Her facebook page, Cape Malay Cooking with Fatima Sydow started out as an initiative to simply pay homage to her late mother. 15 years later, Fatima has authored two cookbooks, hosts a cooking show with her twin sister on Via, featured on SABC 3’s breakfast show, Expresso and has judged at many cooking competitions.
Born a twin in Mannenberg, where her family stayed for about seven years, then Mitchells Plain, and finally Strandfontein Village, Fatima was always surrounded by food. She spent her childhood days either playing in her grannies garden, where she planted vegetables; or in her mother’s kitchen.
“I often think back to that day mom asked me to cook a big pot of chicken on an open fire. We pricked holes in a sink plate to release heat from below. I was so proud of myself and I think mom was too,” Fatima says.
One day, while she was spending time in the vegetable garden that she had started with her granny, Fatima heard their next-door neighbour asking her mother for something to eat. Fatima’s mother responded and said that she could only offer her a few soup bones. Fatima overheard this conversation, ran to her mother and offered to give the neighbour a few potatoes and a cabbage that she grew in her garden.
After her selfless gesture, Fatima grew fond of helping others through food. She says she was happy to have assisted their neighbour and adds, “I discovered my calling that day.”
Fatima also realised that food was not only a means to sustain oneself, but also a source through which people can effectively help sustain others. She often watched her mother sing while she was cooking and believes that this image made it easier for her to fall in love with the idea of being a chef.
Fatima’s mother has always been a central part of her cooking journey, but when her mother passed away, Fatima grew extremely sad and missed her mother a lot. So in an attempt to pay homage to her mother’s memory, Fatima created the cooking blog on Facebook and as they say, the rest is history.
But Fatima’s successful journey didn’t come without a few hurdles along the way. Setting up her Facebook account and understanding the platform was a slight challenge for Fatima. “Luckily I could call on my well-informed family members who could help,” she says.
With Fatima struggling to understand how the platform worked, a thing of the past, Cape Malay Cooking with Fatima Sydow soon filled up recipes and so did her followers. A thousand loyal followers turned to 10 000 loyal followers. 10 000 became 25 000 and before she could come to terms with her unexpected success, her page had reached 300 000 people.
Her page is filled with hearty meals from Carrot and Pea Stew, Ox liver with mash and caramelized onions. There’s Mac and Cheese, Peppermint Fridge Tart, Koesisters, Cabbage bredie and you’ll even find a Penny Polony Smoortjie in there somewhere.
What people love about Fatima’s food and her recipes is that it is ‘home food’ – food for the soul, and that is easy to follow. Her recipes take people back to the food their mothers and grannies prepared. It also provides the non-cooks an opportunity to learn an uncomplicated recipe.
Fatima has also authored cookbooks; she says she’s always wanted to write and being from a family of librarians or people who generally enjoys reading books, It was an easy move. The Journey of Cape Malay Cooking was published in 2015 and Cape, Curry and Koesisters launched this month.
“With The Journey of Cape Malay Cooking, many of my devoted fans and followers on Facebook reached out to me and asked me when I was going to publish a cookbook. I was blessed to do a second book, this time with my twin sister Gadija. She’s a librarian so with her help and cooking knowledge, writing Cape, Curry and Koesisters were a bit of a breeze.”
The two sisters also host a cooking show together on DSTV’S channel 147, VIA. Their show ‘Kaap, Kerrie en Koesisters’ airs every Monday at 17h00 and reflect Cape Malay cooking and culture. The two sisters also take audiences on a captivating journey of their lives growing up in Mitchells Plain, while observing a few unsung heroes and forgotten traditions along the way.
The Cape Malay Culinary queen’s advice to newbie’s in the kitchen is “Just get into the kitchen and cook. Don’t be discouraged when your attempts don’t deliver the desired results, try again until you get it right.”
She urges aspiring cooks, who want to create an online presence for their recipes, to be as authentic as possible. She says chefs should not be afraid to be real in the kitchen because people end up enjoying your food because of you.
Fatima is a chef yes, but she’s so much more than that. Her colourful recipes bring people together and serve as a great conversation starter. She’s the aunty everyone wants to be around and it’s all due to her infectious energy and lust for life.
Note: A special thanks to Fatima Sydow for making time to speak with us.