Friday, 2 March 2007

Food and culture

Nigel Slater, who was the inspiration for the meal of the last two nights, writes simple, beautiful and melodic prose. ‘Real Food’ was the first book I used that allowed me to feel free in what I cooked, when I was about 25 or 26 years old; and I particularly remember the excitement of finding out how to make baked camembert in its box. Before that, I had my mum as my inspiration, and some of her good but inward-looking dishes. They were consistent and stable meals like chicken in mushroom sauce, macaroni cheese, or chicken with pineapple. I may have experimented with a tomato on top of the macaroni cheese (my mum wouldn’t have done this), however generally was a good, methodical cook. My family wasn't aware of seasonality, and although the menu varied over the course of the week, a result of household economics, it did not do so over the course of the year.

The cleft in this steadfast menu was Indian food. I remember my mum bringing home from work fragrant, earthy and hot chicken curries, made by an Indian nursing colleague of hers; and even better, the chewy, flaky, and oily chapattis that accompanied the curry. Sometimes, also, my brother and I would come home from school to bowls heaped with spicy Bombay Mix, with peanuts, dried fruit, and crunchy noodles laid out on the table in the living room. My mum also made really good curries herself, without using curry powder, which was very unusual for the 1970's.

It was not all fun. I do remember a very early childhood birthday party of the Indian girl who lived next door to us (Ormi, I think, was her name). I remember being scared of the and strange and unfamiliar food. Her parents tried to reassure me that it was all tremendously exciting, and I noticed that the other (Indian) children were having a wild time, but I had to go home early due to being overwhelmed. There was recently a ridiculous comment on ultra-right wing columnist and blogger
Andrew Bolt’s blog stating that all multiculturalism had given us was food, and that this paucity of other virtues suggested that multicultural societies were by nature bad. This single point is poor and false, however the reductive nature of this comment seems to me to say that a few nice flavours are not worth changing the world for. Only from my experience, food is more than a few nice flavours, and it is a fantastic point from which to engage with the rest of the world from. Probably many anti-multiculturalists have failed to engage, and have turned some of the reservedness that I went through when I was aged about 4 or 5 , and turned it into hatred.

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