Ingredients in Transition


Australia has had one of the most successful migration experiences in the world. This success story is truly shown to be real when migrants from diverse cultural backgrounds arrive bringing with them many cultural traditions, customs and beliefs, which have harmoniously come together creating a positive multicultural landscape.

For many cultures these beliefs and traditions are reflected in their culinary way of life. Ingredients and traditional dishes provide insight into the rich diversity in culture the world has to offer; importantly it is a chance to share one's story and ancestral traditions. Over the past decade, as many as 200 nationalities have migrated to Australia, each bringing different types of ingredients, giving the population the chance to enjoy a rich diversity of culinary and cultural delights.

For many migrants coming to Australia, food played a significant role in helping one connect to their homeland, providing a sense of community and belonging. Many migrants from earlier periods found on arrival they were faced with obstacles in sourcing many specific ingredients required for their daily preparation of staple dishes. Many grew their own ingredients in small backyard gardens to make traditional dishes. This is a continuing tradition that exists to this day. Many of these methods have been passed down from one generation. Food can trigger childhood memories and is vital in the preservation of culture.

In Australia today the availability of food is less limited, thanks to the rise of agricultural production and importation of food. In Melbourne, you have access to a great variety of foods in supermarkets, which consciously cater for a diverse range of palates that specialize in the importation of certain ingredients from specific countries.

In this documentary, we have displayed short glimpses into the lives of four migrants who have settled in Melbourne, each from a different continent and time period, highlighting their personal story on the chosen ingredient that accompanied them on their journey and what significance it holds for them. Is there a symbolic connection to their homeland and culture, and most importantly how have they managed to continue to source the specific ingredient through their time living in Melbourne.

Firstly we have the story of Dragica Brajanovski who migrated from Macedonia, and arrived in 1968.

Dragica Brajanovski: When I came to Australia I bring the Paprika [originally known as 'Piperka' is a spice made from ground chili peppers], because it is my favorite food. And in my country, my grandparents and father are growing the paprika and eat it. We eat it too, and now it is my favorite food. When we came here it was very hard to find paprika or chilies, as there were very few shops.

But after Europeans were immigrating, and starting to make a garden, we now have plenty. And after I started to grow it myself. We make chili power after we grow the chilies in the garden. [Typically] I wait for the chilies to become red, and then cut and tie them with a string, and leave to dry. And when dry, I make the oven hot and I put it in the oven to become crunchy and then it and I smash looks like this. After, we use for cooking...

Woon Ming Lay migrated from Hong Kong in 1997.

Woon Ming Lay: [This is] Bamboo Leaf, Zhong Zi. It is used to for a traditional Chinese Dim Sim called Zhong Zi. It is to commemorate Qu Yuan. He was an ancient Politician. [Typically] it is held on the fifth of May; the fifth of May on the Lunar calendar. [It is called] the Tuen Ng Festival. At this time (340BCE) Bamboo leaves were easily obtained. Because they did not want the fish to eat the body...Because Qu Yuan wanted to commit ritual suicide. [The reason why] was that he failed to earn the Emperor's trust, and that was the reason why he committed ritual suicide. The public wanted to commemorate his death. And...did not want his body eaten away by the fish. That is why we make Zhong Zi. The purpose of the bamboo leaves is to wrap the ingredients inside, so that the ingredients are not washed away by the river.

For a very long time, Bamboos leaves were not available in Australia. But when Chinese immigrants arrived, they brought dry bamboo leaves with them. But nowadays there are fresh Bamboo leaves. You can buy them at the Chinese supermarket.

Marla Ramirez Villam migrated from Monterrey, Mexico in 2012.

Marla Ramirez Villam: The grain is our Mexican chicken powder. I use it to cook [Consommé Powder aka 'Bouillon', is a base stock used to flavor dishes]. I do not know any Mexican person who does not cook with this.

Cultural Importance?

It's important because when I was little I used to watch my Mum cook with this kind of spice. So it's like a memory that I am so far from home.

How do you get your ingredients?

My parents send it to me in a package every six months.

Is it available in Australia?

I just know here a Mexican shop, but it's not Mexican. Its like a shop from all over South American and has Mexican products but not a lot of them.

Meftuha Osman migrated from Ethiopia in 1991.

Meftuha Osman: [Sorghum is a species of numerous types of grasses, raised for grain and seed]. Products in our language we call Injera but in English it is Sorghum. Some people like the white one, some the brown one [Mesnoy Injera Bakery was the first commercial retailer to import sorghum seed to Australia.].

I am the first one to create Injera in Australia. This is especially for the Ethiopian people, the main food. And, the Somalian are using it, but not like the Ethiopian people. The Somalian people use it, but not for their main food, they have rice as the main dish. I think main food is rice for the Somalian people, but they use it [sorghum]. But Sudanese people use it like Ethiopian people. And just like this we cooking too. We eat with the milk, especially at Ramadan time when we are fasting. At midnight when we eat, we eat this one and when we cook, with the water boiling until its cooked. And then we mix with the milk and then we eat. All day we are fasting.

These stories connect to show that migrants were very resourceful. Some migrants grew their own whilst others sought out relatives who brought ingredients. In recent times others have started co-operatives or independent businesses providing specific ingredients to service their communities.

Through these businesses, the ease of resettlement has become easier. Migrants new and old given opportunity to share experiences in return helping each other establish a link to their new and old homes, and most importantly creating a sense of belonging.

About this Video

Four migrants from different continents each brought a special ingredient of their homeland’s cuisine. These ingredients played a vital role in the preservation of their culture and sense of belonging.
Length: 8:30