Share a meal to celebrate refugee heritage

Share a Meal, Share a Story cookbook celebrates refugees' recipes

Food
Rnita Dacho and her mum Khochibo have shared their favourite Syrian recipes for the Share a Meal, Share a Story cookbook.

Rnita Dacho and her mum Khochibo have shared their favourite Syrian recipes for the Share a Meal, Share a Story cookbook.

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Refugees share their meals and stories in new cookbook.

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From Syrian dolma to Rohingyan beef curry the traditional recipes of Australian refugees - and the stories behind them - are being celebrated in a new online cookbook.

Share a Meal, Share a Story is a mouthwatering and eclectic collection of recipes and stories collected by the Refugee Council of Australia and put together by SBS Food Online which showcases the best of this country's culinary culture.

"There is something so joyous about not only cooking the dishes we hold so dear but also the ability to share them with those around us," writes SBS Food Online managing editor, Farah Celjo in the book's introduction.

"For the chefs in this book, who have sought safety in Australia, food takes them back to a home, culture and people they have had to leave behind...

"Preparing these dishes from their home evokes a poignant nostalgia, and allows people to keep their culture and traditions alive in their new home."

She said when the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) decided to put together this collection of recipes, sharing the stories that go alongside them, they hadn't anticipated the huge interest.

"As soon as they started chatting to people about food, their stories poured forth - the memories that come with each dish and the way in which food has a power like no other to transport people back to times passed."

In the book Syrian-born Rnita Dacho, from the Sydney suburb of Fairfield, and her mother Khochibo share their stories and favourite recipes.

Rnita spent two years crossing Isis-held territory so that she could continue to teach her students. When her family's safety was in danger after speaking out against the government, they were forced to flee their home and came to Sydney.

"I had a panic attack at the airport because I couldn't speak any English, but when I arrived in Bankstown our new community welcomed us with open arms we will forever be grateful for that," said Rnita, who now works at the Refugee Council of Australia where her mum's dolma are a huge office hit.

In the book the pair share the recipe for Khochibo's famous dolma (stuffed vine leaves), which also got Rnita through her wedding day.

"On my wedding day, my husband's family came to pick me up to take me to the church, but I refused to leave without some dolma. It got me through my big day without any dramas," she said.

"My mum is the best cook. I can't compete with her amazing way of cooking. She passes her recipes to me but I'm sure she keeps some as secret so I am always going back to her for advice and instructions."

For Rnita, cooking is a crucial to her family. "Cooking was always something really important to us as we believe it's act of love and appreciation. It's the time the family get together, talk. Food makes talking in any subject easier."

She said cooking food from Syria made the resettlement process easier.

"In the beginning where everything was new to us here in Australia cooking traditional food was our way of making sense of the process and having the sense of stability.

"Learning about other culture's recipes motivated my mum to go online and learn more about their culture, tradition, their language, and history. This was great way for mum to learn about the Australian community and the amazing culture mix here.

"And I actually learn new recipes from friends and online then I test them. If they are okay I go and cook it with mum. She learned a lot of other cultures' recipes this way."

She said her and her mum decided to take part in the cookbook to show their support to others.

"For mum offering food to others is her way of showing love, care, and appreciation. We hope that sharing recipes with other is act of love, support, saying we know what you are going through, and we are here for help."

So what are Khochibo's tips for making delicious dishes?

"You have to love what you are doing. You have to be in a good mood so you can make good food, if you are in a bad mood and cook it's not going to taste good.

"Never rush when you cook as the taste is not going to be the same and share food with others in need. This way you enjoy it more."

  • You can buy the Share a Meal, Share a Story e-book HERE for a minimum donation of $20. The book is a community fundraising initiative of the Refugee Council of Australia.
  • Refugee Week runs June 20-26 with events around the country. Find out more HERE.
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