Many of us are staunch believers that our way is the right way.
Yet food teaches us time and time again that our way is but one way.
A recipe can be interpreted and taken in so many different directions. Some of the most iconic national dishes are borne out of cultures learning and adopting new techniques. Vietnam’s iconic banh mi is a beautiful collision of French and Vietnamese food cultures. Spain and the Middle East came together to create tiny plates of delight called tapas. And I will forever be grateful that India and Southeast Asia helped create my guilty late-night snack, roti canai.
The most successful chefs in the world seek to absorb culinary traditions from around the world. They learn and unlearn their understanding of how produce, fat and fire come together to create magic. Their creativity would be stifled if they held a rigid belief that their techniques were the best. Their minds are open to food diversity and they are more successful for it.
Now imagine a world where we all understood the many benefits of unlocking the full potential of diversity.
When we first arrived in Australia in the mid-'80s, the food on our family table was what it needed to be. Familiar and comforting. We stuck to what we knew. Migrant parents are absolute rock stars for uprooting and seeking a better life. Parenting is hard, let alone in a new and strange country. For me, home was simply where my parents were. But for my parents, food was a connection to a world left behind. It represented people, sounds and smells that they craved. We ate falafel, shawarma, sabanekh (spinach stew) with vermicelli rice and, of course, our Egyptian rendition of moussaka. The only moussaka that existed, of course.
Over time, as our surroundings became more familiar and comfortable, the food on our family table became more adventurous. We reached out to Lebanese food, Italian food, even Polish food from our sweet neighbour, who no doubt faced her own similar yet unique challenges of starting a life away from home.
My six-year-old mind couldn’t understand why her home smelled different to our home. I couldn’t understand why her cabbage rolls looked so familiar but tasted so distinct. How would my mum take the news that I preferred Polish cabbage rolls?
But for my parents, food was a connection to a world left behind. It represented people, sounds and smells that they craved.
The smells from my family’s kitchen began to change. I remember the explosion in my mouth that was Indian food. The confusion that was Chinese sweet and sour. And the perfect balance that was pad Thai.
Our new home felt like a true home now, and so our foundation was strong enough to accept more differences. To open up and see what else was on the Australian menu. My mother now makes laksa that would rival any street vendor in Kuala Lumpur. She isn’t afraid of exploring new recipes, ingredients and learning about other people. She has been doing it since the '80s.
Today when I take my own kids to their grandparents’ home, they get to enjoy the decades of my parents’ adventures. When mum says she’s making moussaka, I’m not even sure if she’s making Greek moussaka, Palestinian moussaka, or even chicken and mushroom moussaka – which is a new favourite on high rotation.
This piece was originally submitted for New Voices On Food, a project dedicated to promoting diverse voices on food.
This is a melt in your mouth homage to the humble pie where Greek meets Aussie. #BringBackTheClassics
The easiest way to describe moussaka is eggplant lasagne - in place of pasta sheets, it has sweet and juicy slabs of pan-fried eggplant.
This classically Greek eggplant dish gets a seafood refresh. Food Safari Water
This is my modern interpretation of moussaka. I take meltingly tender slow-braised lamb neck and use it to fill hollowed-out eggplants. Instead of the classic creamy bechamel sauce, I add a silky smoked eggplant cream and top it all with baked ricotta. The whole eggplants are then braised in the oven.
Greek meets Australia in this version of moussaka. Instead of using minced lamb, I layer the eggplant with slices or rosemary-and-garlic-studded roasted lamb.
This moussaka has an Australian-Italian influence, and is adapted from my mother's recipe. I've added hot Italian salami and eggplant schnitzel, and used minced beef as a nod to the Aussie meat pie.
“This particular recipe for moussaka is the best I’ve tasted. Given to me by George Calombaris, it boasts layers of silky, smoky eggplant and a truly gorgeous tomato and grilled capsicum based sauce, filled with lovely herbs and spices.” Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co. 2
Moussaka is one of the traditional meals in Greece. It is a dish that needs time and patience to make, so is normally reserved for close friends and loved ones. Poh & Co. 2
This recipe went down like a treat in our house. I love béchamel sauce, but who wants the unnecessary white flour needed to make it? I came across this recipe for creamy cauliflower sauce from Pinch of Yum and it is ridiculously yummy and a great way to sneak more veggies onto kid’s plates. By adding the carrots to the mince, I was able to almost double the amount of the beef layer and once again sneaking those veggies in.