Tamil Feasts is a unique opportunity to welcome asylum seekers while experiencing tasty Sri Lankan Tamil cuisine
Every Monday and Tuesday evening, Nirmathan (Nirma) Murugamoorthy joins hands with his friends Sri, Nigethan and Niro, along with a group of kind-hearted volunteers, at the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) Community Kitchen. Together, they produce Tamil Feasts, a three-course traditional banquet showcasing the flavours of Sri Lankan Tamil cooking.
Tamil Feasts is a social enterprise that was set up to support recently settled asylum seekers in Melbourne by sharing their food, heritage and culture with the wider community. The project is supported by CERES Environment Park, a not-for-profit sustainability centre and urban farm located in the heart of East Brunswick.
The idea for Tamil Feasts was born when Nirma was released from detention. While spending time at the detention centre, Nirma and several other asylum seekers used to cook for themselves and for visitors. That’s how he came to meet Dori Ellington, who used to visit Nirma and others in the centre.
Dori saw a real opportunity for the men to showcase their talent and gain employment in the community. So, when Nirma was released, they got together to explore if this might be a feasible venture and the rest, as they say, is history.
Receiving immense community support, the dinners always sold out in a matter of days which gave them the confidence required to take the project forward. Today, Tamil Feasts hosts two dinners a week (Monday and Tuesday) out of the CERES Community kitchen, with meals served at communal-style, long tables in an intimate setting, emphasising exchange of ideas and culture.
“Food is a powerful medium for social change and it’s a proven means of bringing people together,” Project Coordinator Molly told Indian Link. “That’s what Tamil Feasts is all about. It provides a real opportunity for people to come together and to show support for those currently going through the difficult circumstances of seeking asylum – all the while enjoying three courses of tasty Tamil cuisine!”
Tamil Feasts is a self-funded project. The proceeds generated from ticket sales go toward keeping the feasts happening each week, covering costs, paying wages, and investing in any items needed to keep the enterprise running smoothly.
“Sri, Nirma, Nigethan, and Niro are really special individuals with a great sense of humour and playful personalities, it’s not hard to fall in love with them!” Molly said. “They are the heart of Tamil Feasts, but without the support of the local community the enterprise would not be possible. With so much negativity in the media surrounding those seeking safety here in Australia, Tamil Feasts has been a welcome, positive means of connecting and supporting people presently seeking asylum.”
The food, of course, is the highlight and the primary reason why this enterprise is so successful. While Monday nights offer both vegetarian and non-vegetarian option, Tuesdays are reserved for only vegetarian and vegan meals. The menu varies each week so you can keep experiencing this delicious feast without ever getting bored.
From a scrumptious salmon curry to devilled mussels, or their infamous lamb and chicken curry to chutneys, dahls, kormas and masalas, Tamil Feasts is a culinary extravagance of spices and flavours. Not to mention the delectable sweets and desserts prepared lovingly by the team.
Completing its first year this month, this community initiative is not without its fair share of challenges. ”While we continue to see great support from the community, it’s important that we attract new and different people to the feasts,” Molly explained. “Spreading the word about what these men are doing and encouraging more people to come along to a Tamil Feast is something that we are always looking for! We hope to grow and expand in the future but this will not be possible without the continued and growing support of the wonderful Melbourne community.”
Sri, Nirma, Nigethan and Niro are still in the process of seeking asylum. It’s been seven years but the government still has not granted them any legal recognition as refugees. But that does not deter them. They continue to cook and share with us a taste of their homeland with a big smile on their faces.
Tamil Feasts have a limited capacity and are pre-book only. You can book online at ceres.org.au/tamil-feasts