I’ve been to cities that never close down….
So I’ve lived away from my home in Australia for 10 years now. Time flies, and when I left Perth, I was thrilled to explore the world, to get away from the known and comfortable and see what else lie beyond the familiar. Everything was new and different and exciting. Big cities with honking horns and lights and sirens and restaurants open at any time of the day were a huge contrast to the quiet, sometimes sleepy and definitely smaller city I come from. But after spending ten years living in three different countries on three different continents, I’m starting to realize that there’s no place like home.
This week was Australia Day – it’s the national holiday of Australia, commemorating the date that the English first arrival and colonized Australia from the indigenous people. While there is starting to be a lot of controversy over the significance of this particular day, for me it is a day to celebrate my country, and also holds a lot of memories of celebrations from years past – nostalgia of fun times with friends and family. When you’re away from home it’s a chance to bring out all the stereotypical decorations, food, drinks, costumes etc that are maybe a step too far when you actually live in Australia – like the thong throwing competition!
But the day also got me to be a little nostalgic, reflecting on what Australia means to me, and what I want my son to know about his country. Some of the things that sprung to mind for me are the spectacular scenic beauty, the outdoors lifestyle that Australians love, the value of fairness or equality for all, hard-work and the down-to-earth, happy-go-luck and adventurous spirit of Australians. It also got me thinking of the ingenious nature of Australians – being such a large, isolated country with often times a very harsh climate, Australians had to make-do to survive, and got good at making the most of what they had available to them. And to survive, Australians became known for sticking together in tough times and celebrating together the good times – the Australian value of ‘mateship’ was born out of the tough environment, and also from the first legendary (but bloody) battle that Australia fought in during World War I at Gallipoli. The importance of standing up for others and supporting each other has long been a value of the Australian culture. Following World War II, Australia also became a melting pot of different cultures as displaced Europeans migrated to the promise of a better life in Australia, and eventually South East Asians settled in Australia as well. Growing up, these influences from Europeans and Asians were a normal part of life – a Thai green curry was just a common-place for me as a traditional Aussie meat pie. Some of these influences are what makes Australia an amazing place for me – the importance that Australians place on coffee makes it a wonderful place to sit with friends over a carefully brewed cup, and Australians love for spicy food, along with fresh, bold and adventurous flavours really make the cuisine unique – and in many cases a true melting pot for different influences to come together.
So it actually seemed a little unusual (in a positive kind of way) to me to see a spread of all Aussie dishes at the community Australia Day function where I live in Thailand. Australians had brought their favourite dishes – from mini-quiches, vegemite & cheese scrolls and the classic ‘sausage sizzle’ to sweet dishes taking me back to my child hood such as Anzac biscuits, lamingtons and pavlova. Its actually quite rare in Australia to see all these dishes appear on one table – often they would be interspersed with others such as samosas, Vietnamese rice paper rolls, brownies or any number of other unique delicacies with influences from all around the world.
So as I reminisce a little about home, realizing that the more I’ve traveled and spent time away from Australia, the more I begin to value what makes Australia special and unique, I thought I’d share with you one of my favourite foods from downunder (and no, it’s not a shrimp on the barbie) – the classic pavlova. Pavlova to me is a typical Australian dessert, and a dish that I think is extremely easy to make and can be served so many different ways, depending on the presentation and toppings. While there is some argument over whether it was created in Australia or New Zealand, the history goes that it was created in the 1920’s for visiting Russian ballerina – Anna Pavlova – a classic example of multi-culturalism prevalent in Australian culture, that a dish created for visiting Russians can become such a national dish. Its popular as a dessert in the hot Australian summer, and growing up I frequently remember it being served on special occasions – often following a barbecue. I like to make mine with a crunchy exterior, and sticky, soft center – but cooked through enough that it doesn’t taste of raw egg. I also like to customize my toppings to what is fresh and in season – so while celebrating Australia Day in the US, I made a dark chocolate, poached pear, hazelnut and rum pavlova, while this year in Thailand my pavlova was adorned with lime curd, mango and passionfruit.
- 8 Egg Whites at room temperature (egg whites need to be perfectly separated, with no shell or yolk present)
- 3 cups caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornflour
- pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 teaspoon vinegar
In a very clean and dry electric mixing bowl bowl with the whisk attachment, add the salt to the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form. Gradually beat in half the sugar, adding it to the mixture 1 teaspoon at a time and beating well after each addition. Beat until thick and glossy. Beat only until sugar is dissolved, do not overbeat or this can lead to cracking or collapsing of the pavlova. Now fold in the remaining sugar. Quickly add the vinegar, vanilla and cornflour. Turn onto a lined baking sheet which has been dredged with equal quantities of icing sugar and cornflour and spread evenly, leaving a slight rim around the edges. Bake in a slow oven (120C) 1.5 hours. Cool completely in the oven with the door closed and top with whipped cream and the toppings of your choice.