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Eid Q&A with Fatima Sydow

Ramadan is almost at an end, which means Muslims across Cape Town are frantically planning their menus for Eid; and who better to inspire us with ideas than well-renowned local cook, Cape Malay cuisine connoisseur and author Fatima Sydow.

We talk to Fatima about her take on Eid cooking, including traditional Eid classics, tips and recipe ideas to prepare you for the special day.

With so many sumptuous Cape Malay dishes to choose from, which one is  your favourite?

This is so hard. On the top, it will always be the lamb curry with the flaky roti and slaai (onion, tomato, coriander and chilli pickle). I also have a weakness for a nice sugar bean bredie or a sugar bean curry with a roti. Ooh! It’s very difficult, hey!

Many celebrate the end of Ramadan on Eid morning by indulging in a speciality breakfast. What’s your favourite Eid morning dish?

Even though we make a big lunch, we also make a big breakfast. For the men coming home from Mosque, we have this traditional layout of baked bread with a nice soft juicy sout vleis (corned beef). We also make corned tongue for the morning. With my mommy, our tradition was a mince pie for breakfastwith a few tea loaves like banana, vanilla or lemon loaf – a variety of sweet and savoury. I came along and introduced slices of fruit and vegetables for some extra nutrients (and to bring that balance), juices and water with ice.

If one were to visit you on Eid day, what snacks and treats would they find on your table?

Ooh! This is so nostalgic and emotional. A bit of everything. This is the truth and nothing but the truth: depending on what time of the year and month Eid falls on determines what is going to be on the table. If it’s just after payday – it’s the works. Ff Eid is in the middle of the month – less items, and don’t get me talking when it’s just after bonus! On our treat table we usually have: slangetjies (long, thin, crispy snacks akin to crisps), mebos (mushed dried apricots with sugar or salt), biscuits, samosas, pies, fruit, and an assortment of sweets and chocolates. We must have a bouquet of flowers on the table – it’s very, very important.

For Eid lunch and supper, many Muslims are looking to impress their guests. Do you have any tips for them, and what’s your special something?

I always try to make on Eid what I wouldn’t necessarily make during the year, which is the more expensive dishes: crayfish curry, prawn curry, prawn akni and leg of lamb so that it’s something we really look forward to. I like to keep it simple and not overdo it too much. For me, it’s about if the food is lekker and there is enough for everyone. To really impress your guests  is to make them feel important, spend time with them and talk to them. Don’t disappear into the rooms.

It’s always great to end things off on a sweet note; tell us about some of the desserts you love to serve on Eid?

My family, they want their trifle and all the grandkids are crazy about my no-bake and my baked cheesecake. So what I do is, I make quite a lot of that and not just for us to eat, but for the barakat (treats and food one would usually share with family and friends) that we send to the neighbours.

What makes celebrating Eid in Cape Town special?

You know for me personally what makes Eid so special in Cape Town is just that “Labarang (another word for Eid used commonly in Cape Town) buzz”. It’s just so exciting the night before when everyone waits to hear if it is Eid the next day. And then of course when it is Eid and the Takbir goes off  – it’s such an emotional moment. Of course, we have that very special tradition where we greet everywhere we can. People go to each house  and we give money to the children.

You have been dubbed the “Cape Malay Cooking Queen”; if a tourist were to ask you to describe Cape Malay cuisine and what makes it unique to other cuisines, what would you tell them?

I have been dubbed the Cape Malay Cooking Queen which is an honour; but I am probably amongst many, many Cape Malay Cooking Queens in Cape Town.  Cape Malay cuisine for me, honestly, is a bit of everything with aromatics and spice. It’s familiar, but not that familiar. It is very homely, warm and comforting. The flavours are a combination that is so unique to Cape Malay cooking. And it is still constantly evolving because of circumstances and the times we are in.

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