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Lessons in Eating for Migrants

21 January 2023

Been thinking a lot about inauthentic cuisine, those so called traditional dishes that are actually more recent inventions—like the ploughman’s lunch. In fact I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity and inauthenticity more broadly, as we seem to be living in an age obsessed with certain notions of authenticity. Perhaps this is my innate perversity—what a playwright colleague described as me always wanting to look though the other end of the telescope—but I’m more interested in the inauthentic, in part because that’s often where different cultures, different tastes, and different understandings of history mix and marinate and morph …

Anyway, the last quarter of 2022—thanks to a Visiting Research Fellowship from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences—I worked on Lessons in Eating for Migrants. It’s part of a larger project, but here’s a brief description of what I’ve been exploring.

Teaching migrants the Australian way to eat was a challenging job—according to a 1949 newspaper article. Authorities at the reception camp were trying to wean the newcomers from their goulash. How did those postwar refugees and displaced persons from continental Europe, Ten Pound Poms and other migrants deal with the Australian menu? How did their recipes, their market gardens, their ideas about cooking and eating change Australian foodways? And in return, how did Australian produce and attitudes towards food modify those immigrants’ culinary practices?

Stroganoff. Schnitzels. Strudels. Stories filled with poppy seeds and smudged with buttery fingerprints. The dishes we chose and serve offer insights beyond the kitchen. . Chasing down obscurities, shedding new light on the familiar, Lessons in Eating for Migrants looks at how postwar migration shaped Australia’s tastes, and suggests ways we might add some more missing voices to the archive. More information here.

Outdoor eating at Frank and Ilga’s Spaghetti and Goulash Bar, Gold Coast, Queensland, circa 1950s.
Photo by Jeff Carter.

From → Essays, Miscellany

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