An International Symposium on
Travelling Cuisines: Culinary Politics and Transnational Foodways in and out of Asia

The Travels of Kitty's Love Cake: A Tale of Spices, 'Asian' Flavours and Cuisine sans Frontieres

Jean Duruz, University of South Australia

Visiting her Aunt Connie in London in 1979, Charmaine Solomon carried a sentimental gift – a traditional Sri Lankan lovecake, made according to her mother’s exacting recipe (semolina, zest of lime, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom …). While cake and other sweet treats could be traced as significant threads in Charmaine’s own life story, her reputation as a cook and cookbook writer hardly rests on these. Acknowledged as a much-celebrated home cook who, in the second half of the twentieth century,substantially changed Australia’s culinary landscapes (think also of Margaret Fulton, Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer), Solomon occupies a distinctive position in this history. With The Complete Asian Cookbook (1976), Charmaine Solomon had achieved iconic status as ‘Australia’s Spice Queen’ and ‘the Queen of Asian cooking inAustralia’. Over twenty years (and many cookbooks) later, however, Charmaine Solomon’s Family Recipes (1998) was toset out on a slightly different course.
This paper proposes to follow this course, mapping, for a particular postcolonial moment, meanings of ‘Asian’, sugar and spice in this later cookbook. Thesemeanings, in turn, become ways of reflecting on intersections of ‘Asian’ and ‘Australian’ cooking and eating, reflecting on global culinary flows in and out of Asia, on hybridizations of dishes, ingredients and flavours, and on intimations of vernacular cosmopolitanism. Through theselection of recipes, photographs and stories for a family ‘album’, and through commentary on this, Charmaine Solomon implies the complexity of her own ‘mixed’ culinary roots and serendipitous journey to ‘Asian’ cooking. The voices of her family too constitute resonant ethnographic fragments, questioning tendencies to homogenise cuisines on behalf of a unified national imaginary and embodying, instead, the dynamic qualities of food cultures in this current period of rapid globalisation. As such, Solomon’s ‘album’ and its framing culinary cultures might be construed as a ‘soft’ political challenge to essentialism – as an Australian family’s claim to ‘mixed’ heritage and mobile identities for ‘the Asian century’. Mica Nava’s ‘visceral cosmopolitanism’ (2007) will provide a theoretical tool for taste-testing these reflections.

Jean Duruz is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow within the Hawke Research Institute of the University of South Australia. Her research and publishing has focused on food as a medium of exchange, particularly across the borders of ethnicity, within global cities/city states such as Singapore, London, Mexico City, New York City and Sydney. Much of her research has a strong focus on ethnography, as well as on global movements of food within the Asia-Pacific. Other recent writing examines cookbooks and the work of cookbook writers/chefs as symptomatic of everyday eating in ‘multicultural’ nations. Jean Duruz has published in journals such as Gastronomica, Space and Culture, New Formations and Cultural Studies Review. She is currently working, with Khoo Gaik Cheng, on a book manuscript on Singaporean and Malaysian street food and its culturally ‘mixed’ origins.