We asked two Bossy writers to give us a culinary review of life’s most mundane and yet most vibrant food experience: the family dinner.
By Kanika Kirpalani
I’ll preface this by saying that food in my house is always delicious; my mum is an ace cook, not only with Indian food, but literally every cuisine under the sun. The family dinner experience, however, really changes depending on the night. So really this is just a review of my family and how tolerable I find them at different meals.
The Weekday Family Dinner
This dinner is a standard; it doesn’t matter what we’re eating or the time, it’s usually in front of the television. Some of you family-dinner traditionalists out there may think it’s sad we don’t normally eat at the dining table — but on the contrary, we just really love TV and movies. Even if we don’t all eat at the same time, we’re one of those families who bond mostly by watching a good series together.
5 out of 5 don’t judge me
The Family Dinner Where Dad Lets Everyone Know He’s ‘Cooking’
This dinner happens a couple of times every month, when Dad decides to give mum a break and whip out his one and only speciality: omelettes. My dad loves to make a show of this one; chopping up all the ingredients in advance, preparing sides of corn, potatoes, toast, you name it. He also loves to say during the production, multiple times I might add, that he cooks the best omelettes and Mum can’t make them. Now, I’m almost positive this isn’t true, since my mum can make everything, but she lets Dad have this one. Also, without fail, Dad’s omelettes are delicious. So, I really can’t fault him despite throwing shade on his production spectacle.
3 out of 5 “mine are the best!”
The Fancy Family Dinner
This isn’t really fancy; it just means we’ve gone out for dinner. We love going out to eat (who doesn’t really) but for my family this one’s always a bit risky. See we all have very similar interests and are all very opinionated and stubborn. So, when there’s a disagreement, there’s a lot of point scoring, like any family really. The fancy dinners are always a bit of an on-my-best-behaviour situation. Needless to say, any disagreements are usually resolved by dessert and coffee.
4 out of 5 (I’m still right though)
The Family Dinner That’s Actually Sunday Brunch
This one’s a bit of a cheat, but when we do Sunday brunch at home, it’s my favourite meal. I know what I said, but this meal is definitely about the food. In fact, the food is so special that this doesn’t happen every week; it’s that much of a treat. Sunday brunch at my house consists of my Mum cooking Sindhi curry. Now I don’t expect you to know what that is, as it’s a little obscure, but essentially, it’s a curry that only my community, the Sindhis, make. It’s a kind of dahl which is a little khatta meetha, or sweet and sour. It’s accompanied by papad (papadum), cachumber (onion, tomato, cucumber salad), and if we’re lucky, tuks, which are basically crispy fried potatoes. I think I like Sunday brunch the best because it’s always at the dining table, and everyone is too busy eating to argue. The food is so delicious that leftovers get picked on throughout the day.
5 out of 5 how many tuks can I eat before I turn into a potato
By Julia Rheinberger
The venue, a 1950s brick house near Paramatta, is brimming with people, laughter, and the sounds and smells of the food to come. Men and children mill rowdily about the courtyard, under the shade of the vibrant grapevine. A few trusted males — great-uncles and long-time husbands — stand at the barbecue. They tend to the rich lamb skewers, the fragrant, aromatic kafta, the chicken in its astringent marinade. The protein is of the same quality, the same freshness, of a hatted restaurant in Darlinghurst. These men have an important job in preserving its flavour and tenderness, but they are only the stewards of this meal, of this family.
The kitchen is its pulsating heart, for the kitchen is where the women work. Family is the most important thing in a Lebanese person’s life, and everyone knows that there would be no family without these women. One stands by the old, cramped stove and another by the sink, cleaning the endless parade of dishes left behind by the elaborate preparation. A food processor whirs loudly, blending raw, fresh lamb with spices and cracked wheat to create kibbeh nayi. The women interrupt and talk over one another, arguing, and exchanging news about those who are absent from their domain.
One person is quiet. She is the oldest person there, and she sits instead of standing while she works. Her daughter helps her now that her hands are too arthritic to handle the knives and the herbs’ fine leaves as deftly as she used to. Her English is the most accented, her voice the softest. Every other woman in the room is a child, granddaughter or niece of hers. This is her house in more ways than one. Yesterday she was in the garden, painstakingly cutting swathes of parsley from its stalks, rinsing it, and laying it on a tea towel in the sun to dry for today’s tabouli. The previous day she spent in her kitchen, making a huge batch of baba ghanouj. That day, as she does today, she proffers her creations to those around her.
“Taste it,” she says, “what does it need?” She sometimes over-salts her food now, because her tastebuds have started to go, but the tabouli is perfect today. The finished meal is spread decadently over the table outside. Nobody asks for dishes to be passed to them — everyone reaches across one another. The lamb is crisp and richly browned on the outside, but succulently pink within. The air is pungent with garlic. The children eat first: grabbing kibbeh, tabouli, chicken, garlic sauce and skewers on their plastic plates and squirrelling them off to the smaller tables where they sit together.
The food-loving reader may care to know where they can eat such a meal now, and will be sorry to discover that banquets such as this will never happen again. Under today’s new management, however, the food is just as good and the gatherings equally noisy. The establishment has upsized to a modern house in Strathfield with granite-tiled floors and air conditioning. The garden is full of herbs and fruit trees, but there is no grapevine. The children are no longer children, and no old woman sits in the kitchen. The hurricane is less joyous without its sacred, quiet eye. The kitchen is still the centre, but no longer the heart.