A meal to keep memories fresh in Refugee Week

17 June 2024

Learn the secrets of a Kurdish grandmother’s recipes at Taste the Difference during Refugee Week.

When Tayebeh Mousavi arrived in Melbourne as a refugee from Iran, she was so sad she could barely leave the house.

She kept cooking to remember her homeland and family in Ilam, a Kurdish city in Iran.

Tayebeh baked to remind her of her Kurdish roots

“I was very homesick for years – it was difficult for me to go out. I was anxious, but I was cooking all the time. It reminded me of my family,” Tayebeh said.

Slow-cooked chicken with walnut and pomegranate. Sour cherry tea. Persian love cake with rosewater and cardamom.

“I would cook for my grandmother when I was very young.

“She could not see, but she could tell by smell and taste if the food was ready or if it needed more time.”

In this way Tayebeh learnt recipes that had been handed down for generations – many shared secretly when it was not safe to express aspects of Kurdish culture.

Taste the Difference

Take a culinary tour of Tayebeh’s homeland at Taste the Difference on Thursday 20 June. Tickets for this intimate dinner are selling fast. Bookings essential.

Taste the Difference is an annual Refugee Week event, held in partnership between City of Melbourne and AMES Australia and held at the Multicultural Hub.

Every year, we invite you to share a meal prepared by chefs from refugee backgrounds who are forging their own micro-businesses, and hear how this next generation of Melburnians came to be here.

At last year’s dinner, chef Aheda took our tastebuds to the kitchen gardens of the West Bank where she grew up.

No time to say goodbye

Tayebeh and her young family fled Iran in 2012 under threat, after an incident at her then-husband’s government workplace.

The former architecture student didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the people she loved.

After reaching Indonesia, the family of four – including a toddler and an eight-year-old – arrived in Australia by boat and spent time in detention on Christmas Island and the outskirts of Adelaide.

A chance at a new life in Melbourne came with a bridging visa in 2013. Tayebeh is still on that visa.

Tayebeh Mousavi is still on a bridging visa

Anxious, isolated and enduring family violence in a new city, Tayebeh inched her way out of a dark place with the help of English lessons, then a job in childcare. But she was still lonely.

“I was scared of the new environment, but I was cooking all the time.”

“Cooking helped me remember my mother in summertime, preparing 20 kilos of herbs, chopping them, frying them and putting them in the freezer for the rest of the year.”

Fresh start

When a job came up as a cooking instructor with not-for-profit Free to Feed, Tayebeh knew quickly that she was in the right place.

Now Tayebeh teaches others the recipes that help her stay connected with her Kurdish, Iranian and Iraqi heritage.

“People come to the class as a stranger to me, and as they leave, they are hugging me.

“It is very nice to share my culture with them. They like the food. It just makes me proud.”

Aheda cooks Kurdish, Iraqi and Iranian favourites

After only two months working as a cooking instructor with Free to Feed, Tayebeh gathered the confidence to leave her partner and start life as a single mother on her own terms.

Making new memories and teaching her children about her history and culture.

“All the things I am cooking – sweets, cakes, stews, all those things, I’m still cooking to remember them.”

“I’m so proud to share my family’s recipes with other people. “My passion is cooking, and being connected with other people.”

Refugee Week events

Refugee Week 2024 runs from 16 to 22 June. This year’s theme is Finding Freedom: Family.

  • Taste the Difference: Share a meal as talented chefs share stories of their refugees background at this intimate dinner. Tickets selling fast. Thursday 20 June from 5.30pm to 8pm.
  • A night of sacred music for Eid: Come to Fed Square to enjoy a night of sacred Sufi music, food and craft under the stars with Qawwal – Fareed Ayaz, Abu Muhammed Qawwal and musicians. Free. Saturday 22 June from 3pm to 7pm.

City of Melbourne is a proud project partner of the Refugee Council of Australia.

Family violence support

If you or anyone you know is experiencing family violence, help is available.

  • InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence: Intake workers specialise in working directly with migrant and refugee women. Call: 1800 755 988
  • Safe Steps: confidential crisis support, information and accommodation for women (and women identifying) victims of family violence. Call: 1800 015 188. Interpreter: 13 14 50. Email Safe Steps
  • 1800 RESPECT: National sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service. Free, confidential support. Call: 1800 737 732. National Relay Service: 1800 555 677. Interpreter: 13 14 50

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