Raisins: Connecting the outback to the city

It’s been three weeks OotO (Out of the Outback), and the stomach adjustments have begun. I’ve already eaten out at Mexican, Italian, Greek, Thai and Korean, and have begun to adapt to life without the weekly Shnitty and Cheeseslaw down at the footy club. Yes, there are city-country differences and they span more than simply across the dinner table.

Working in indigenous health, I managed to get my head around the world of quandongs, roo curry and johnny cakes, which was as exciting as it was new and diverse. My new role as a Dietitian on  a Mission is situated in one of Melbourne’s most culturally diverse regions; on my books I have people from Macedonia, from Sierra Leone, from the Torres Strait, and I can’t wait to dive into their kitchens (only metaphorically, unfortunately), and learn from them as much as they learn from me during consults. 

Take for example, the first patient I saw in Melbourne. An elderly Greek man, who was as wide as he was tall (well, the whole 5 foot nothing he was), he seemed to enjoy the social aspect of the consult moreso than the nutritional intervention. As he explained with passion the types of foods he eats, I squeezed in snippets of nutritional advice to keep his diabetes managed. He didn’t know it, but this was a mutually beneficial conversation- he had no idea just how much I loved hearing his stories of homemade delicacies. And, of course, his stories of Greek delicacies took my mind back to the middle of the Australian dessert. Because, no matter how hard we try to fight it, food unities and binds us all. Most likely, more than we realise.

As he spoke of his love for Fanouropita, I reminisced of the smells that would make their way into my outback office on a daily basis. We were a mere 20m from the bakery that sold the pies that (along with BHP, which began in Broken Hill), put the town on the map: the famous McLeods pies. It made my job as a dietitian quite difficult. So why did a Greek cake made to honour St Fanourios, the patron saint of lost things, make me think of fresh pastry goods? Simple. Raisins. A connection that only someone who has a particular fondness to the tasty little delights would make. They form the basis of both a Greek cake and a outback bakery delicacy. Despite my resistance to give in to one of their pies, my beloved bakery, which is now becoming a distant memory, kept me coming back for their Sinker. A slice I’d never tried before, it was a dense fruit mixture between two layers of pastry, and topped with coconut icing. Google tells me it is AKA Chester slice/ cake, a poor mans cake made using scraps of stale bread, from England or Ireland (depending where you read). I love the density of the fruit, the fact it isn’t laden with added sugars and fats, and of course all the fibre the dried fruits provide. Oh, and the pink icing. Because pink icing makes everything that little bit more exciting.

Fanouropita lacks both eggs and animal fats, making it particularly appealing to those who are either a. vegan, b. participating in a version on Lent or fasting, or c. are a dietitian or person similarly excited about healthier versions of cakes and the like. The raisins add sweetness, and also help symbolise why the Mediterranean diet is so wonderful. It relies on ingredients such as fresh orange juice, dried fruit and nuts to add flavour, which has the added benefit of added nutrients. 

So here we have two treats, originating thousands of miles apart, yet each evoking precious memories- one of my home away from home, and one of new beginnings. And both, delicious.