Nadiya Hussain, winner of The Great British Bake Off in 2015 and best-selling author of cook books like Nadiya’s Kitchen and Nadiya’s Family Favourites, children’s book Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story and novel, The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters, visited South Africa recently as a guest at the BBC Upfronts to promote her latest show, Nadiya’s Asian Odyssey. The 2-part series airs exclusively on BBC Lifestyle on the 26th of May and 5th of June.
The show came into being after Nadiya responded to a special offer on TV during the festive season, to have her DNA tested to find out her genealogy. As a first-generation Brit, Nadiya’s knowledge of her ancestry had been oral story-telling by her dad, which she found quite fanciful, “I was convinced my dad made up names and stories.” She secretly assumed she had some African heritage as, “My hair, when I take my scarf off, goes up and out”. The results revealed that she, in fact, has Cambodian, Nepalese, Thai and Bangladeshi heritage. While she was aware of the Bangladeshi heritage the others came as a surprise, although her son explained it with ease, saying that he thought that someone in Cambodia fell in love with someone in Nepal, who was actually from Thailand and they ran away to Bangladesh.
The two-part show sees Nadiya immersing herself in her heritage through the “language we all understand – food.” The moment she started tasting the food she felt at home in these otherwise foreign countries. “I was on a floating fishing village in Cambodia and could smell fermented fish and it was a smell that is so familiar to me.” The journey of flavour, family and discovery was an emotional rollercoaster but one that has left Nadiya with many gifts and experiences that will live with her forever, including dishes she has spent many hours in her kitchen perfecting. One of these is a dish she brought home from Thailand that is now a family favourite, and one her three children request all the time called, Grandmother’s Curry. “It’s like a red, green, yellow curry”. It fits into the type of food she prefers cooking at home; “my best is cooking in one pot”.
Nadiya was very excited to travel to South Africa, adding it to her list of “pinch-me moments” that have filled her life since her Great British Bake Off victory.
Her husband of eight years entered her into Great British Bake Off as after seeing her struggle with anxiety, thought it would be a great experience for her. “I was furious when I made it into the final 12,” she remembers with a laugh, “I was speaking to my husband and he said, ‘just don’t go out in week one, it would be so embarrassing’.” She very nearly didn’t make it out of week one when she made a Madeira and Walnut sponge, “but I only iced the top and not the sides!” After she narrowly made it into the second episode, she figured she was not long for the show, so she only practiced the dishes up to week four. As she progressed further in the competition, she was scrambling every week to practice the dishes for the next round.
After her victory on the show, not only did she go on to host her own television series but also had the honour of baking the cake for Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. “When I first got the call, I thought someone was playing a trick and I just said, ‘don’t be ridiculous’.” She also completely forgot to tell her dad, who heard about it on the news, “I tell him everything now,” she assures us. No one ever sees The Queen eat in public but Nadiya got word that she had taken the top tier of the cake home. The Obamas came to visit The Queen the next day and, given The Queen’s well-known love of Tupperware, Nadiya has a theory that she sent the Obamas home with a little something….
Nadiya says her love of food and her talent in the kitchen come from her dad, who “is an amazing cook”. She dreams of Nigella cooking for her, “she’s a goddess in the kitchen, I am not a goddess in the kitchen,” she giggles, once again letting her beautiful humility and wit shine through. Her humility extends to her being adamant that no one make the mistake of calling her a chef, “I am not a chef, I am a home cook”, which gives us all hope as she challenges us, to get into the kitchen and, “don’t be afraid of making mistakes”.
Nadiya Hussain is a firm favourite on BBC Lifestyle, with her previous series Nadiya’s Party Feasts and Nadiya’s Family Favourites already playing out on the channel and, Nadiya’s Asian Odyssey premiering this month. Rest assured there will be more delicious journeys with this unassuming, funny, brilliant home cook to come!