among many families in Sudan. I learned to cook it from my mother when I was about nine years old. It’s an important recipe for me and I often make it for my family in Perth, but it’s also the kind of special dish you could offer guests for lunch. I’m very happy that this recipe is now actually recorded because now my husband has no excuse not to cook it himself!
When my family first came to Perth, we were staying with a Sudanese family and they took us to a shopping centre where I was very happy to find all the ingredients I needed to make this dish. I felt very much at home because of that.
The tamayya (broad bean balls, similar to falafels) is a food that you might find at markets in Sudan. Broad beans are a staple for us. They are often boiled and blended into a paste. Tamayya is great because it’s filling and it can keep you going all day, which makes it perfect for a lot of the poor people in Sudan who don’t have enough to eat.
Photography by Alan Benson.
As seen in Feast magazine, October 2011, Issue 2. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.