When a pint-sized Chris Nguyen carried out secret scribbling sessions under the counter of her parents’ Vietnamese coffee lounge, she didn’t realise that her surrogate playground was her first brush with the narrative power of food. It’s a good thing she channelled this power into Recipes and Refuge - a 240-page publishing project that explores the ways that food bridges the gap between uncertain realities and what it means to be home.
Part cookbook, part memoir, Recipes and Refuge is a lesson in new beginnings and the particular problems that arise from being cast adrift. Nguyen’s musings on growing up a child of refugees in suburban Perth appear alongside recipes for Vietnamese papaya salad with pork belly. Elsewhere, Stan Smolarek, a Ukrainian immigrant who served time as a prisoner-of-war, revisits buried experiences with his daughters in Melbourne, while schooling readers in the art of the perfect pierogi, while Vuthay Samreth pits a recipe for Cambodian lemongrass stir-fry against a jarring first encounter with fish and chips.
Although Recipes and Refuge nods to the pain of displacement, it takes an optimistic look at how food speaks to universal experience and makes our messy backstories worthwhile.
Recipes and Refuge is available online from ragandboneman.org.