‘The taste of harmony: My multicultural take on doing family dinners right’

Feb 21, 2020
Jennifer enjoys cooking for the various cultures in her family. Source: Getty Images

I can, I feel in all honesty, claim to have a truly multicultural family. As well as multicultural, I think my four siblings and I could rival the late Elizabeth Taylor in the race to see how many divorces and marriages we have had. There have been three Australians, one Greek, two Africans, one Austrian, one Samoan, one Italian, one Dutch, one Danish and two Englishmen in our past and present partners.

Our children have added a few more cultures with Melanesian, French, German, Swedish, Norwegian, as well as more Italians, Indian, Slovakian and English.

To date there have been no Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese or Americans, although I was briefly engaged to an American who was, I think, related to Donald Trump, possibly his twin. For this reason I decided the union would not last. And quickly it ended.

Catering for unexpected guests is a challenge. This is a regular occurrence when one has many different cultures incorporated into one’s family. Usually I will prepare mega amounts of food just in case.

More likely than not one of the children, their partner or parents-in-law will contact me and ask if is okay for ‘great aunt Sally and her cousin twice removed’, plus their children to come over for dinner.

My own immediate family is just that. A mishmash of various ethnicities. I never know just how many might turn up on any given occasion.

At each family gathering I try to do at least one or two dishes that are relevant to each group. The Samoan contingent love raw fish, taro and palusami (a traditional Samoan dish of wrapped bundles of taro leaves with a coconut and onion filling. Sometimes made with chicken, fish [or corned beef]. Very similar to our Hawaiian lau lau) as well as mega amounts of any type of meat.

This lot always operate on ‘island time’, which means time is flexible and that often arrive at least two hours later than anyone else. It’s not a worry though, after many years I’ve got everything sorted and often will tell them we’re eating at 10am knowing full well lunch will be served at 12pm.

Next there is the Indian family members. Curries and extra spicy food are a must, as well as copious amounts of rice. If the food burns my mouth when I try it, I know it will be just right for them.

The chilli so hot it burns my nostrils while I’m preparing it. Heaven help me if I get an itchy eye during the process. Instant blindness.

For my Aussie and English family, they are more than happy to have bangers (sausages for the uninitiated), peas and mash. With maybe a few prawns thrown on the barbecue to boot.

I whip up a big pot of spaghetti with ciabatta and olive oil on the side and we are set!

Despite the work involved, these family gatherings are great. Everyone is happy, not least, me. I may be exhausted from all that cooking, but I am happy to have them all in the same place at the same time. Life is good!

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What's your family like? Is it a mix of cultures and traditions?

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