Compare the eel recipes used by the Aboriginal people of Parramatta and colonial settlers

Thousands of years before the Rosehill racecourse was built and the shopping centres and housing developments moved into Parramatta, it was the gathering place of the local Burramattagal people.

Each season when the eel was spawning along the Parramatta River, they would gather with other Indigenous tribes to celebrate and share stories.

After 1788, those practices were slowly lost as colonial settlers moved into the area.

On Sunday the annual Eel Festival at Elizabeth Farm in Rosehill will give visitors a chance to understand the ways of the Dharug people and how significant eel was to the way they lived.

The colonial homestead was built for a military couple in the 1830s and the festival will offer people the chance to learn more about how each culture cooked the local food source.

Cooking Burramatta (eel)

As the eel was a totem for the Burramattagal people; they were not allowed to eat it, according to Fred Tucker (middle name "Bush") who runs an Indigenous food catering business.

Fred grew up in Wollongong and was adopted into a white family when he was young.

"In Aboriginal culture it's fairly traditional that you don't eat your own totem, otherwise it's like you're eating yourself," he said.

"But it was a traditional seasonal thing so they were happy to share their resources with the other peoples."

The eel would usually be wrapped up in bark, secured with Gymea lily leaves and cooked on an open fire.

"We've been cooking that way for thousands and thousands of years," Fred said.

"It's been handed down for thousands of years, it's just in the last couple of hundred that it's been lost."

Colonial collared eel

Collared eel was a dish brought to the colony and served to the elite classes of British settlers.

The idea of collaring was to wrap something into a spiral or a circle using a frame that resembled a neck collar.

"Ordinary people would have just chopped up their eel and fried them with butter or put it in a soup," Jacqui Newling, colonial gastronomer with Sydney Living Museums, said.

"Filleting the eel and adding spices would elevate the status of your food."

Ms Newling found the 1861 method in a book of colonial recipes.

The eel would be boned, sprinkled with spices and herbs, cooked over a fire-lit stove, then cooled and served cold.

The poaching of the eel releases liquid that solidifies to form a jelly.

"It tastes like a mild fish. Because it's a river fish, it doesn't have that strong saltiness ... but it's just quite a nice white flesh, sometimes a bit oily," she said.

Ms Newling said people who had tasted the dish likened it to eating "a can of sardines" and much preferred the smoked method of the Indigenous people.

"Of course we know that Aboriginal people were eating eel many thousands of years before that [1788]," she said.

"So this was an example of the two cultures using the same resource quite differently."

The Eel Festival at Elizabeth Farm, Rosehill, was held on Sunday from 10:00am to 4:00pm.