What’s on the menu for this Croatian/polish couple?
Michael Fuyala and his wife Ewa Wojsa are from Croatia a nd Poland respectively. They live with their two children, Hannah (nearly four) and Leon (one), in Auckland, where Michael’s side of the family has owned the famous Misa Christmas tree farm for 75 years. Like all special family occasions, this Christmas will be celebrated with Torta od Oraha, says Michael – a delicious walnut cake with chocolate icing.
This is the cake my mum, Ivy, made at pretty much every birthday, Christmas and family occasion for all us children, for as long as we can remember. We were once going through photos from childhood and laughed about how every picture from every party had the same cake in it. In my early twenties I studied to be a chef, and while working in a French restaurant, I’d often make this cake for the ‘daily special’ menu. I’d serve it with espresso-flavoured crème anglaise and it always sold quickly. Ewa asked Mum for the recipe, and she worked out how to make it first time. Ewa really enjoys baking and she’s very good at it.
Torta od Oraha is a modified version of a walnut cake recipe from a classic book called Dalmatinska Kuhinja. Apparently Mum made it once for Dad and he loved it so much that from then on it was rolled out on most special occasions. My Dad, Ivan, liked it because where he was from in Croatia, baking with walnuts was common, so it must have reminded him of home.
Dad came to New Zealand in his early thirties. He came from a very large family in Croatia, a humble background, and like most Croatian immigrants was an exceptionally hard worker – they had to to be in order to survive and create a better future for their families. A funny story is that Dad’s surname was originally Fuckala. He travelled to New Zealand by boat and had English lessons en-route, and his teacher advised him to change his name to avoid lots of awkward situations. Hence we ended up with the unusual surname Fuyala.
Dad met Mum here. Mum’s dad Tom (our Dida) came out from Dalmatia to work as a gum digger in the far north, and he married our grandmother Antica, who had actually come out to New Zealand to marry Dida’s neighbour but ended up meeting our Dida!
For family gatherings we take time to enjoy lamb on the spit. It’s not just about the food, but the whole operation of setting it up early, which my cousin Ivan is really good at, then hanging around all day having a few drinks while it cooks. We make time for family meals together as often as we can, whether its parents, siblings, cousins, friends or all of the above
‘We make time for family meals together as often as we can’
‘There’s also a Polish influence in the kitchen, thanks to Ewa’
– getting together for big meals is central to Croatian culture. Some Croatian dishes like punjena paprika (stuffed peppers), peka (roast meats and potatoes slow cooked in a round tray) and soups always feature. And lots of baking, including fritule (Croatian donuts) and anything with apple. Wine is another tradition my family brought over; my late great uncle Karl used to make red wine from grapes grown here on the Christmas tree farm, and he’d drink a pint glass of it with dinner each night. I lived with him for some years as a youngster and also got to enjoy this.
In our house there’s also a Polish influence in the kitchen, thanks to Ewa who comes from Wroclaw. She is a very good cook and loves making dishes from her home country, which have become very popular with my family.
Ewa has three very close Polish girlfriends here; they are like family. The four of them get together often and the gatherings revolve around Polish dishes. We have a very formal Polish-style dinner on Christmas Eve with these friends, for which specific Polish dishes are served – it’s called Wigilia and it’s a really big deal.
What I love is that our kids get to grow up enjoying all the benefits of being Kiwi but still have a strong sense of where they came from through things like language and tradtional food.”