There’s a new, authentic Turkish kitchen located in the heart of the western Sydney suburb, Auburn, that’s serving up healthy traditional dishes made with halal ingredients and a touch of love.
The kitchen is not located in a fine dining restaurant, nor is it situated in an edgy suburban café. In fact, the dining destination is part of the new aged care facility, Gallipoli Home, which promises to deliver culturally appropriate meals to meet the nutritional needs of older residents and delight their taste buds.
Executive Chef at Gallipoli Home, Ved Prasad, tells SBS that the new facility puts the cultural food needs of residents at the centre of care.
“We don’t consider this place to be an aged care facility,” says Prasad. “We consider it to be a home. We provide everything that a person living at home would like to have, and that includes good food.”
“Aged care is not a place where you go to die. It’s a place where you go to live in the best way possible. So the first thing I do is feed the residents what they want and like..."
The residents here are mostly from Turkish and Arabic backgrounds but older people from Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan and Malta live there as well.
“The residents also have different health issues like dementia, diabetes, and problems with their sodium and potassium levels. So we do our best to cater for everyone’s food and health needs.”
A sneak peek at the facility’s menu – designed to cater for over 100 elderly people – reveals a breakfast buffet featuring gözleme, baskets of pogača rolls, hummus, stuffed olives, dried dates, and even pastirma – a dried, cured beef which is made to order.
The rotating weekly menu also includes halal dishes like sığır köfte – oval-shaped grass-fed beef mince, made ‘bazaar-style’, presented with traditional almond rice and shepherd salad; and helva and caramelised pumpkin tart for dessert, made with honey-flavoured pumpkin, rosewater, semolina and ricotta cheese.
“Aged care is not a place where you go to die,” he says. “It’s a place where you go to live in the best way possible. So the first thing I do is feed the residents what they want and like – food that is of their culture – and I think about how that food should be presented and taste.
“If someone wants something specific for lunch, then we are more than happy to do it. It’s practical to give them what they want as long as we have it and if we don’t have it at the time they ask, then we respond by saying 'we will find it soon'.”
A spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Joel Feren, explains that it’s vital for all of Australia’s culturally diverse seniors to be able to eat the food they enjoy that evoke positive memories.
“Food is so much more about than a source of nutrition," says Feren, an Accredited Practising Dietitian who consults at two aged care facilities. "It can help to preserve the identity of people, no matter their age. We eat for cultural reasons and to continue certain traditions – we need to be mindful of that when we serve residents food in aged care.”
“Not everyone will want shepherds pie a couple of times a week. So facilities need to have suitable alternatives already in place for those who don’t want the stereotypical meals served."
Feren admits it’s difficult to cater to the varied food needs residents in a nursing home, all who have different health requirements. So facilities often focus on health first to ensure seniors get the nutrition they need to prevent malnutrition and falls. But if residents do not like the food they are served because they are from another culture, then they may not eat it and facilities will be back at square one.
“Not everyone will want shepherds pie a couple of times a week. So facilities need to have suitable alternatives already in place for those who don’t want the stereotypical meals served.
“If your parent is in aged care and they have a certain food or cultural needs, a conversation needs to be had with staff early on about how the facility can meet their needs. There’s got to be a compromise from both ends and the kitchen needs to make some changes to suit your parent's food requirements.”
Prasad says taste and cultural preferences are his first consideration when creating a menu for older people. Health comes next because “you can always adjust or tweak recipes to suit health needs”. Prasad also works with the home’s clinical team to receive daily reports on resident’s health to be across nutritional changes.
Residents with swallowing difficulties are also served texture-modified meals. “We make the same cultural dishes for residents who can’t swallow as the other residents so their food tastes the same. But we puree their meal after it is made, not before. We then put it in a mould to look like the dish. At 75 degrees Celsius, the mould will still hold its shape.” The result is that all the meals look and taste the same. “All it takes is a few extra steps.”
Of course, as Australians are now very well aware, not every aged care facility has the same food principles as Gallipoli Home. Back in 2018, an ABC investigation into the food served in aged care revealed a shocking, sad and unsatisfactory state of affairs. In the public discussion about food in aged care that soon followed, various reasons were given to explain the dire circumstances. One was the limited funds available for good food in aged care, with some facilities only able to spend $6 a day to feed one elderly person.
“From my point of view, if I was running a facility and struggling financially, the most important thing to do is to look at the chef because one of the most important things in any facility is food."
Prasad explains that cost is a big factor determining the meals cooked in aged care. However, he believes if the chef is committed to feeding residents quality, culturally appropriate food, then “it is never too difficult”.
“From my point of view, if I was running a facility and struggling financially, the most important thing to do is to look at the chef because one of the most important things in any facility is food," Prasad says.
“If a chef is capable, they can do anything. Money is important but sometimes being creative means you can probably make ends meet.
“You don’t need expensive ingredients. You just have to have feelings for the people you are going to feed.
“Everybody needs to look at where they will be in a few years time and think about what they would like to eat when they it comes time for them to be in aged care.”