Keeping a community’s traditions alive through cooking

Fatima Sydow shares divine pickled fish and hot cross bun recipes for Easter

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Fatima Sydow was raised to celebrate and share in the traditions of her neighbours. She has managed to turn this and her love of cooking into a career, publishing two cook books and hosting a cooking show with her twin sister, Gadija.

As a young girl she was stuck to the hip of her mother, Wasiela, in the kitchen, while she cooked for events. Ever since, the kitchen has been a place where Sydow (45) felt at home.

“You know, for most people it is the heart of the home. It is where most of the memories are created. I somehow gravitated toward the kitchen. It is not necessarily the food, but it was the feeling that you get in the kitchen when you cook. It can’t be compared to anything else,” says Sydow.

Born in Manenberg in the Western Cape, Sydow was raised in Mitchells Plain along with her five siblings. After dropping out of school, she enrolled again and managed to matriculate in 1994.

“I left school in grade 10 and I was out of school for three years. Then, one day I just woke up and I said ‘No, I want to make something of my life and do something and education is important’. And I went back to school at 19 years old and I finished with flying colours,” she says, chuckling.

Fatima and her twin sister Gadija (on the right).
Fatima and her twin sister Gadija (on the right).

Sydow is the fun aunty that any youngster would want to be friends with. She has a good sense of humour, makes delicious food, loves hip-hop music and she can rap.

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She has always loved delving into history, so much so that she enrolled as an archaeology student. Sydow had to drop out because she didn’t have enough money to cover her study fees. Instead, she went on to follow her dream and started her journey in the culinary world.

Sydow has already published a cook book called The journey of Cape Malay cooking. Her cooking show with Gadija is called Cape, Curry and Koesisters and has been running for the past two years. It is also the title of their next cook book. She claims they are the first South African twins to publish a cook book a together.

Through the cook book Sydow hopes to preserve the traditions of Cape cooking for the generations to come. She adds that her entire food journey has been partly a celebrations of her mother’s life.

“At the end of the day all we really have is our stories. Now, what we’re trying to do is preserve the stories and not just from our parents, but from ourselves. We are preserving our own story and documenting it and then sharing it with the world in the hopes that it not just inspires, but evokes an emotion that uplifts.”

It is that time of the year again when people enjoy pickled fish and hot cross buns. Sydow says as a child she remembers her mother preparing pickled fish for Easter every year.

“My Mom came from Bo-Kaap and her family is from District Six and everyone celebrated things together. They were there for each other. So, it was just a common thing to make everything and share it with your neighbour and just enjoy it and get together. We grew up having pickled fish every Easter without fail.”

Although she might have tweaked her mother’s pickled fish recipe for her own liking over the years, Sydow continues the tradition. As a bonus she also prepared hot cross buns and chuckles as she says: “cross and all”.



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