Blood is thicker than sugo.
Today’s story is one I have longed to share with you for a while now. It is the tale of two Italian women – one Italian by birth, and the other Italian in spirit. They are Vincenza and Melinda Aloisio. Mother and daughter.
Truth be told, my initial intention was to explore the life and journey of Melinda, but I soon realised that to come to know Melinda, one must first come to understand Vincenza. This is their story…
Vincenza was born and raised in Arasì, a small town in Reggio Calabria in Southern Italy. At the age of 19 she met her husband Demetrio, originally from neighbouring town Staorino. He was 30 and had immigrated to Australia 10 years earlier. Demetrio had returned to Italy for his sister’s wedding when they met and it was love at first sight. Their union is a happy one. No sad scenes of a proxy marriage. No lengthy travel to Australia by boat. Vincenza immigrated to Australia in 1976 by air. This was no post-war story of female emigration in the traditional sense, despite the fact that she did indeed miss her family. “They are still so cute and so in love,” gushes Melinda, recounting how her parents met.
Vincenza’s youth was marred with more common details of hard work and manual labour of the time. She left school at grade 5, and at just 10 years of age engaged in domestic duties to support the household. She would cook and clean, as she felt it was her duty to support her family. This, in essence, is where the story begins – in the kitchen. “Food is all she has ever known. My mum is what everyone would call ‘their nonna’, but she’s my mother.”
“They just held on for dear life to their culture, as much as they could,” Melinda explains, defining how her parents’ passion for their food heritage came about. “We still make the salami, we still do the passata. Mum still makes all the traditional sweets and savoury dishes over Christmas and Easter. Even in Italy that tradition has been lost – I mean, her sisters and brothers don’t even do that anymore. It’s just really sad.” Listening to her recount their family food escapades, one thing becomes plainly clear: Vincenza is the beating heart of the Aloisio food story. “You know how some people are really funny with their recipes? Well, she wants to share them with the world because she just doesn’t want the culture lost. That’s what really defines my mother. She cooks daily for everyone. That’s her life and that’s her passion.”
Melinda has much love and respect for her mother. Over the years they have shared in many joyous and challenging moments together, and Melinda turns to her for guidance and wisdom. “She is a complete inspiration. But she always says, ‘A mum should be a mum’ – she can’t handle people saying, ‘my mum’s my best friend’. That’s not how it is, she’s there to teach you life lessons and lead you down the right path.”
Melinda’s first trip to Italy at 16 changed her life. “I basically fell in love. I just found ‘my people’. It all clicked. I fell in love with the place. I fell in love with the culture.” Melinda found herself at a crossroads a few years later living in Bairnsdale in country Victoria. She was working in a supermarket deli, feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. At 19 she expressed interest in the travel and tourism industry in Melbourne, as she was always looking for a way to get to Italy every year. “My goal… my only goal in life is to be able to travel to Italy every year. And I’m still working towards that.” Expressing this desire to her mum, Melinda was met with encouragement and support. “She’s always seen, all along, that there’s something more for me to do. She’s always supported that.”
So where is Melinda today? She’s half of the brains behind two of Melbourne’s popular Italian eateries, ‘Nineteen83’ Coffee and Panino Bar and ‘Ms Frankie’ pasta bar in Cremorne; joint ventures with equally wonderful partner Ioanna Sakellaropoulos. Melinda has certainly found the ultimate way to celebrate her Italian heritage, surrounding herself with the smells and tastes of her beloved Italy on a daily basis. “I thank God everyday that I’m Italian…well, mostly Calabrese!” Melinda embodies the fact that being Italian is as much a state of mind as it is a state of being. And don’t forget about her food muse, ‘Mamma Vincenza’! Her bread and cannoli recipes have been shared with the chef at ‘Ms Frankie’. She comes down from Bairnsdale every few weeks to make the cotolette for ‘Nineteen83’, and is often found making pasta with Maria the sfoglina. (There are some things best left to mamma!)