A group of people from many countries sharing their
traditional food has resulted in A global feast: traditional
meals in a new homeland (Otago University Press) a
book featuring the food and stories of 26 immigrants to
Dunedin. Charmian Smith reports.
Beryl Lee (left) and Afife Harris. Photo by Linda
One day, about five years ago, Afife Harris and Beryl Lee
were sitting at Afife's kitchen table talking about food, as
they often did, and had the great idea of getting people from
different countries to cook their traditional food for others
"One person would cook and the others would help, and
afterwards we'd interview them and find out about their
background and how the food fitted in, and then we said we'd
put it together in a book," Mrs Lee said.
Cooking and sharing food from different cultures turned out
to be an exciting community project. Everyone paid $5 towards
the cost of ingredients and helped prepare the food.
Sometimes more than 20 people came and as word spread, more
people wanted to join, so they had to limit the numbers as
people's houses weren't big enough. A few people weren't
happy cooking in front of so many people so they did it just
for Mrs Harris, Mrs Lee and photographer Brian Treanor.
Sometimes the food was eaten before it could be photographed,
and they had to take the photographs when they were testing
the recipes, Mrs Lee said with a laugh.
Many practised cooks don't measure their ingredients as they
know from experience how much to use, so the two women remade
the dishes to make sure the measurements were right.
Others of the group who were less experienced, texted or
emailed their mothers back home for advice and recipes.
"For a while, the connections were really going backwards and
forwards to different parts of the world," Mrs Lee said.
Their book features the food of women and men from Asia, the
Middle East, Europe, the Americas and Africa, all living in
Dunedin at the time. Since then, three or four families have
moved away, there have been births and a death.
Mrs Harris is typical of many immigrants. She grew up in
Lebanon, learning to cook from her mother, and still cooks
the food of home for her family.
"My granddad used to stand at the gate and my mother and
aunty were cooking in the kitchen. He'd invite people in and
I have the same habits; it's how I grew up," she said.
She sells Lebanese food at the Otago Farmers Market, teaches
Lebanese cooking and often cooks for other people.
In war-torn Beirut she worked as an executive officer with
the YMCA and was always out helping people and doing things
with people, so it's not surprising she is involved in
numerous community organisations here.
However, when she came to Dunedin with her New Zealand-born
husband 20 years ago, she couldn't find many of the
ingredients she needed for making Lebanese food, she said.
"You used what was available but it didn't taste the same.
But after a few years, with more multicultural people coming
to Dunedin, you could find more ingredients and you didn't
need to order them from another city.
"It's easier for people arriving now because things are
The two women met several years ago when Mrs Lee was
teaching Mrs Harris' sons.
"As a New Zealander brought up in a traditional way, I found
it absolutely fascinating the way she talked about how she
cooked and the way she went about her cooking," Mrs Lee said.
A retired teacher, she provided support for overseas students
and hosted world travellers through an international travel
When she interviewed the contributors to learn their stories,
she focused on their upbringing, memories of growing up and
the food organisation at home because that defined how they
cooked, she said.
Both women were fascinated by the number of different ways
the contributors cooked rice.
"There was Afife's one where she browns vermicelli in oil
then adds the washed rice. The Turks use a risoni pasta with
rice in the same way. Other people boil the rice and throw
away the water, then add the cooked rice to oil in a
"Some people browned the rice in oil first. Some steamed,
some boiled and put it through a colander. There was rice
cooked with vegetables, coconut rice done different ways,
spiced rice, fried rice, glutinous rice, rice puddings and
chelo from Afghanistan and Iran. Some used rice cookers, some
didn't, and some steamed rice with a tea towel under the lid.
Some had very exact measurements like one cup of rice to two
cups of water and some used a finger to measure the water.
It's amazing how people flavour their rices," Mrs Lee said.
She was also fascinated by the overlap of culinary
Someone from Sri Lanka gave her a calendar that showed fish
drying in the sun. She mentioned it looked like baccalau
(dried salted fish) from Portugal and was told the tradition
was a legacy of the Portuguese.
Being a Kiwi, she was surprised to find almost all the Asian
and South American cooks had had a maid at home.
"I didn't know how to write about that because in our terms
this is not what we do, but it's commonplace in some
"When I asked, they'd say they weren't very rich but there
was always someone who had less money than you who wanted a
job. I found it difficult to write about it in a way that
didn't put them down," she said.
It took 18 months to do the cooking and testing, another year
to do the interviewing and writing, and another year
correcting and chasing things up. Then there was the
difficulty of finding a publisher. It fell between the cracks
when Longacre was bought by Random House, and the other
publishers they approached said they liked the idea and the
book but it was too local, or they didn't do cookbooks.
They applied for grants, thinking they could publish it
themselves, and were advised to apply under the multi-ethnic
council, but that was in disarray at the time, so they formed
their own charitable trust.
Then, when they went to pick up the manuscript from the last
publisher, Otago University Press, they were delighted to be
told that it had been accepted.
Wendy Harrex, publisher at the press said: "We took the book
on because part of our publishing list is devoted to
migration and ethnic history, including books for the general
reader. This book brought the two themes together and arose
out of an interesting community project organised around
recent settlers' traditional meals, which they shared with
others in the group. The range of stories was good and the
food inviting. We thought people anywhere in New Zealand
could find it useful and learn something from it."
Any royalties from A Global Feast will go towards
giving the contributors copies and to charities they are
fostering to keep culinary traditions alive.
And, as a result of their negotiations with the multi-ethnic
council, both women have become heavily involved.
Mrs Lee is president and Mrs Harris runs chai and chat
sessions where women get together to learn about living in
Dunedin, learn English and share food and friendship.
Flavia's Brazilian caramel
This Brazilian version of a crème
caramel is cooked in a bain-marie.
4 tablespoons caster sugar
9 tablespoons milk powder
8 tablespoons sugar
1½ cups water
Caramelise 4 tablespoons of caster sugar in a 22cm enamel pan
or leak-proof cake ring. Do this by sprinkling the sugar over
the entire base of the pan, and gently heating it on the
stove-top until the sugar becomes a liquid and then turns
golden-brown. Immediately remove from the heat source as the
sugar will continue to brown and burns easily.
Mix the milk powder, the second measure of sugar, the eggs
and water in a blender, or whisk thoroughly in a bowl with an
Pour the custard on top of the caramelised sugar in the
Place the pan into a large roasting dish which will act as a
It should be large enough to comfortably hold the flan. Fill
the roasting dish with boiling water to three-quarters of the
way up the sides of the cake ring. Bake at 160degC until set
- about 35 minutes.
Atha's Greek octopus in red wine
1kg baby octopus
¼ cup olive oil
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 large onions, chopped
2 bay leaves
410g tin peeled, chopped tomatoes
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon chicken stock powder
Baby octopus is usually sold cleaned and prepared, so simply
cut into two pieces - body and tentacles.
Combine octopus, olive oil, garlic and onions in a deep pan.
Cook uncovered over a low heat for 20 minutes or until the
onions are soft.
Add the bay leaves, tomatoes, wine, tomato paste, sugar,
peppercorns and chicken stock powder to the octopus and
simmer, uncovered, for about 1½ hours until the octopus is
tender. Remove bay leaves. The sauce will thicken as it
cools. Serve warm or cold.
• Recipes from A global feast: traditional meals in a
A global feast: traditional meals in a new homeland by
Afife Skafi Harris and Beryl Lee (Otago University Press) is