Dashenka’s Indian heritage shines through her food

Being retrenched under national lockdown in 2020 led home cook Dashenka Naidoo (32) down the path of creating a thriving Gauteng food business she proudly calls Urban Masala

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With her spices homemade to perfection, nothing makes home cook and food business owner Dashenka Naidoo (32) happier than sharing her South African Indian culture through food.

Born in Laudium, a small Indian community in Pretoria, Naidoo’s journey with food first began as a teen. Cooking, she recalls, was a non-negotiable responsibility she had to undertake.

“These are the values installed in me as teenager by my mother. I didn’t think I would work in the food fraternity; my career path did not initially feature food, I was part of the tourism industry for over thirteen years until Covid-19 happened, which left me jobless.”

From bachelors who have no time to cook dinner to preparing Sunday luncheons, Naidoo’s food business, Urban Masala, has mushroomed in the Gauteng hubs of Johannesburg and Pretoria in just six months.

food business
Dashenka Naidoo’s fondest moments in the kitchen are often spent recreating celebrity chef Jaime Oliver’s recipes alongside her seven-year-old daughter. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“I have made it my commitment to my clients that whether it will be late nights or during early mornings, or even load shedding; they can depend on me for a home-cooked meal.

“My inspiration comes from the fact that I’m able to make people happy through food. Nothing makes me happier than to share my South African Indian culture through food.”

Recipe: Dashenka’s mutton curry and dumplings

Food is her saviour

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Her biggest highlight thus far has been taking the leap and exploring her food passion.

Naidoo’s fondest moments in the kitchen are often spent recreating celebrity chef Jaime Oliver’s recipes alongside her seven-year-old daughter.

Above all, she says that she loves receiving feedback from family and friends on how much they enjoyed her food.

One of her favourite recipes that she likes to make in her own kitchen is a traditional mutton curry and dumplings. This is not a simple task though, she warns.

“Remember that word travels and the only word you would like to travel is that your food is the best in town.”

“The effort that goes into the coming together of all the ingredients is not as easy as frying an egg. My spices are homemade to perfection. For the love of my meat, my butcher knows to only give me the best pieces for my curries. For my gravy, jam tomatoes is the way to go,” she says.

“Last but definitely not least, and not the easiest to find, I only use Up To Date potatoes. Soft potatoes are the way to go and other than putting in pure love into my food, this is another reason my food is so tasty,” she explains.

RECIPE: Hurry, hurry, we’re making Durban curry

Thriving in the chaos

She says the most important life lesson that she has learnt thus far in her journey is to always have faith in herself and achieving her dreams. Naidoo is now a firm believer that when one door closes, another one will always open regardless of the circumstances.

“Even though life and the pandemic tried to knock me down, I used my passion to pick myself up and start a different journey.

food business
Dashenka Naidoo is the proud owner of Gauteng-based food business, Urban Masala. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“Looking at the future, professionally at the rate at which my business is going, I know that I have not reached the tip of the iceberg. I am looking forward to expanding my business and creating job opportunities for others that might have gone through a similar journey. This will personally help me to create a legacy for my daughter who I hope will one day continue in my footsteps and to also inspire small home businesses like mine,” she concluded.

She advises aspiring chefs and home cooks to always cook from the heart. Naidoo believes that our emotions determine what we put on the table.

“Always make sure you are in a good space emotionally and when you’re not, take five minutes of me-time to relax. Make sure that you prepare every meal the same way you would prepare it for Jamie Oliver,” she says

“Always use the best ingredients, never rush your food, don’t compromise on your portion sizes. And last, but not least, make sure you always do your best. Remember that word travels and the only word you would like to travel is that your food is the best in town.”

Recipe: Dashenka’s mutton curry and dumplings

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