♥♥♥ TANTALISE MY TASTE BUDS ♥♥♥
One motivation for starting the blog was the disturbing realization, in October 2014, that the teenagers in our family were unable to cook or bake even the simplest of family recipes. That is a sad indictment for a family that has been involved in food related activities for over 50 years.
With few of my mother’s generation left to pass on their recipes, accumulated knowledge or techniques, it dawned me that it was time to record them for posterity and ensure that they can be enjoyed by others for many years to come.
Another motivator was the repeated encouragement by a dear friend to try my hand at writing. ‘Write what’ I asked? ‘Anything!’ they replied. I had no idea what to write about or whether anyone would even be interested in my writing, but the two things I know a little about are halaal food and travel, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.
♥♥♥ RAZENA ♥♥♥ THE SHORT VERSION
Before moving to Dubai I owned a small catering company in Cape Town. However I am neither a professionally trained chef nor have I graduated from any culinary schools or academies. My teachers were my mother and aunts and way back in the day, Carlton Food Network chefs.
I love to recreate the recipes of my youth and try my hand at new ones with my own nuances and flavours. Many were passed down from my mother and aunts, and others were developed along the way and perfected over time.
These recipes are the connections to my homeland; my origins; and the culinary practices and traditions of the Cape Malay people… where we came from and where we are now.
Although living abroad has meant that my vacations at my family home are filled with outings and excursions and few opportunities for home cooking or baking, it has also given me the opportunity to visit new places, meet new people and learn about their food culture and customs.
I would like to share these experiences with you and hope that they will help you cook, eat, live and travel with added zest and enthusiasm. Join me on a journey to re-discover old family favorites and new flavors from far off places.
♥♥♥ RAZENA ♥♥♥ THE LONG VERSION
I baked my very first cake at the age of 8 years old after one of my teachers (who had been a friend of my grandparents) told the class about the lovely meals and cakes she had enjoyed in my grandparents’ home when they were young. She asked me whether I had inherited my grandmother’s talent, but since my grandmother had died before I was born, I honestly did not know.
I went home and asked my mother how to bake a cake! And very patiently she instructed me, step by step, in the art of baking her go to recipe, a hot milk sponge cake. My first attempt was reasonably successful, and smothered in strawberries and cream, it went down a treat at school the next day. I have loved baking and experimenting with recipes ever since.
During my teens I supplemented my weekend and holiday work earnings from my mother’s hair salon with a Saturday sidewalk cake stall. Friday nights were spent baking until the early hours to fill trays of éclairs, cupcakes, cookies, stuffed cocktail bread rolls, spiced and cream doughnuts. The cake stall evolved into a thriving home baking business that produced cookies, cupcakes, celebration cakes, breads, sweet and savory tarts and pastries.
After my parents retired, we entered into a catering partnership specializing in weddings, sports club and corporate events. Later, after my father’s death, I launched a corporation that specialized in bespoke catering tailored exclusively for our private and corporate clients. For a while it kept my mother and I busy, and in some small measure the activity helped her cope with the loss of her beloved.
The business was taking off and I was in a full time employment at a firm of Chartered Accountants and Internal Auditors, when I received the offer to participate in an exchange program abroad for female executives. A few months after my departure my mother felt that she was unable to cope with the stress and pressure of handling all aspects of the business on her own, and called it a day.
♥♥♥ MY INFLUENCES
My earliest memories are of my mother and aunts cooking and baking for family dinners, celebrations or religious festivals and often for wedding banquets. As a child I loved to sit and listen while they regaled us with stories of their youth and their life with my late grandparents. I regret to admit that early on I never really paid much attention to what my mother and aunts were actually cooking up.
What I learnt instead was that my maternal grandmother’s motto was, ‘always make enough for the man in the street’. One of my cousins who has memories of her, says that she meant one should always extend hospitality and generosity to unexpected guests and invite them to share a meal, especially if they dropped by unannounced at meal time.
In my mind’s eye I pictured my grandmother who loved to cook and bake, standing at the kitchen table kneading bread dough and sending a crusty loaf to her neighbors or making a sandwich for someone who dropped by for a chat. In real life I saw my parents provide something to eat to everyone who visited, especially those who knocked on the door asking ‘het Aunty nie ‘n stukkie brood nie’, meaning ‘Aunty, don’t you have a piece of bread’.
I learnt about my grandfather’s warning to my mother and her siblings that children who did not eat all their rice would have no Rizq (provision or sustenance) in their lives. Over the years I wondered about this, and as an adult I realized that it was more than about a few tablespoons of rice left uneaten… it relates to how people who are greedy and wasteful will never have enough to sustain themselves. I also imagined my grandfather baking the orange cakes and cherry loaves for Sunday afternoon tea, while my grandmother rested until it was served.
♥♥♥ DUBAI AND BEYOND
In October 2006 I arrived in Dubai to take up a position on an exchange program for female executives.
Within a few weeks of my arrival I fell ill with bronchitis, and soon after I began to experience a painfully swollen forefinger and other joints, that were initially attributed to various causes. My Rheumatoid Arthritis was only diagnosed six months later and during that time I had mostly stopped cooking. It became too painful to stand for long periods or even hold a knife to chop onions (never try that with a blunt knife, by the way).
The thought of cooking a meal, any meal, was simply too daunting, and after a while I stopped trying. Unfortunately, the imported unseasonal fruit and vegetables sold in the supermarkets in Dubai are overpriced and tasteless and did not inspire creativity. With the passage of time my taste buds became so desensitized by restaurant, take-out and delivery meals that everything tasted the same, and I lost any inclination for that too.
That is, until the organic farmer’s markets and stores began to bloom across the desert landscape with locally grown organic seasonal produce. It started with one little Friday market on the steps of a Baker & Spice café, and has grown to an assortment of organic markets and farm to table stores dotted across the emirates. I was inspired to recreate the smells, sounds and textures of my youth.
I have had an opportunity to travel in the Gulf states and further afield, and sampled the traditional foods of various countries as well as the myriad of cuisines introduced by the expatriate populations in the UAE.
I have discovered that Indian meat free dishes made with care, attention and fresh ingredients can be so delicious that any form of animal protein becomes totally superfluous. That came as a complete surprise to this lamb and chicken aficionado who would prefer a toasted cheese sandwich over a plate of homemade curry, but who now eats Asian food at least once a week.
My years in the UAE have given me a better understanding of other cultures as well as an appreciation for my own Cape Malay heritage and it’s traditions… some of which were born out of the financial hardships of a marginalized minority who made ends meet in whatever way they knew how. A community that took care of each other, and where no one allowed their neighbour’s family to go hungry when their own children were fed.
♥♥♥ COME JOIN ME…
I recently discovered a treasure trove of my handwritten recipes, including old family favorites and others created for my baking business more than 25 years ago. My mother had brought it for me when she visited and it lay undisturbed in it’s protective wrapping for a few years, until I rummaged around and found it while looking for something else.
The recipes are the embodiment of the close bonds that existed between people of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds that inhabited the same geographical areas in and around Cape Town. Families, friends and neighbours who shared in each other’s joys and sorrows and were always ready and willing to lend a helping when required.
When I called and told my mother about my discovery she asked whether it meant I wanted to start a business again. I laughed and said ‘maybe… but it’s more important now that I record our recipes for posterity before we lose it again’. Sadly, she passed away unexpectedly the day before I was scheduled to travel home for my vacation.
It breaks my heart that I will not be able to share this with her, so I invite you to join me on this journey of rediscovery and recreating Cape Malay and family recipes, creating new ones and enjoying every morsel, failure and success along the way, as a tribute to the smartest, kindest and most generous woman I have known, Ferial Schroeder.
My parents are never far from my thoughts and prayers, and you may find that much of my own personal tastes and preferences are informed by what I learnt from them.
Some say bon appétit, others say sahtein to wish someone a hearty meal… we say Bismillah – as an invitation to join me to learn more about my connections to my homeland; my origins; and the culinary practices and traditions of my people; life in Dubai and the journey onwards.