Subscribe

Nostalgic noshes: What dishes taste like ‘home’ when you’re far away?

Living in another country for an extended period of time brings your personal tastes and predilections into focus, especially when it comes to food.

We reserve a special place in our hearts and stomachs for the flavors of childhood, especially the meals cooked for us by our own mothers.

Here in Sonoma County, there is a multicultural community of people who have come to live and work in our food and wine industries. So we asked a few of them, what does home taste like to you?

Not surprisingly, dishes wrapped in fragrant dough ranked high on the list, including an Onion and Bacon Pie from southern Germany and the meat pies, pasties and sausage rolls ubiquitous in Australia.

“These are savory pastry treats that we all grew up on for lunch … if your parents could afford them,” said winemaker Daryl Groom of Healdsburg. “Their origins, I believe, are English and go back to the miners’ days of being able to eat a lunch without a mess.”

Groom and his wife Lisa, also from Australia, start searching for these pastries as soon as they land in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, for their drive to their wine community home, the Barossa Valley.

“Immediately out of the airport, we find the first gas station which has a snack shop and buy one of each,” he said. “The smell of these pastries when you walk into the shop is this warmed, baked pastry smell that gets your tummy rumbling and puts a smile on your face.”

At home, the couple has developed their own recipes that are close to the “comfort” flavor of the baked treats they grew up on, as most bakers in the U.S. try to make them too “gourmet.” It is now a Groom family tradition to bake these bites of home on Christmas Eve.

“We have almost perfected them over time, but they are not quite the same as when we are actually in Australia,” Groom said. “Most Australians enjoy these with a squirt of tomato sauce (ketchup).”

Norwegian meatballs

Norway native Lisbeth Holmefjord acknowledged that the food of her home country is not as refined as the Italian fare her husband, Shari Sarabi, makes at their restaurant, Baci Cafe & Wine Bar in Healdsburg.

Kjottkaker is a Norwegian meatball dish that Lisbeth Holmsgaard enjoyed as a child and still makes for her kids, her neighbors and her staff at Baci Cafe & Wine Bar in Healdsburg. (Lisbeth Holmsgaard)
Kjottkaker is a Norwegian meatball dish that Lisbeth Holmsgaard enjoyed as a child and still makes for her kids, her neighbors and her staff at Baci Cafe & Wine Bar in Healdsburg. (Lisbeth Holmsgaard)

“There’s not a lot of sophistication, and no one is going to want to eat lutefisk (salted cod cooked in lye), although I love it,” she said.

But there is one dish from Norway she carried with her to America, and everyone from her three kids to her neighbors and restaurant staff often beg her to make it: kjøttkaker, Norwegian meatballs smothered in brown gravy.

“We put it over mashed potatoes, and then we saute carrots or corn and green peas to go with it,” she said. “My mother always prepared the kjøttkaker on Saturday, so the house smelled so good.” The family enjoyed it together in long, leisurely Sunday meals. The meatballs were special because during the week, the family ate only fish they caught themselves.

“My mom would say, ‘Take the boat and fish for dinner,’” Holmefjord recalled. “After eating salted cod, smoked cod, herring, salmon and other fish dinners all week, we looked forward to Sunday dinner.”

Pork braised in a clay pot

Mei Ibach, a culinary instructor at West County High School in Sebastopol, grew up in Malaysia amid “nyonya” cooking, a fusion of the spices Chinese men introduced when they migrated to Malaysia to work as laborers and the spices used by the Malaysian women they married.

“The women were called ‘nyonya,’ the lady of the house,” she said. “Nyonya cooking is basically a hybrid cooking style that emerged from the two cultures.”

Nyonya Tau Yu Bak (Braised Pork Belly with Boiled Eggs) from Malaysia native Mei Ibach, culinary instructor at West County High School. (Mei Ibach)
Nyonya Tau Yu Bak (Braised Pork Belly with Boiled Eggs) from Malaysia native Mei Ibach, culinary instructor at West County High School. (Mei Ibach)

Although Ibach’s mother was not a great cook, she did make one nyonya dish that brought all the kids running to the table: Nyonya Tau Yu Bak (Braised Pork with Boiled Eggs).

“It’s so fragrant with the Chinese five spice, the star anise and the cinnamon. … The aroma permeated the whole house,” Ibach recalled. “We used to have a chicken coop, so getting those fresh eggs and adding them made it such a comfort food.”

The versatile braised pork often ended up in all kinds of leftover dishes, including fried rice, rice porridge or noodles.

“It was traditionally made in a clay pot over an open fire,” Ibach said. “Even today, when you travel to Malaysia, there are still a lot of street food vendors selling this dish.”

Onion and Bacon Pie

Gesine Kicherer, co-owner of Franchettis’ Gasthaus in Santa Rosa, grew up in southern Germany, just 90 minutes north of Munich, in the heart of the Black Forest.

“Home is when you ask your mom or aunt to cook you your favorite items,” she said. “For me, it always included salzige dampfnudel, yeast dough that is put in a cast-iron pan with salt and oil, then steamed; potato dumplings with a saute of mushrooms; and schnitzel and spaetzle with mushroom gravy.

Perhaps the most divine dish of all is the zwiebelkuchen, an onion and bacon pie similar to a quiche and made with onions, eggs and crumbled bacon.

This month, the restaurant she runs with her husband, Chef John Franchetti, has a special menu of Oktoberfest dishes reminiscent of a Bavarian beer hall, including Schweinshaxe (Bavarian Roasted Pork Knuckle), Zigeuner Schnitzel (Gypsy-style Chicken Schnitzel) and the Zwiebelkuchen, which is “heavenly,” Kicherer said.

_____

This recipe is from Daryl and Lisa Groom of Healdsburg, who are originally from Australia. “Lisa’s and my desires are to find the simple versions (of the sausage rolls) we grew up on,” Daryl said. “Today, bakers often do more gourmet ones that we appreciate, but they are not the ‘comfort’ variety.”

Aussie Sausage Rolls

Makes 56 bite-size rolls

4 slices bread, crusts removed

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons dried Italian herb mix

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

2 pounds bulk pork sausage

2 packages (4 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place bread in bowl, add water to soak, then squeeze out excess. Combine the onion, herb mix, salt, pepper and bulk pork sausage in another bowl. Add bread and mix thoroughly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll each pastry sheet into a 12-inch-by-10½-inch rectangle. Cut lengthwise into three strips. Place sausage mix in a one-gallon zip-close bag with one corner cut to form a 1-inch opening, and pipe pork mixture lengthwise down strip of pastry. Brush a little water along opposite edge of pastry and roll lengthwise to encase the sausage mix. Seal by pressing lightly on edge of pastry brushed with water. Cut into 2-inch rolls and place on cookie sheet, seam side down.

Brush with egg wash and bake until golden brown and sausage is no longer pink, approximately 20 minutes.

Daryl Groom rolls sausage filling into pastry dough while making sausage rolls at home in Healdsburg on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
Daryl Groom rolls sausage filling into pastry dough while making sausage rolls at home in Healdsburg on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

_____

This recipe is from Lisbeth Holmefjord of Healdsburg, a native of Norway who grew up on an island outside the city of Bergen in the southwest of the country. She suggests using ground beef that has at least 20% fat. “In Norway, you grind your own meat with the hand grinder,” she said. “The eggs make them fluffy and easy to eat.”

Norwegian Kjøttkaker (Meatballs)

Makes 4 servings

2 pounds ground beef

3 eggs

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 cup whole milk

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Butter for frying

For gravy:

1 cup butter

1 cup flour

5 cups beef stock

2 cups water

Drippings from the patties

Salt and pepper, to taste

Place ground beef in a large mixing bowl, add the eggs and work them in with a wooden spoon. Add the onion, seasoning, milk and flour and work the meat by hand so it is all mixed well.

Let sit for 30 minutes, to reach room temperature, then form the meat into patties. Fry the patties in butter in a hot cast-iron pan until they are brown on all sides. Lower the temperature and cook the patties for another 5 minutes.

For gravy: Melt the butter and add the flour while whisking. When it’s dark brown (not burned), slowly add the beef stock and water, over low heat. Add the drippings and salt and pepper, to taste. Cook for 10 minutes to reduce.

Add the patties to the gravy. Serve with mashed potatoes and sauteed corn or carrots and peas.

_____

Nyonya Tau Yu Bak (Braised Pork Belly with Boiled Eggs) reminds Culinary Instructor Mei Ibach of her home in Malaysia. (Mei Ibach)
Nyonya Tau Yu Bak (Braised Pork Belly with Boiled Eggs) reminds Culinary Instructor Mei Ibach of her home in Malaysia. (Mei Ibach)

For culinary instructor Mei Ibach, this dish brings sweet and delicious memories of her childhood in Singapore and Malaysia. The main ingredient is soy sauce, both the light and the thick, dark soy sauce. In the Hokkien language, soy sauce is “tau yu” and pork is “bak,” which is the name of this dish, Ibach explained.

“Tau yu bak may be deemed as a simple soy sauce dish, but surely it sings with umami and deliciousness,” she said. “The additional aromatic herbs, spices and hard-boiled eggs which are infused with the soy sauces make this an awesome dish. Traditionally, it is slowly braised in a clay pot, but home cooks can use a slow cooker.”

See the note below for preparing with a slow cooker.

Nyonya Tau Yu Bak (Braised Pork Belly with Boiled Eggs)

Serves 4

2 ½ pounds pork belly or pork foreleg, cut into 2-inch-thick pieces

1 tablespoon fermented yellow soybean sauce

3 tablespoons black soy sauce

3 tablespoons light soy sauce

5 star anise

2 cinnamon sticks

2 teaspoons Chinese Five spices

½ cup Shaoxing rice wine

3 tablespoons canola oil

6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly bruised

1 ounce fresh Thai galangal or fresh ginger, thickly sliced

3 cups chicken stock

10 pieces dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes

¼ cup Chinese Rock sugar (or 2 tablespoons palm or brown sugar)

4-5 hard-boiled eggs, cooked, shelled and halved (instructions below)

In a medium mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the soybean sauce, light and dark soy sauces, star anise, cinnamon sticks, Chinese five spices and rice wine. Add the pork slices and coat well. Set aside to marinate for about 30-45 minutes at room temperature.

In a clay pot or heavy-bottom pot, heat the oil and lightly brown the garlic and ginger over medium heat, about 2 minutes.

Sear the pork slices in the pot for 3 - 5 minutes on both sides or until the fat is rendered (reserve the marinade liquid).

Add the chicken stock, reserved marinade liquid and mushrooms with liquid and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, about 20 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes or until the pork is tender. Cover with a lid. Add the hard-boiled eggs to the pork mixture 5 minutes before serving over steamed rice or rice noodles.

Note: To use a slow cooker, transfer the pork mixture after searing the pork to a slow cooker and cook at high heat for 2 hours or until the pork is tender. Add the hard-boiled eggs to the pork mixture and allow to cook for another 5 minutes.

For the hard-boiled eggs: Bring 5 - 6 cups of water to a boil in a deep pot and place the egg gently into the boiling water to avoid cracking. Boil over medium heat for 10 minutes, drain the hot water, transfer the eggs to a mixing bowl and soak with ice-cold water for 20-30 minutes before shelling. This will allow the eggs to be easily shelled.

_____

This recipe is a favorite of Gesine Kicherer, who used to eat it when growing up in the Black Forest region in southern Germany. To make this pie vegetarian, simply leave out the bacon garnish on top.

Zweibelkuchen (Onion and Bacon Pie) is a favorite dish of Gesine Kilcherer, a native of Germany and co-owner of Franchettis’ Gasthaus in Santa Rosa. (Gesine Kilcherer)
Zweibelkuchen (Onion and Bacon Pie) is a favorite dish of Gesine Kilcherer, a native of Germany and co-owner of Franchettis’ Gasthaus in Santa Rosa. (Gesine Kilcherer)

Zwiebelkuchen (Onion and Bacon Pie)

Makes 1 pie

For dough:

Store-bought pie crust or dough recipe of your choice

For filling:

2 pounds white onions, finely diced

4 tablespoons cooking oil of your choice

1 cup sour cream or creme fraiche

3 whole eggs

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

5 slices bacon, finely diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and adjust rack to the lowest level.

Add cooking oil to a heavy-bottom pan over medium-low heat. Add the diced onion and cook slowly until the onion is glossy and translucent, about 20 minutes (you don’t want dark, caramelized onions).

Remove from heat and set onions aside to cool. If you made your own dough, roll it out and set it in a springform pan or pie pan.

Mix flour, sour cream, eggs and salt into the cooled onions. Add mixture to the springform pan or pie pan. Sprinkle the diced bacon on top.

Put in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, then check for doneness. Bake for 10-15 minutes more, as needed.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette