We spoke with Himanshi Munshaw Luhar, founder of Foodie Trails, about her cultural heritage and how she started her business exploring the cultural food treasures of Melbourne.
Can you tell us a bit about your cultural heritage?
I was born and brought up in India. I moved to Australia as a student back in 2005. I’m from a Hindu Gujarati background. We lived in a joint family in India, where my Father’s side of the family all lived together in one large household.
My Mum was quite progressive in relation to most other upbringings in India, she gave us a lot of advantages. She didn’t study in English but would go to the British Council Library to borrow English books and learn them herself so she could teach us. It was very different to typical Indian families; my Husband definitely didn’t learn western nursery rhymes.
She also worked as a travel agent, so we were fortunate to travel from a very young age to Africa, Mauritius and the UK among many other destinations. We were exposed to many different cultures as we grew up, which in turn made us more open minded. Cultural differences didn’t have as big an impact on us, we accepted it as it was.
What is a favourite dish that you make that is particularly representative of your cultural heritage? Why is this dish important to you?
Well I love to eat… but I’m particularly fond of street food. Doesn’t matter what culture, I’m always drawn more to it than any other food. My all-time favourite though is Panipuri. It’s an Indian street food dish which is best described as a flavour bomb. It’s a little crispy puff stuffed with potatoes and mung beans, topped with tamarind chutney and then dipped in a mint and coriander water. You eat the whole thing in one bite, it’s my favourite dish in the whole world. I’ve now learnt how to make it at home as well.
A dish that is particularly important to me is my Mum’s curry rice. It’s a lentil curry but she mixes it with coconut which is not traditional, but I love it. When I was pregnant, I made her make it for me, I’m very fond of it. My Mum was always pretty evolved as a cook, every time we went out for dinner, she would always be curious as to how something was made and with what ingredients so she could make it at home. I think that’s where all of us get our attachment to food from.
You started your business ‘Foodie Trails’ 8 years ago now, how did that come about?
Foodie Trails was something that conspired in the study of my house. I’m a fully licensed travel agent and the driving force of all the trips I organise. Food is a good medium to introduce people to different cultures. It all started because I wanted to promote travel to India. I put together a bit of a teaser by inviting potential travellers to get a taste on a walking food tour of the city and explore the culture, influences to the Indian community and how these influences have impacted the food. After that people said they wanted to invite friends and that they’d pay to come.
I realised it was a great opportunity to share the Indian cultural background through food, so we started running regular tours. We then introduced African and Turkish tours, exploring different cultures through food. That then grew into people wanting to learn how to cook the things they were tasting.
We introduced homestyle cooking classes. We’re not professional chefs but the whole essence of our classes is sharing how your grandma, mum or dad taught you to cook a dish. Sharing the stories and recipes in a home kitchen environment. We’ve also started doing festivals, bringing these communities together and giving that understanding to the wider community through food, dance and cultural performances.
One thing I’m very excited about is we’re starting a tour with the starting point at the Immigration Museum. Exploring the cultural flavours of Melbourne and how migrants from around the world have impacted the flavours and dishes we now have.
Why do you think Australians should get involved with A Taste of Harmony?
It’s an easy way to break down cultural barriers. Having different foods on the table is already a conversation starter and an easy way to get involved because everyone is curious about food. It’s a neutral platform of getting to know people better.
When you start talking about different cultures you start to realise there’s so many similarities, they’re just referred to differently. Indian families are big and loud, but then you look at Greek families, Italian families, they’re usually quite the same just in a different language!
Those conversations are very easy to have around a table of food. All of my fondest memories travelling were about the food and the flavours we tasted while in a new place. Food is just a great way to be introduced to something new without being too conscious or aware of doing so, it ends up being a more relaxed and laid-back way of learning about different cultures.
Himanshi Munshaw Luhar is the founder of Foodie Trails, that run Melbourne foodie cultural festivals, events, walking food tours and home-style cooking classes. You can also venture further on their international cultural food tours!