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Tess Mallos

Greek cuisine. History of the influence on Australian cooking. Kythera and Kytherians, prominent.


The 200 years History of Australian Cooking
Polly Book Publishing Company Pty Ltd
ISBN 0 947110 01 1

Grecian Gifts

Greece and Cyprus

As with other cuisines, those of Greece and Cyprus have given their particular gifts to the Australian kitchen by various means. However the early Grecian gifts bestowed on the people of their new land had little to do with Greek food, but a great deal to do with enriching the fabric of the Australian way of life.

There is hardly an Australian with memories of the first 60 years of the 20th century who would not also have memories of the Greek cafe, milk bar or refreshment rooms. They were to be found in every city and most country townships (particularly in the eastern States). Rather than introducing Greek foods, cafe owners quickly learned to prepare Australian meals.

Early decor was often in the Classic style with timber panelling, padded booths, marble-topped tables and bentwood chairs, back-bar fittings of carved timber and mirrors, gleaming soda fountains and confectionery counters. The dark interiors were a cool oasis in the heat of summer.

In the early years ice-cream was made on the premises, and with ice-cream sodas, sundaes, parfaits, milk shakes and fr&sh fruit drinks, offered cool solace to the heat-weary. They were a meeting place for young people, a place for commercial travellers or out-of-towners to have a meal, or a place for afternoon tea. Meals were familiar — steak and eggs, lamb chops, mixed grills, sausages, meat pies, fried fish, salads and even roasts.

A few Greek migrants in the mid- 1800s, many attracted by the gold rush, did open restaurants in Melbourne; the earliest of these were George Morphesis from Ithaca who arrived in 1849, and Andreas Lekatsas (Lucas) who arrived in 1854. Both opened restaurants in 1869,
Lucas had two grand establishments, the Town Hall and Paris Cafes, and an open-air restaurant in Kew Gardens.

The birth of the traditional Greek cafe is attributed to Kytherian Athanasios Comino, who arrived in Sydney in 1877 He worked as a labourer until a stroll down Oxford Street pointed him to a new endeavour. Hunger drew him to a fish-and-chips shop owned by a Welshman. As Comino’s order was being prepared, he realised that cooking fish and chips was easy enough even for an inexperienced cook. In 1879 he opened a shop a few doors down; handling fish was second nature to island-born Greeks. Relatives came out and opened other shops, and the Comino name in fish shops, oyster bars and oyster leases was famous into the 1900s.

Other Kytherians followed. Most worked in established fish shops, cafes and restaurants gaining experience and learned enough English to open places of their own. As new ideas in the refreshment area emerged, they were introduced; the soda fountain was one of them. Constantine and Peter Soulos, with Anthony Loizos, came to Sydney in 1910 from America. In 1912 they formed the Anglo-American Company and opened two shops in George Street and one on Manly’s Corso, modelled on the American drug store soda bar, introducing the soda fountain to Australia.

The next addition was the milk bar, again an American idea. Mick Adams (he changed his namefrom Joachim Tavlaidis), was 16 when he came to Sydney in 1908. After working in various jobs and is owning a cafe in George Street, he took a trip tthe U.S.A. and brought back the milk bar concept. In November, 1932, Adams opened Australia’s first proper milk bar, the Black and White, at 24 Martin Place. In five years 4,000 milk bars operated in Australia, all incorporated into existing soda bars. Dairy farmers of the day must have been very grateful to Mick Adams!

Katoomba’s Paragon Restaurant is indicitive rif early Greek cafes and refreshment rooms. The National Trust declared the Paragon a place worthy of preservation; this survivor of a bygone era earned its classification because of all it represents.

Zacharia Simos came from Kythera to Sydney in 1912 and in 1916 chose Katoomba for his shop. It started as a small tearoom, extended in stages up to 1936. The original soda fountain is still there, but the soda water now comes from bottles. Simos began making chocolates, cakes and meat pies on the premises in the 1920s, and introduced baklava and kataifi pastries in the 1930s, probably the first to do so commercially in Australia. A pastrycook from Athens made the fib pastry and the kataifi shredded pastry, tasks which took considerable time and skill. Paragon hand-made chocolates and confectionery are still made to original recipes and the restaurant menu is little changed. Simos’s widow, Mary, still runs the shop, often nostalgically visited by succeeding generations of early Paragon customers.
Besides being the ethnic group which virtually fed Australia more than any other group, there was one contribution of particular importance to our table and to exports. With the development of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, dried-fruit production, especially raisins, currants and sultanas, became an important industry But there were teething problems. The dried vine fruits, particularly sultanas, were not of the quality which could demand high prices in London; the best quality fruits were from Greece and Smyrna.

The 1920 purge of Greeks from Asia Minor resulted t in many coming to Australia. Four of them found t their way to Mildura, worked in the vineyards t during harvest and informed growers they were not drying the sultanas correctly In return for land and advances to establish their own vineyard, the Greeks educated the growers as to the correct procedures for cold dipping; the hot dipping used previously had caused the problems. They also introduced the Greek method of cincturing vines, a form of ring-barking, increasing fruit yields per acre twenty-fold.

As immigration from Greece and Cyprus increased from the 1950s, so did demands for the foods of their kitchen. While early Greek settlers confined their cuisine to their own table, growing their special vegetables and buying their cheeses and other favoured foods from Greek delicatessens, the marketplace was ready for the wider introduction of Greek foods.

Fib pastry has become so naturalised that its place in the Australian kitchen indicates the multi-cultural influences in our developing cuisine. It was first made in Sydney and Melbourne for those of Greek and Lebanese descent. Panos, the Paragon’s pastrycook, eventually opened his own shop in Melbourne. In the late 1940s Chris Koumi came from Cyprus and made fib and kataifi at his Athens Cake Shop in Bourke Street, Sydney Harry Larcos, also from Cyprus, learned the art from Koumi, married the boss’s daughter, and in the early 1960s opened a factory to make fib mechanically The Dutch-made machines are based on a Viennese invention for strudel pastry A large food company took over the business and production moved to Melbourne.

Chris Antoniou, another Cypriot Greek, arrived in 1952 and began business in 1961. Besides supplying shops and supermarkets with fresh fib and kataifi, the company prepares pastries such as spinach pie and cheese triangles, packaged and ready for baking.

Jim Atexopoubos (Alex) arrived from Piraeus in 1956 and began making Greek-style yogurt. Attiki yogurt is keenly sought by connoisseurs of traditional Greek yogurts, and despite intense competition, is still one of the best.

The first Greek cheesemaker in Australia was George Yoannidis, who came out in 1938. After working in Victoria he moved his family to Mount Gambier, South Australia, in 1951 and started his factory at Eight Mile Creek in 1960. Today the company is run by his sons, George and Stan, making Feta, Kefalotyri and Haloumy (plaited in the Lebanese style), as well as Italian cheeses and the famed Eight Mile Creek Cheddar.

From the time of the Cominos, many Greeks have worked in some aspect of Australia’s seafood industry. Major cities have their seafood wholesale entrepreneurs of Greek descent such as Marine Food Distributors (Harry Larcos and relatives), P Manettas & Co. and Poulos Bros of Sydney; Melbourne’s Jim Racovolis; Angelakis Bros of Adelaide and the two Kailis concerns in Perth.

Coffee has long been a favoured Greek beverage, so it was natural that Greek migrants would become involved in this business. John Andronicus left Kythera in 1907 at the age of 13. After living with brothers in West Maitland and Tamworth and completing his eduction, in 1910 Andronicus joined another two brothers in Sydney in their tea and coffee business relocated at 197 George Street. By 1936 Andronicus and his wife, Kathleen, were the sole proprietors of Andronicus Coffee and Tea, also famous for its chocolates. The business struggled until American servicemen based in Australia popularised coffee drinking.

Sons Charles and George joined their father in the early 1950s. In 1961 the sons opened their own wholesale company Andronicus Coffee Pty Ltd, and through vigorous promotion made Andronicus a household name for coffee devotees, and the hospitality industry.

Despite all the activity in food industries and businesses, it was only in relatively recent years that Greek cooking entered the Australian kitchen. Australians travelling to Greece fell in love with Greece, its islands and its foods. The occasional recipe appeared in cookery editorials and cookbooks, but it was not until Tess Mallos’s Greek Cookbook was published in 1976 that Greek cooking found a larger following.

Tess Mallos’s father had first worked in Comino fish shops when he arrived from Kythera in 1897 Anthony Calopades was 11 years old when sent out to his godfather, Antonious Comino. He worked in the Oxford Street fish shop for three months while attending school, then moved to other shops. He became an expert oyster opener and whenever Samuel Hordern (of retail fame) took a party onto his yacht in the early 1900s, Calopades was also taken aboard, with his oyster knife and a bag of oysters, to supply freshly opened oysters for the guests. He wouldn’t have dared fry up some calamari for them — the squid would have been thrown overboard.

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