Whether it’s your morning coffee brewing ritual or nightly meal with your family, what and how we consume food and drink often bears more significance than simply fuelling our bodies and satisfying cravings. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, that’s no different. The collecting and preparing of food is intertwined with our story-lines and is a crucial part of our identities.
Growing up in Central Queensland, I remember the stories my family would share as we prepared meals around the kitchen table – from my grandfather’s smoked echidna to Nan’s fried scones with syrup butter. Just the smell from a campfire takes me straight back to childhood – to the laughter, love and life lessons given to me through the act of food gathering and preparation.
The recent trend which has seen Indigenous foods like bush plums, finger limes and crocodile become increasingly visible on Australian fine-dining restaurant menus is really the first time Indigenous Australians have been recognised for the food we’ve been cooking and eating for thousands of years, in a fine dining context. And while I see this as a really positive way of acknowledging the rich culture and extensive knowledge of Indigenous Australians, it’s equally important to consider the history and story of how that bush food has ended up on our plates and in our supermarket aisles.
In my role as Channel Manager at NITV, Australia’s only Indigenous television channel, I’ve seen how compelling and illuminating food stories can be. For the last three years we have run our beautiful cooking program straight out of Broome – Kriol Kitchen, where sisters Ali and Mitch Torres bring their love of local food, family and history to delve into the spicy world of local Kriol cuisine from the top end of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
The program is a celebration of the Asian influences on the local people and the development of their own twists and blends of many cultures, all to serve up mouth-watering dishes. Kriol Kitchen is now filming its fourth season, which will be even more spectacular, as the Torres sisters take audiences straight to the source of the foods they cook with.
I’m also really excited about a whole new Indigenous cooking show we’re launching next year, also set in beautiful Western Australia, called On Country Kitchen. Think River Cottage but with more stories and more laughs, as renowned Indigenous chef Mark Olive, who specialises in native ingredients, and stand-up comedian Derek Nannup go ‘on country’ in South West WA searching out local dreaming stories, bush tucker and bush medicines, as well as local producers. It’s a one-of-a-kind series refreshingly told through the eyes of First Australians.
Storytelling is integral to the way Indigenous people share, eat and experience food – and that’s why NITV offers food programs among our unique mix of news and current affairs, factual documentaries and movies. NITV reflects and celebrates our diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, allowing all Australians to explore and understand more about the country we all share – and our food programs are a key way we do this.
Of course, switching on the television and going out for a beautiful meal are very different experiences. At the moment, I worry fine diners are missing out on some of the stories behind how and why we find and prepare native ingredients the ways we do. I wonder if the rise in popularity of Indigenous foods is because of people’s curiosity about our culture and a desire to connect with Indigenous Australia... Or is it more down to the novelty factor?
There is no better way to experience and understand a culture than through its food. If the meaning behind what we eat isn’t delved into, that opportunity to connect could be missed.
This article was first published on Time Out and has been shared with their permission.