The Americas - Adriana and Gustavo Gomberg

The Americas - Adriana and Gustavo Gomberg

Gaye Weeden, Hayley Smorgon
6 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Mark Roper


Adriana and Gustavo Gomberg are childhood sweethearts, having met through the Jewish youth movement Hashomer Hatzair when they were around nine years old.

‘We didn’t fall in love then but it wasn’t that much later,’ Adriana says, laughing as their two daughters Allegra and Sienna play in their family home.

Adriana and Gustavo’s love story sounds like one that could be found in any Australian-Jewish community, but both spent their childhoods quite a distance away from the life they have built for themselves today.

Both grew up in Brazil, a country that is 99 per cent Catholic and, as a consequence, has a high rate of Jewish assimilation. Perhaps as a reaction to this, both Adriana's and Gustavo’s homes held their Jewish tradition and heritage in very high regard.

‘It was very important for my parents, the religion and also the culture,’ Gustavo says, recalling how his mother would make a concerted effort to bring the extended family together whenever she could.

‘It’s what my mum does very well, she brings the family together and she’d always cook. I think she loves making sure people are around the table with enough food for everyone.’

Gustavo’s maternal side is Syrian while his father’s is Polish, but it was the Sephardic food that was most prominent at his dinner table. Known for her pies and breads, Gustavo’s mother’s repertoire always included the common Middle Eastern dish known as kibbeh, featuring a shell made of burghul and minced meat, which was then filled with more meat and onions before being baked in the oven or deep fried.

Gustavo’s mother is also famous for her traditional Jewish bread challah, which she makes each time she visits her son and his family in Melbourne, more recently preparing it with her granddaughters. It’s from her that Gustavo learnt the kitchen basics, which have come in handy as he is the main chef in his family home.

‘I like cooking,’ he says. ‘I don’t have any structured approach … I just try to be creative.’

Adriana continues, ‘Your mum was much more hands-on, she wanted to include the kids and give them responsibilities. Gustavo and his brother were very lucky because they were much more prepared for life than any friends I had.’

While Gustavo’s mother was a prominent fixture in the kitchen, Adriana’s household had housekeepers instead who worked alongside her mother to prepare the family meals.

‘What I remember the most as a child in regards to food was lots of people in the kitchen, my grandmother and my mother in there, but with cooks and people and that I wasn’t allowed to go in, it was not a place for kids,’ she says.

Both sides of Adriana’s family had originally come from Poland and Germany, with her maternal grandmother immigrating to Brazil between the First and Second world wars. It wasn’t until Adriana’s grandmother had her own kitchen that she learnt the local cuisine from her neighbours and friends.

‘It was a way to integrate and even to learn the language,’ Adriana explains. ‘She felt she couldn’t just cook Eastern European food for the rest of her life.’

And so Brazilian dishes became commonplace, always featuring copious amounts of meat as well as recipes that harked back to the country’s Portuguese past. The traditional black bean dish known as fejwada was one such meal, usually cooked with pork or red meat but served with vegetables instead in Adriana’s home. Usually eaten alongside this was falofka, a mixture of flour, banana and egg that is a nationally treasured dish.

But what resonates in Adriana’s mind are the smells and noises that would emanate from her family’s kitchen when her mother and grandmother would prepare dishes together, with aromas of homemade gefilte fish, chicken soup and other Jewish fare permeating the house.

‘I remember them cooking gnocchi together because in Brazil, there is this tradition of eating gnocchi on the twenty-ninth of each month. You put money under the plate to give you prosperity and that was something they used to do together.’

And while Sabbath was rarely celebrated in Adriana’s or her friends’ homes aside from the obligatory lighting of the candles, the Jewish holidays were considered to be sacrosanct.

‘The chagim [festivals] were the main reasons to get together and celebrate the Jewish religion, culture and tradition,’ Adriana says.

Yet still Adriana was kept out of the kitchen ‘until they realised, “If we don’t teach her then she’s going to be completely lost.”

‘They started allowing me to go into the kitchen while they were cooking so I could learn the gefilte fish and things like that,’ she says.

During this time, the Brazilian-Jewish community was small but strong, yet assimilation was always a nagging concern. Both Adriana and Gustavo attended Hashomer Hatzair as a way to further ensure they remained connected to Jewish children of all ages. Coincidentally, it’s where they also fell in love.

While they were dating at age 18, Adriana and Gustavo went to live in Israel for a year, taking part in the youth movement’s educational program called Shnat. For Gustavo, eating Israeli food reminded him of his family home. But for Adriana, the new tastes and flavours were an eye-opener.

‘It was very different and my diet was terrible because [at home] I used to eat lots of steaks and [in Israel] there was no meat for the entire year,’ Adriana says. ‘I ate bread and chocolate for a year.’

But despite this, both Adriana and Gustavo agree the experience abroad was the best year of their lives, allowing them to explore a new country and culture and, for the first time, to learn about the wider Jewish world.

‘It was just a learning curve in terms of language, in terms of getting to know Gustavo and meeting other people,’ Adriana says.

‘The sense of patriotism that I felt there, it was overwhelming … it was the entire country celebrating the same thing.’

When they returned to Brazil, Adriana and Gustavo each moved back in with their parents and a few years later were engaged. For Adriana, the wedding preparations were particularly important as they signified how she and Gustavo would make decisions on how they wanted Judaism to play a part in their lives.

‘We had the meetings with the rabbi and we started thinking about the traditions we had and the things we wanted to carry on. You just start thinking in a different way because it’s not just for you; it’s for you and your family.’

What they both agreed on was that after their experience in Israel, they wanted to live overseas and experience another culture and lifestyle. Gustavo was preparing for his MBA when a friend suggested Australia as a potential candidate for his study years away. Excited by its close proximity to Asia and its point of difference to their homeland, they decided to give Melbourne a try.

It was an experience supposed to only last a year and a half, but it's one they’re still having to this day.

‘We were having such a good time, it was so easy to adjust,’ Gustavo explains.

Soon they had settled into their new country and, with Adriana starting work at the Jewish Museum, a new social circle opened up and Judaism once again permeated their home.

‘One of the reasons I think we really stayed here was because it gave us a sense of community,’ she says. ‘It gave us friends and family and being welcomed and feeling part of something.’

It also offered them the opportunity to go to people’s homes for Friday night dinners, a tradition not common in Brazil and one both Adriana and Gustavo believe helped their Jewish culture become more of a day-to-day experience.

Today, Adriana and Gustavo’s girls speak both English and Portuguese and their grandparents visit whenever they can. The family goes to great lengths to amalgamate both their cultures and ensure traditions are preserved and enjoyed, despite the geographical distance.

‘There are days that I am homesick,’ Adriana admits. ‘But cooking is one of the ways I do connect and I just feel like it’s continuing and respecting the past, it’s connecting those two things.’

It was in Melbourne that Adriana really started cooking for the first time and where all the skills she had subconsciously picked up from watching her mother and grandmother in Brazil were finally released. The kitchen became the place where she brought together her past and her future and celebrated them together in her new home.

‘Coming here, it was a real challenge to try and do exactly the same thing,’ she says. ‘It was just what I saw and it was really cooking from memory.’

‘The food for the festivals was what I really connected with and I saw the importance of food in passing on the tradition. For me, cooking for the chagim is not only a way to pass it on to my children but also to connect with the past and to connect with the family that isn’t here.

‘The smell of the same food that they used to cook, it’s like they are here,’ Adriana explains. ‘And when I see the food and I see the same shape of the gefilte fish or the matzah balls … I really see them with me and that’s a really nice feeling.’

Recipes in this Chapter

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