They’re not ‘boat people’. They’re ‘amazing cooks’. Who got me eating meat.

A Foodie blog isn’t really the platform for a political rant, and I promise this won’t be one. But food isn’t just food. It’s nutrients and it’s traditions and it binds people and this is just what this is about. With a tiny political message thrown in coz hey, that’s an upside to having your own blog. 

Today I was fortunate enough to spend the day with three families, all recently settled in Melbourne following time in a detention centre. The media would label these Afghani, Pakistani, and Burmese as ‘boat people’, even though they are so much more than their method of arriving in Australia. Despite the language barrier, I quickly learnt the reason one lady’s eyes emitted so much pain and sorrow was that she was mourning for her murdered husband. I learnt that the husband who had never once stepped foot in a kitchen because it was a ‘woman’s job’ looked at his wife with so much admiration. I learnt that no kid should talk of their time in a detention centre like it was the norm. And I learnt that you can take a person out of their own kitchen, but they can recreate flavours to take themselves thousands of kilometres back to their homeland, and bring the sparkle back into their eyes.

Today, my role as a dietitian was to show these families that despite the abundance of foods in their new home, there’s no need to eat them in abundance, and they CAN be cooked in more healthy ways. So as I played Oil and Salt Police, encouraging water to be used to aid the cooking process instead of oil, using herbs to add flavour, and tried to have plates filled half with vegetables (not 90% with rice), little did the families know I too was learning, learning, learning. Memorising the steps and processes that flowed with a pinch of this and a handful of that, and of course a big pour of oil. As each tablespoon of oil added to a dish adds 500kJ (equivalent to the energy of around one and a half slices of bread), you can see why the Oil Police are attempting to save one waistline at a time. 

When the Afghani lady with the sadness in her eyes fried up a lamb kofta and offered it fresh out of the pan to me, and there was no translator nearby so that I could quickly explain I didn’t eat meat, I knew that a headshake wouldn’t get that message across. It would simply be a dismissal, and I couldn’t do that. So, after a good 15 years of turning my nose to every red meat dish mum has cooked up, I put the kofta in my mouth. As much as I tried not to taste it, let alone enjoy it, well- it was too damn good. So I memorised the steps and will attempt to recreate it (chicken version for me, because old habits die hard and I’m not going to turn to red meat that quickly). But yes, I broke golden rule number two, which isn’t a bad thing because for once I CAN comment on the taste of a meat dish and I CAN confirm that Afghani Kofta is dee-lish.

As I said, old habits die hard, so I won’t lie when saying that I spent considerable more time watching a Pakistani woman cook up an okra curry, not only because it was the only vego dish, but because I was intrigued of this vegetable I’d never tried. Okra is technically in the same family as cotton and cocoa, but it unfortunately is nothing like these (I’d imagine a cross of these to be something similar to chocolate fairy floss, which would be downright awesome). Instead is a little like a mini zucchini. Interestingly, it has a moderate carbohydrate content (similar to pumpkin, double that of zucchini, but more than half that of potato, for those playing at home), which works in its favour because as it cooks, it releases starches which thicken the dishes they’re in. This Pakistani Okra Curry makes a wonderful addition to a meat curry and rice, of course allowing it to take up half your plate, with the meat and rice filling the other half. Let’s at least hope the people I met today learnt that. Because, today I sure learned something. And, depending your background, but irrespective of how you got here, the proof is in the pudding/ koftas/ curry.