Heritage on a plate

Chef Fatima Sydow tells the story of her life through her latest book, ‘Cape Malay Cooking: My story, my heritage’.

Chef Fatima Sydow tells the story of her life through her latest book, ‘Cape Malay Cooking: My story, my heritage’.

Published Sep 30, 2023


Durban - Chef Fatima Sydow dishes up nostalgia on a plate, giving us insight into her heritage and the many dishes that peppered various stages of her life.

In her latest book, “Cape Malay Cooking: My story, my heritage”, she takes the reader down memory lane, giving us glimpses into her childhood and her religion through the smells, pictures and description of dishes like daltjies (chilli bites), tweegevrietjies (biscuits) and mavrou, cubes of succulent steak served at weddings.

From the cases of Bashews cool drink to Gatti’s ice cream like Surf Joy, lamb akni, and toffee apples, her book is a tribute to her family, memories of Ramadaan, Labarang (Eid), “everyone is welcome” weddings and festive season fun. From huge Sunday family gatherings to barakat bakkies (parcels of food offered to family and friends) and the crockery that came out on special occasions, Sydow makes you salivate with her vivid descriptions and memories.

Chef Fatima Sydow tells the story of her life through her latest book, ‘Cape Malay Cooking: My story, my heritage’. She and her twin sister, Gadija Sydow-Noordien, previously released another book, ‘Kaap Kerrie en Koesisters’, named after their weekly TV food series. Sydow is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. She has been diagnosed with stage 4 soft tissue sarcoma. Picture: Supplied

Her popularity has resulted in a spice range and, with her identical twin sister, Gadija Sydow-Noordien, she also presented a weekly food series called “Kaap Kerrie en Koesisters”, in which they cooked all their favourite Cape Malay recipes and which spawned a recipe book by the same name.

While Sydow continues to inspire her fans with her books and her YouTube channel, she recently announced that the cancer she has been battling for several years was back and that she was undergoing treatment for stage 4 soft tissue sarcoma. Several celebrities have already announced that they would hold a benefit concert for her at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town on October 4.

In “Cape Malay Cooking: My story, my heritage”, she introduces the reader to boeber, “milky sweet goodness” which is traditionally served on the 15th day of Ramadaan to celebrate the halfway mark of the month of fasting.

Then there is the “delicate, sweet, smooth with a slight tang” bread pudding with stewed dried fruit, a “luxurious treat” which her late mom, Wasiela, used to make for special occasions and more specifically for their Thursday evening prayer gatherings, called Gadat.

And Sydow writes that no Labarang (Eid) is complete without a leg of lamb or “boud”. “We would save up all year to pay for a leg or would buy stamps from the butcher towards the purchase. Cooked with extra care and eaten with a side of glee … of course, the bone in was my favourite part. I could gnaw on it until the sun sets!”


Serves 4-6


45ml (3 tbs) butter

375ml (1½ cups) crushed vermicelli or lokshen pasta

5 cinnamon sticks

5 cardamom pods

150g (¾ cup) sago soaked in water for one hour and drained

Pinch of salt

1 litre (4 cups) milk

125ml (¼ cup) sugar (add more to suit your taste)


In a large pot, heat the butter on a medium heat and add the pasta, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Cook until the pasta has turned a golden brown, stirring constantly to prevent it from burning.

Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

NOTE: Roasted almonds, seedless sultanas and rose water can be added to the boeber if desired. You can also replace the sugar with the same amount of condensed milk. If the boeber is too thick for your liking, simply add a bit of milk. To make it even more decadent, a can of evaporated milk can be added as well. Adjust the sweetness to your taste.



2kg leg of lamb

6 cloves of garlic, halved

30ml (2 tbs) ground black pepper

10ml (2 tsp) salt

60 ml (4 tbs) oil

3 onions, peeled and halved

2 carrots, peeled and halved

1 sprig of rosemary


With a sharp knife, make incisions all over the meat. Push the garlic pieces into the incisions. Season the lamb with the black pepper and salt.

Heat the oil in a large pot on high heat. Place the leg of lamb, onions, carrots and rosemary in the pot. Cook until the meat and vegetables are well browned.

Add 500ml (2 cups) hot water and cook on medium heat for 2-3 hours until very tender, making sure to turn the meat now and then and adding more hot water when required.

Transfer the leg of lamb to a large, deep, heatproof dish. Cover with foil and allow the meat to rest.

GRAVY: Pour the liquid from the pot through a colander into a saucepan. Remove any excess fat. Mix 15ml (1 tbs) cornflour with about 125ml (½ cup) water and add to the liquid. Cook, stirring continuously, on a medium heat until you see the gravy thicken. Remove from the heat.

Carve the leg of lamb or simply pull off chunks of meat. Pour the gravy over the meat. Serve with roast potatoes and vegetables of your choice.


Serves 8-10


250ml (1 cup) sugar

30ml (2 tbs) soft butter

8 large eggs

8 slices white bread, crusts removed

1 litre (4 cups) milk

60ml custard powder mixed with 125 ml (½ cup) milk

10ml (2 tsp) vanilla essence

3 cardamom pods

3 cinnamon sticks


30 ml (2 tbs) fine apricot jam

60 ml (4 tbs) boiling water


500ml (2 cups) mixed dried fruit

750ml (3 cups) water

250ml (1 cup) sugar

2 cinnamon sticks


Preheat the oven to 170ºC. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter for 1 minute. Add the eggs and beat well for about 2 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until you see the bread is well incorporated and quite mushy and the sugar has dissolved. Pour the mixture into a greased deep baking pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 55 minutes or until you see the edges turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

SAUCE: Mix together the apricot jam with the boiling water until smooth. Pour this mixture over the hot pudding.

TOPPING: In a pot on medium heat, boil the dried fruit with the water. Add the sugar and cinnamon sticks and cook until the fruit is soft and covered in a sweet, sticky sugar syrup. Place on top of the pudding and serve.

The Independent on Saturday