What’s on the menu for this Croa­t­ian/pol­ish cou­ple?

Food - - Contents -

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.”

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