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Cultural comforts

front door with christmas wreath

As 2021 comes to a close, we ask Kiwis with Canadian, Filipino and Argentinian heritage to reflect and share their festive traditions. Words Anna Wallace

Kate Grater at The Pierogi Joint
Kate Grater throws open her doors at Christmas,
when she's not pinching pierogi for customers.

KATE GRATER

CANADIAN KIWI
Owner of the Pierogi Joint
Lived in Christchurch since 2011

Which culture are you from?

I’m Jewish Canadian – I’ve just done a DNA test! I’m as Jew as Jew can be on my dad’s side, but my mum raised us in the Christian church.

What do you miss?

In Vancouver’s commercial district there’s the famous clamato juice, which is clam juice mixed with vodka and a garnish – it’s hair-of-the-dog stuff. I miss the variety of authentic pockets around Vancouver, like Chinatown and the East Indian village.

What holiday traditions and foods do you partake in?

I struggle being abroad when it’s Thanksgiving in late November. I love pumpkin pie and we do mashed yams with cinnamon and marshmallow toasted on top!

My mum raised us and we were all about Christmas – candlelight tours, making snowmen, decorating, carving pumpkins (and trying to eat the seeds, which were gross), church, carols. I try to recreate that for my son by throwing open our doors and hosting gatherings. Last year we did vegan festivities and there were 20-plus kids.

I like making useful gifts that feed people and are paperless, like Moroccan spices in jars.

What do people love about your cooking?

Pierogi is a Polish food but with our long history of immigration, it’s so common in Canada that there’s a movement to label it our own – kind of like sushi is in New Zealand. Dumpling variations are common in Eastern Europe; it’s essentially peasant’s food, a plant-based dough that’s cheap and cheerful.

Some people are just so happy to get pierogi! Canadians, Americans, Poles who grew up on it and people who’ve sampled it on their travels. A Polish businessman wanted to treat his clients to food from his culture, and I’ve had one guy tell me I’m in his will! Job satisfaction is pretty high.

People are such foodies. We offer 20 different flavours and uptake always increases around holiday season – the dishes never end!

Biggest 2021 learnings?

It’s overwhelming to just start up, but this is my craft, it’s my thing. You can change your life. As a small business there are growing pains, but when you get 60 emails coming in from people all around New Zealand saying they want to order pierogi, that’s exciting.

I’ve learnt to take advice when experienced people offer it, and to have a Covid plan (we can always change if needed).

What’s afoot for 2022?

I’ve had a few goes at making the Pierogi Joint work and I keep bouncing back because I know I have something people want. We’re at the peak for what we can do with one person pinching pierogi, but the new machine we’ve imported will enable us to meet demand and work on an economic scale.

Food is part of my heritage and I love events. I’ve done a couple of midwinter Christmas events that attract a lot of Canadians! We do cooking classes, birthdays and staff events. I hope we can be involved with more community events, like the Dumpling Market. The festival season has been pushed back so that will keep us busy right through to autumn.

Elena Cruz and her family by the Christmas tree
Elena Cruz and her family love coming together for Christmas.

ELENA CRUZ

FILIPINO KIWI
University of Otago postgraduate student
Lived in New Zealand since age eight

How was 2021 for you?

The highlight was finishing my honours degree in physiology. It was a juggle as I worked three jobs and was president of the Otago Filipino Students’ Association too; it’s been a crazy year!

Which culture are you from?

I was born in the Philippines, moved to Singapore when I was three, then Wellington when I was about eight. My family has a strong Catholic faith and many Filipino friends – both of which feature in our Christmas activities!

As I didn’t grow up in the Philippines, the Otago Filipino Students’ Association in Dunedin helped me to get more in touch with my Filipino side and showed me how to incorporate traditions into life here. We often play Filipino party games at our club events, and everyone loves dancing and singing so the annual ball was a hit.

What holiday traditions and foods do you partake in?

Christmas is the most important time of year for us. It starts at the beginning of September, when mum puts up the Christmas tree and hangs up stockings. We all start going to church regularly. While studying, I’ve been going to the Holy Name church in North Dunedin.

My dad always puts on movies like Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999 and its sequel from 2004). As our family is spread across New Zealand, this together time is really special.

Food is the most important part. After Christmas Eve mass we celebrate with Noche Buena, a midnight feast. After prayers, we sit down around a table full of round fruit – in our culture, this represents good luck. Fruits like apples, melons, blueberries, oranges are assorted on round plates. We also have lots of noodles, because we believe this helps you live a long life. The best change in tradition when we came to New Zealand was starting to eat ham – it’s my favourite! After church and after midnight, we open gifts.

On Christmas Day, family friends come over for lunch – it’s massive and might include a barbecue. We have spaghetti, which is much sweeter than the Western version. Mum makes a lot of desserts too; my favourite is her leche flan.

Any plans for the new year?

After watching the fireworks at midnight, my parents turn on all the lights in the house – it’s symbolic of bringing light and happiness into the house for the year. My brother and I put coins in our pockets and jump, so that it brings us good fortune and we continue to grow. Mum will buy new fruits to put in the fruit bowl – I think the number corresponds with the year – so in 2022 she will put in 22!

We might go camping at Lake Tekapo this festive season, as I’ve never been with family and my parents haven’t been there. I’d like to make it a new tradition. Knowing my mum, she will leave the lights on at home – for good luck.

Antonella profile photo
Antonella Castagnino rediscovered her joy of singing this year. She's hoping 2022 will reunite her with family and their festive dishes.

ANTONELLA CASTAGNINO

ARGENTINIAN
Singer for Corazon Latino
Has lived in Queenstown for two years

How did you end up in the Southern Lakes?

I’m originally from Patagonia but have travelled around. I came to New Zealand because a friend recommended it. As I’m used to mountains and snow, my partner and I set up in Queenstown where we spend our winters snowboarding.

There’s a big community of Latin Americans here. I thought going to a salsa class would be where I’d find a bunch of Latinos, but there’s people from everywhere! That’s what’s so nice about music.

What’s been the best thing about 2021?

Years ago, I used to be a big singer – it was one of my dreams when I was young – but I stopped when a past relationship went bad. At the start of 2021, my partner and I said we wanted to do more of the things we love. So I started going to singing lessons and the teacher introduced me to a group that was looking for a singer. I joined ‘Corazon Latino’, a Latin jazz band, around August. We played our first gig in November, so it’s incredible what we’ve achieved in a short time.

What holiday traditions and foods do you partake in?

I’ve had five Christmases away from family, which has been tough.

Traditionally, we put up the Christmas tree on December 8 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception). I want to put ours up now!

It’s very common for Christians in Argentina to celebrate on the evening of the 24th. We open presents after Midnight Mass and then have a dessert of ice cream, strawberries and meringue.

Argentinians like to party so we sleep in before getting together for more food on Christmas Day. One of my favourite traditional dishes is vitello tonnato, a slow-cooked veal steak that’s cut very thinly and served with a creamy anchovy and tuna sauce. I’m dying to try my grandma’s one again.

We do a pancake pyramid, called torre de panqueques, made of tortillas with savoury sauces and fillings in the middle.

As it’s summer there too, on the side we have salads like a Waldorf salad (even though walnuts are expensive), and potato salad is common as it goes well with barbecued meat.

My mum makes a traditional Italian festive recipe (my grandparents on my dad’s side come from there) with lots of cheese, ricotta and caramelised ham.

My family enjoys drinking limoncello. Last holidays, I made our own refreshing festive drink of lemon ice cream mixed with champagne – it was amazing, you should try it!

What do you think 2022 will hold?

Even though the situation in Argentina is a bit of a mess, we want to go back to spend some quality time with family.

I think 2022 will be another year of changes. Hopefully I will get more attached to the music, as it makes my soul so happy.

Share the cultural festive traditions and foods you’re most looking forward to @StyleChristchurch

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