When actor and writer Arka Das grew up in western Sydney as a child, there was no Bangladeshi restaurant in sight.
Instead, the kitchen was something shared and celebrated at home.
“My mom didn’t have all the ingredients to make the things she wanted to make because they just didn’t exist. But now you can have anything,” he said.
At the time, people also didn’t know much about the country where Das was born and lived until he was six.
“I remember in primary school in the 90s I told people I was from Bangladesh, and they said, ‘Is that a city in India?'”
But there has been a significant shift in the food and cultural scene over the past decade, and a Bangladeshi hub has blossomed in the suburb of Lakemba, Das says.
In the short documentary food series 8 Nights Out West, Das explores the changing culinary landscape of Sydney’s western suburbs.
The solid project grew out of the collaboration with writers and actors from different backgrounds for the feature film Here Out West, who accompany it in separate episodes.
The series capitalizes on his passion for food and serves Chilean backyard barbecue, Burmese fare in Blacktown, Vietnamese fare in Canley Heights, Filipino smoky grill in Rooty Hill, and an Indian spread in Harris Park, which is known among the locals. as Little India.
“I wanted to capture the change that is happening in Western Sydney and the growth that is happening there – just to capture the spirit of it,” he told the ABC.
The emergence of new cultural centers isn’t just about food — there are bookshops, community events, and even a thriving cricket league, Das says.
“It’s heartwarming to see the community taking care of each other.”
Community thrives around home cooking
But not all cultures have a node to point to on the map, and the community is still nurtured at home at a celebration.
Such is the case for the Kurdish people of Australia, a stateless people scattered across Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
At a rich banquet on the floor, actor Befrin Axtjärn Jackson says many Kurdish staples can take on a local twist depending on where they developed.
“I think that’s the beauty of having such an ancient history, that our boundaries are shifting a lot,” she says in the series.
“Some foods have been around for a long time and eventually, because of boundaries, we start marking our own little versions of them.
“The dolma is a perfect example of that. A Turkish dolma, even the way they roll the vine leaves is different… but it’s still a Kurdish dish.
“So it’s really enriching… it’s also a little saddening because we’re clearly divided into four countries.”
Das says one of the most surprising moments during the food odyssey was when Kurdish writer Dee Dogan unveiled an impressive dish called Zirvet.
It’s a buttery, yogurt-like, heavy form of Babylonian-era peasant food unique to her village — and one that the other Kurdish people they dined with had never seen, Das said.
He found that food also bridges the gap between younger and older generations – in the past, an older generation of migrants may have started a restaurant, but their children often followed a different path.
“Often, maybe earlier, they would leave the restaurant or not continue the traditions,” he said.
“But now we’ve talked to so many people on the show… who are continuing the traditions of their parents — or the chicken shop, or Vietnamese shop, or their Philippine restaurant — and modernizing and adapting it.”
Purple tones and comfort food
When actor Christine Milo thinks of comfort food, she thinks of her grandmother’s sinigan with salmon – a tamarind-based stew from the Philippines.
After Das and writer Vonne Patiag treated themselves to a Filipino manicure and halo-halo — a mixed ice cream dessert — Milo met them for a meal.
Milo said no one cooked as well as her grandmother’s, but it was nice to find authentic Filipino food to remind her of home.
“It’s just very warming. And I think of home when I have it. Nobody makes it like her, but the place we went to was pretty close,” she said.
Milo grew up on the Gold Coast, where her grandmother and her friends were among the earliest members of the Philippine Australian community.
She remembers participating in cultural dances and festivals as a child.
“I really owe my grandparents and my parents for keeping me connected to my culture as I haven’t been to the Philippines,” she said.
She said it gave her a bit of “impostor syndrome” when she played Roxane, a Filipino nurse in the movie Here Out West who is on duty when a baby is taken from a hospital.
The character Roxane hails from the Philippines and is closely associated with the culture.
“This is a very different kind of Filipino experience than Roxane – but they are all legit, they all have value and value. So exploring that was really special.”
She said it also made sense to be a part of it because of the lack of Filipino representation in Australian film and TV.
“To be able to show that to my family and see myself reflected on the screen was an experience I really didn’t expect, to be completely honest,” she said.
Like Das, she said there weren’t many Filipino restaurants to go to while growing up, but that has changed.
The Philippine community in Australia has also boomed in recent years, with the 2016 census found that about 250,000 people had a Filipino heritage, compared to about 400,000 in the last census.
She said that if the Filipino food culture grew and interest in the culture developed, it could translate into more representation on our screens, or vice versa.
“I hope it invites people to be more adventurous in what they watch, and maybe what they eat and share with their friends,” she said.
“Filipino cuisine has a lot to offer. It’s different, but it’s delicious.”
The short food documentary series 8 Nights Out West will air on ABC for eight nights starting Sunday, August 7.
Here Out West will be shown on Sunday, August 14 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC TV and ABC iview.