Cooking is helping Australian families stay connected to their cultures during lockdown

With gatherings banned due to coronavirus measures, families in Australia and around the world are instead finding joy in cooking traditional recipes at home and sharing them online.

Tina and Kaily Koutsogiannis

Tina and Kaily Koutsogiannis with their dyed eggs for Orthodox Easter. Source: Supplied

It's going to be a very different Orthodox Easter this year for Sydney sisters Tina and Kaily Koutsogiannis.

But while the coronavirus lockdown has put an end to their traditional family gathering, it won't take away the food or laughter. 

"It wouldn't be Easter without still cooking," Tina told SBS News.

"Having tradition and culture is really special, it just helps you feel like yourself in these trying times, and I think we need it more than ever."

Greek sisters in Sydney use food to connect to their culture

The sisters have spent the week preparing for a smaller, quieter celebration for the two of them; flicking through old family cookbooks and passed-down recipes.

They were inspired by their late aunt to make tsoureki, a traditional Greek Easter bread.

"It was really her job to bring us all together through the food," Tina said.

"Tsoureki was her best dish, and every year I feel like we're getting closer and closer to making it just like hers. And every year, we can feel her in the room with us.''

Mob feeds

Indigenous man CJ Walker is a seasoned tour guide in Karratha, Western Australia, but government-enforced shutdowns and bans on all unnecessary travel have drastically reduced his workload.

His family is instead using the quiet time to take their youngest members on country to learn basic hunting and gathering skills.

CJ Walker and his family are using the lockdown to teach younger members about the land.
Source: Supplied

"Being up here, in Karratha, we have a lot more space to be able to go and get away from town and this virus situation," he said. 

“I feel really proud actually to be able to share this knowledge because I do know that a lot of our own people in Australia have not learnt these skills ... and it's good for non-Indigenous people to know what it means to be out on country."

A family feed outside Karratha in WA.
Source: Supplied

Single father of seven Billy Tompkins has also mastered a recipe or two in his Canberra home, and he and Mr Walker are some of the hundreds posting on a growing Facebook group called Mob Feeds.

It's a place where Indigenous, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander people share traditional, family recipes for others to try during self-isolation.

 

Billy Tompkins and his family are sharing family recipes on Facebook group Mob Feeds.
Source: Supplied

Mr Tompkins' curry prawn risotto is a hit with his family. "He's a good cook better than everyone else," daughter Minnie said. 

"Food within Indigenous culture, Indigenous families, it goes way back," Mr Tompkins said. 

"You’re looking at over 60,000 years of sharing culture, sharing food and sharing family and stories." 

"To have a page dedicated to that, celebrating the importance of food - especially if no one can be together to share it - but still going online to share tips and tricks, it's been really special. I have a cousin in Cairns using my recipe."

Home-cooking goes global

Home-cooking online has been happening around the world during the pandemic, with nonnas in Italy becoming internet sensations.

Nerina Tamanti, who lives just north of Rome, gained a reputation as travellers came from far and wide to make pasta with her, so when the country went into lockdown, her granddaughter Chiara Nicolanti helped her take her lessons online.

Nonna Nerina with her granddaugher Chiara Nicolanti.
Source: Supplied

The pair now host virtual homemade pasta classes, with people tuning in from around the world.

"When you know what's on your plate, where it came from and you're eating good food, the world is a better place," Ms Tamanti said. 


"It melts my heart to see," her granddaughter said. 

"It's such a difficult time here and around the world. It just felt like this is one thing we can do to help us and others escape from it all for a bit." 

Mental health connection

Tegan Cruwys, a clinical psychologist in Brisbane, said maintaining a connection to culture and community during a pandemic was crucial for mental health. 

"Maybe this is a time some of us are realising for the first time just what a close link there is between our social connections and our mental health," she said. 

SBS Food: The world is cooking to get through coronavirus

"Suddenly having those opportunities to connect with others ripped away from us can really bring into light just how important they are.

"It’s not just about nice recreation of seeing a friend, it’s essential at a public health level if we want people’s mental health to be good in the country. Being able to connect, whether it’s face-to-face or not, is really critical going forwards as a country.”

But other health experts are warning people shouldn't feel pressured to pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill just because they are spending more time at home, as everyone's circumstances are different. 

Infectious disease social scientist Holly Seale from the University of New South Wales said: "I think the key thing here is that not everyone is going to walk away from being in a social-distancing space with a new habit or a new hobby and that’s okay." 

A collection of Orthodox Easter recipes is available at SBS Food

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.


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Published 19 April 2020 at 8:26am
By Charlotte Lam