By Tam Allenby
For a moment I’m transported somewhere else, though I’m not sure where. With the smell of grilling meat and ground spices carried by the cooking smoke and steam wafting through the air, it could be India or Sri Lanka; Cambodia or Vietnam; Lebanon or Iran.
Really I’m in the Inner West of Sydney- Marrickville to be precise. But at the night Street Food Markets, held at the Addison Road Community Centre each month, it feels like you’re in all these places at once.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more diverse selection of foods in such a small area anywhere in the world. Walking through the crowd, stomach rumbling, I face a tough decision. Should I try the arepas from Colombia, grab a Sri Lankan ulundu vada, or tuck into a plate of Cambodian lod cha?
I decide to make peace with my inner glutton and settle with all three.
Besides, any regret I might experience half an hour into a self-induced food coma would be easily offset by the fact that at these markets, you really are stuffing yourself for a good cause.
How so, you ask? Well, the event is a joint project between the Addison Road Community Centre Organisation (ARCCO) and the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS). In a nutshell, the aim of the market is to “bring cultures together and support the small businesses of recent migrants and refugees”.
Judging by the good vibes and large crowd that turned out on a cool Saturday night for the second edition of the markets, it was certainly a success. Feedback on the Facebook page was similarly positive.
Having missed the first event held the previous month, I contacted Alex McInnis from ARCCO to ask her a few questions about the aim, history and future of the markets.
She told me that while the last edition hadn’t run so smoothly due to some “teething issues”, with long lines and the stallholders selling out of food, this was more a result of the huge level of support that the community had provided.
“It was just an overwhelming level of support, and stallholders just simply couldn’t cater to so many people… but that’s a good thing. Everyone was really understanding, for a lot of the stallholders it was their first time time trading”.
She also pointed to the real value that an event like this brings to the community and to the stallholders themselves.
“They’re just so excited to do something that they’re passionate about. Employment opportunities aren’t always ample and they don’t want to just sit around, they want to do this: earn a living, and be part of something.”
“Beyond the financial aspect of earning a real income, they’re sharing their food, sharing their culture, getting to know other stallholders, getting to know the visitors…”
With the 2016 federal election now less than a month away, and asylum seekers and refugees one of the issues that will define the campaign of the major parties, events like this one can help with the often negative portrayal of refugees in the media.
A 2013 study by the University of Queensland found that asylum seekers and refugees are portrayed in a visually dehumanising manner by mainstream news sources, usually as large crowds or groups rather than individuals or families.
They argue that this “reinforces a politics of fear that explains why refugees are publicly framed as people plight, dire as it is, nevertheless does not generate a compassionate political response”.
Alex from ARCCO would certainly agree with this sentiment.
“Refugees are talked about so much, it’s such a big topic… they’re being talked about all the time but do people really think about who they’re talking about? Someone’s grandfather, someone’s son, someone’s daughter.”
I spoke to Alex only days after Immigration Minister Peter Dutton hit the headlines for his controversial remarks concerning the “illiteracy and innumeracy” of potential asylum seekers, who he argued would “take Australian jobs” or “languish” on the dole.
When asked about this, Alex’s response was insightful: focussing on the qualifications or education level of asylum seekers is missing the point, and can even be considered classist.
“These are people – some of them educated, some not so much – but they’re still contributing and sharing in such an amazing way, and employment is not always the measure of that”.
The third edition of the markets will be held on Saturday the 18th of June, the evening before Refugee Week kicks off for 2016. With more food vendors, craft stalls and a live band all in the pipeline, Alex is firmly positive about the future of the event.
“I think it’s just growing every time”.
Though its easy to let your tastebuds get carried away when confronted with so many delicious treats, a recent update on the ARCCO Facebook page cements the underlying importance of the markets in the current political climate.
‘The theme for Refugee Week is “with courage let us all combine”- and that’s exactly what we do! In the face of an election campaign targeting asylum seekers and refugees, we believe coming together and supporting new Sydney-siders is one of the most powerful things we can do as a community to break the racism and classism being displayed.’
Coming together through food. It may be a cliché, but in the case of the Addison Road Street Food Markets at least, it’s also a reality.
Gallery: Street Food Market #2 (May 21, 2016)