Free to Feed is a Melbourne-based social enterprise that creates empowering employment opportunities for refugees and people seeking asylum through the creation of shared food experiences.
They facilitate community interconnectivity and break the stifling sense of social isolation often faced by these new arrivals. Through the delivery of cooking classes, catering, and one-off seasonal workshops, Free to Feed has provided over 24,582 hours of paid employment including training, 1,677 events, and $614,552 in employment wages.
We asked Free to Feed participants Abeer, from Syria; Shayama, from Sri Lanka; Tayebeh, from Iran; and Tiff, from Malaysia, for their special recipes that tell stories of family, community, culture, and belonging.
Abeer was born in Damascus, Syria and moved to Australia in 2018 – she has a refugee visa and is currently working on a permanent residency application. In her hometown, she was an established tailor and beautician, and celebrated amongst her community as an amazing cook. Abeer lives with her husband Yasser and her two daughters in Melbourne.
“Harak Osbao is a traditional Syrian soup made with lentils, pasta, sumac, pomegranate, fried onions and fried bread. I watched my mother and grandmother cook this dish many times, and I learnt to make it by heart from a young age.”
“In Australia I cook Harak Osbao for my family. Here I’ve had the chance to expand on my passion for cooking, mixing traditional nostalgic recipes with modern techniques and local ingredients.”
For the dough/pasta
For the dough/pasta:
Once you’ve prepped the dough/pasta:
Shayama moved from Sri Lanka to Melbourne in 2008 and lives with her husband and young daughter. She has a diploma in business management and is a trained hairdresser. Known to go everywhere with a good plate of food and a warm smile, Shayama is famous for her goat curry.
“I grew up with the Muslim community in Sri Lanka and my family learnt this recipe from them. My mother taught me how to make it as a young woman and I continue to make it for my family today.”
“Recently my mother passed away, and every time I cook Sri Lankan food, I’m reminded of her memory, my family and my culture.”
Tayebeh grew up with a fusion of influences from her Iranian grandmother and Iraqi mother. Tayebeh’s work and studies traverse architecture in Iran to child-care here in Melbourne, but her true passion is to share her traditional Kurdish cuisine as a proud aspect of her culture and heritage.
“The first few years after arriving in Australia were very hard, and cooking food from my country really helped me to feel connected to my home in Iran.”
“Now, I teach these same recipes and Iranian dishes to others, which allows me to feel more connected to my new home in Australia. Mirza Ghasemi is a traditional recipe from the 19th century in the north of Iran made from eggplant. It was passed down from my grandmother to my mother and we would cook it together for our family. Food reminds us of the people we love, especially the ones who aren’t in our lives anymore.”
Best served warm and with flatbread.
Tiff arrived in Australia from Kelantan, Malaysia. He is from the Hokkien culture – a Malaysian Chinese community – and today he works as a chef in Melbourne. As a child, Tiff loved to carefully watch his parents cooking, observing their diverse styles.
“My love for cooking started when I was ten years old. During celebrations in the community, my mother loved to cook the food – she would always bring something special for friends, relatives, or family. Food strengthens our connection and friendships with the people around us. Not everyone has access to food, and I always try to share leftovers with asylum seekers and homeless people.”
“My mother always told me that if you can help someone, just help.”
“My recipe is a noodle dish called Mee Goreng – in my culture we eat noodles every day, you can eat them as breakfast, lunch or dinner, and supper as well. We love noodles!”
For the garnish
This story was produced for our issue #14 Work. To grab a print copy (and pay only postage) head over to our shop.