I’m from a culture where hospitality is very important and when we invite friends or guests its really important that we provide enough food, that they feel welcome and enjoy themselves.
When I was little I used to think, whats all the fuss? Why is mum making such a big deal about these people, she hardly knows them, and she has spent all day in the kitchen cooking. I would resent all the time and effort she would put in for them, all the while thinking that they bloody well better appreciate it.
Our guest would arrive and there would be an selection of food and drink for everybody, and because mum was such an amazing cook the food was always incredible. Our guests would always have a great time, eat till they couldn’t move and leave raving about how mum was such a great cook and the food was amazing. Then we would help tidy up and mum would spend the next couple of hours cleaning dishes! The only good thing I could see was that we would have yummy left overs or the few days for school lunches. As far as I could remember my parents rarely ever got invited to others for dinner, even though through the years they put on incredible feasts for hundreds of people. I said to myself – I’m never going to do that!
Thinking about it now, with a few more grey hairs I guess, we were trying to fit into a culture where hospitality was novel and only those of certain backgrounds would really understand it or be able to reciprocate. My parent put in so much effort to stay true to our culture, and I guess they were puzzled when that hospitality was not returned. As the years passed I think they invited fewer and fewer people and ended up just cooking for family.
Somewhere along the line I picked up this itch to feed people and its always been a bone of contention between myself and my wife. She sees me going through all the time and effort to feed guests, and the pressure I put myself under, and thinks exactly the way I used to think. Why bother?
Tonight, we have friends coming for dinner and I thought I would outline how the day went for myself and a few of my own thoughts.
First was, do we have anything in the freezer? Then I think – no I couldn’t serve anything that wasn’t as fresh as possible, it isn’t right. I looked outside and the wind was calm and the sea was flat so I thought I would go out and catch something for dinner. We are pretty fortunate to live in a pretty cool place next to the sea, and it is summer, so its warm and catching dinner is something that is possible.
I loaded up my small kayak which doubles as a float boat and grabbed my free diving stuff and in a few minutes was paddling out into the sea. The water was still dirty from wind and swell so I had to find the edge of the reef, hoping for a little clear water to be able to see.
Its been a while and the kayak is rather small so it takes a bit of balancing while getting gear on. The good news was I could see enough to catch some thing.
With the limited visibility spearing a fish wasn’t really going to be an option, so I searched around and was lucky enough to find a mussel bed with some beautiful green lipped mussels. These are delicious fresh and won’t have sand in them as they were further out from the beach.
I was also lucky enough to stumble over a patch of paua, these are absolutely delicious, and opens up some great opportunities for recipes.
I was also able to find some crayfish (rock lobsters) to top it all off, so a very fruitful gathering session. After giving thanks to the sea and Tangaroa, both for the harvest and keeping me safe, I head back in.
So dinner was coming together nicely.
The paua I minced, using an old fashioned hand mincer, and the added some of the mussels. The crayfish was split up and grilled with a glaze of parmesan, thyme and sweet Thai chilli.
Its a lot of effort, but its something that is important to me and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this for friends. So why all the effort…its taken a bit of staring at the ocean to figure is out but essentially, for me, this act of hospitality comes down to love.
In offering hospitality I anchor myself to my culture, honour my dad and his love for the sea and mum with her love for cooking. It also lets friends and guests know that they are valued, welcomed and loved in our home. Sharing food, for me, is as important as breathing. It is not the reciprocation that is important, I do this because this is who I am.