A shared table: celebrating our refugees

21st October 2020 | Alison Turner

The Refugee Council of Australia works tirelessly to support refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, campaigning for more humane refugee policies, and advocating on behalf of those they represent. But one week out of every year they some take time out for something a little more festive, holding Refugee Week – a week to celebrate all the people from refugee backgrounds who make Australia a more culturally rich place to live.

Ordinarily, the week would involve various events that showcase the many cultures that the Refugee Council represents, with music festivals, food vans, special dinners, films and dance. Of course, this year has made events such as this harder to arrange, so instead, the council decided to speak to people in various refugee communities about their favourite dishes, so the council could then share them in online recipe videos.

But when they started talking to people, they found that all of these favourite dishes had beautiful stories associated with them. It was soon clear that they had hit on something special, and so the council decided to create a book, Share a Meal, Share a Story – a collection of all these dishes and the stories behind them.

“There was one woman, Deena, who told us her grandma would feed her pure cardamom pods from her pocket, and she would just eat them,” says Laura Stacey, Refugee Council Media and Campaigns Coordinator. “Her grandma also made her Mahalabia, which is a Middle Eastern panna cotta dish. You’re supposed to wait for it to set, but she just never would; she would always eat it runny. So in the book, the recipe says that you’re meant to let it set, but if you’re like Deena and you can’t wait, then just eat it runny!”

Through the many incredible stories and recipes that were shared, it became evident that, for the people who told them, this was about much more than just food – this was a link to the homes that had to be left behind.

“It’s a connection to a story, a culture, a history that they left behind when they left their country, but to some extent they’ve also brought it with them and passed it on,” Stacey says. “They want to share their culture with their new home. I think that’s really important to a lot of people who seek asylum here – they want to bring something of what they had back home, the best parts of their lives back home, and share it.”

Food is a language we all speak, and sharing a story over a meal is a wonderful way to explore new cultures.

Food is the international language that everyone can share, and we see this sharing of cultures in today’s Australian cuisine. Vietnamese food, Somali food, Ethiopian food, Afghan food are all commonplace now, but all have come to Australia from refugee communities.

“Part of that is recreating this culture for their own communities, but part of it is about sharing their culture with their new home as well,” Stacey says.

Stacey’s favourite story and recipe is of a Rohingya woman from Burma called Noor.

“She talks about how growing up in Burma as a part of the Rohingya minority was incredibly hard,” Stacey explains. “When they left their country, they were homeless and hungry for a long time – they were in limbo, waiting to be resettled for many, many years.”

Noor was 11 when her family resettled in Australia, and the first meal Noor’s mother cooked when they arrived was a Rohingyan beef curry. We’ve shared the recipe with you below.

“For them, it was not only food on the table,” Stacey says. “They were finally able to celebrate their culture – one that had been oppressed, which was why they had to flee.”

You can find Noor’s full story and recipe on the SBS Food website. To buy the Share a Meal, Share a Story cookbook, go to action.refugeecouncil.org.au. All funds raised go directly to the chefs and to support the advocacy of the Refugee Council of Australia. You can also choose your favourite recipes and cook them for a special Share a Meal, Share a Story fundraising dinner party or event, at which you can ask friends and family to donate to the Refugee Council, to help fund their work to create more humane refugee policies.

Noor’s Rohingyan beef curry

Serves 4
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 1 – 2 hours

You’ll need:

2 large onions, diced
1kg diced beef, with bones
1 large tomato, diced
2 potatoes, diced
1 tbsp garlic paste
2 tbsp ginger paste
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp red chilli powder 
1 tbsp coriander powder 
½ tbsp cumin powder 
3 tsp garam masala powder 
4 tbsp of any cooking oil
Optional garnish: coriander, green chilli

Method:

1. Heat oil on high heat in a large pot.
2. Add onions, garlic paste and ginger paste. Stir for 2-3 minutes until brown.
3. Add diced beef and bones and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
4. Add turmeric powder, red chilli powder, coriander and cumin. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.
5. Add in the garam masala and stir-fry for another 2 minutes.
6. Add 1 cup of water and diced tomatoes and cook on high heat for 5 minutes.
7. Slow cook on a low heat for 1-2 hours. The longer it’s slow cooked, the better it tastes.
8. Add the potatoes in the last half an hour.
9. Garnish with coriander and green chilli as preferred and serve with hot steamed rice. 

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