We visited my dad and stepmum in Bowral on the weekend and my dad made biryani (pictured at left) which is always popular with my kids.
Biryani is a rice dish spiced with turmeric, cardamon, cloves and cinnamon (among other things) and often includes meat as well. This time Dad added nuggets of beef sausages and chicken. He also made a fresh tomato, chilli, and coriander chutney to go with it.
My father has made this dish for as long as I can remember. It’s an Indian dish but he’s not Indian, and his version is a bit Anglofied, without the heat of my Indian-Australian mother-in-law’s one. For a recipe similar to the version he makes, see here.
Dad was born in Mauritius and spent the first 21 years of his life there. While his heritage is Franco-Mauritian, the country has a predominantly larger Indo-Mauritian population. The Chinese have been there for ages too, and it was at various times a Dutch, British and a French colony. Then there’s its native African presence.
So Mauritian food is a unique and tasty fusion of African, French, Indian, and Chinese cuisine. There’s lots of heat, intense flavours, and an emphasis on fresh food including a variety of seafood. Chutneys and pickles are popular too.
My 9-year old told me last week that he feels sorry for Jesus who probably never got to taste a chicken burger or anything ‘really yummy’ in his life. I said he would certainly would have enjoyed awesome food! The women who travelled with him and even the poorest people who welcomed him into their homes would have made sure of that. Martha is on the record for nearly busting a gut trying to get something special ready for him to eat.
Fresh fish, bread, olives, honey, eggs, figs, leafy greens, vinegar, spices, and lamb are all mentioned in the Gospels. These would have been prepared with care for maximum flavour and nutrition.
I’m sure Jesus held a special place in his heart for meals that reminded him of his grandparents’ ones or recipes they handed down. He would probably enjoy my Dad’s biryani if he tried it, not for its own sake so much as because he loves my Dad.
I love it when our kids say that their grandparents cook “the best food!”. My mum’s roast dinner, mother-in-law’s vindaloo, and dad’s duck a l’orange are all markers of their (and now our) cultural and familial heritage and are being cemented in their personal histories too.
Love comes with flavour – the flavours of foods we have enjoyed time and again in the company of family and friends. In enjoying their grandparents’ signature dishes, my kids are literally fed by their grandparents’ love as well. Love that will remain long after the food has been eaten, meals forgotten, and earthly lives ended.
A greasy box of popcorn chicken or slimy burger might be a fun fast-food option, but they don’t really convey layers of memory, emotion, and loving intention, generation on generation, like food traditions created and re-created at home.
It’s not only family that hands down food culture and traditions of course. We had lots of Italian immigrants’ kids at our school when I was growing up. I still remember the first lasagna I ate at a friends’ mum’s house 20 years ago, and mastered her Calabrian version early in my married life.
What favourite traditional meal have you enjoyed with your family or friends?