SBS FOOD, MARCH 2017
HUFFINGTON POST AUSTRALIA, 27 JUNE 2016
I remember so keenly the euphoria I felt as a 16 year old, watching live on TV the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989: the end of the Cold War and the birth of a new spirit of optimism and unity in the world. This was evolution, and I loved the idea that the world I was to grow up in would be truly borderless, transnational, increasingly connected by ideas, travel, technology.
I have always believed in union, that given a chance, the world's people would indeed, in the words of slain British MP Jo Cox, have more in common.
I am a hybrid of many cultures myself, Indian, Portuguese, Indonesian, Dutch, Filipino; my children are part Irish and I live in Australia. I have crossed many borders and my identity, like many others, is stronger because I am a sum of so many parts.
While the dark post-Brexit days have momentarily shattered my faith in the trajectory of globalisation the world has followed in my time, it is in my kitchen that I can regain composure.
If politics divides us, it is surely food that unites. It is food that inspired most if not all the great campaigns to discover the world: spices that drove trade between the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans with Asia, the Arabs to cross the Indian Ocean, the Persians to find overland routes to India, the Europeans to discover the Americas.
While many, many wrongs were done during the great ages of Empire, the movement of people around the globe over the last 5,000 years in particular has been of infinite mutual benefit. As people discovered new cultures they discovered new ideas, new people to fall in love with, new books to read, new colours, new architecture, new foods.
In kitchens around the world, people welcomed new elements, new techniques of cooking, new ingredients, incorporated them into their own cuisines and synthesised them into new dishes.
Nowhere are the great migrations of human history reflected more beautifully than in the lexicon of Indian cuisine. The Indian food we cook today is a story of so many layers: the unparalleled expertise in using spices evident in the Indus Valley as early as in 3000 BC, the grilled meats, rice dishes and samosas which travelled to India with traders from the north, the rich food of the Mughals, tomatoes, chillies and potatoes brought to India by the Portuguese and spread to its regions by the British.
The best curries are, in their most profound sense, a melting pot, to which we have all added a little bit. It is more than only Indian, some food is owned by the world. I'd challenge any Leave voter who suggested they did not enjoy going out for a curry, a pizza, a meal brought by migrants to enliven dull British cuisine.
While authenticity does for some remain a significant marker of a place, a culture, a cuisine, there is no nation that can say with hand on heart that it is all their own, that they haven't grown richer as a result of the movement of people from and to their country.
When Nigel Farage said "We will win this war... we will get our country back, we will get our independence back and we will get our borders back", I struggled to understand his sentiments.
For most of us, the borders of Europe are already strongly marked by the cultures and cuisines of each nation. It is the reason we travel, to eat warm croissants in France, gelato in Italy, tapas in Spain. But these borders should not divide us, and do not divide us, when we eat, when we cook. It is in union that we find the best of ourselves and the best of others, a synthesis of rich influences that transcend place, time and culture.
URBAN LIST PERTH, 1 APRIL 2016
Over the past few years, Perth’s health and wellness scene has taken off and we are loving it! From the juice cleanse companies to the healthy cafes, from the wellness warriors to the hip yoga studios sprouting up all over town, Perth has got it going on.
To celebrate all of Perth’s health magic, we’ve created a cool little health and wellness series which will allow you to gain insight into the lives of some of Perth’s healthiest cool cats. They’ll share their tips and tricks and a whole lot of inspiration to help you live the healthiest life ever. Yesss!
This week, we met with Shaheen Hughes, the culinary superstar behind Perth business Spice Mama. Shaheen has a big love for food, traditional cooking practices and above all family—and her amazing spice mixes are a flavour sensation. We took ten with Shaheen to talk about her business, how she likes to keep healthy and where she likes to grab breakfast in Perth.
HEY SHAHEEN, TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF!
I was born in Bombay and have lived all over the world, but Perth has been home for the last 20 years and I love living here. I still get homesick, for so many places, and when I’m homesick I cook.
I love Indian food, cooking it and sharing it with the people I love. The traditional food we cook at home, using freshly ground spices, local, seasonal ingredients, vegetables and dals, is based on one of the oldest and healthiest cuisines in the world.
WHAT SPURRED YOU ON TO START YOUR BUSINESS?
When my granny died a few years ago I was given all her old handwritten cookbooks, full of fabulous recipes. Spice Mama was my tribute to her—she loved food, and cooking was a great way to remember her.
I started hand roasting and grinding my own natural, small batch spice blends so that I could replicate some of the curries made by my family for generations. Now I’m selling them online, and in a few retail shops in Perth—my granny would love to have known so many people were cooking with bottle masala.
I hope my spices, recipes and pop-up cooking workshops will encourage people to cook more adventurously and learn more about a traditional way of eating Indian food and cooking it from scratch.
I really believe in the benefits of bringing old knowledge back to life, understanding the food our ancestors ate and using food as medicine—much of this knowledge dates back to Ayurvedic practices around five thousand years old and should never be lost.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN FIT AND HEALTHY?
No, not even vaguely! It was difficult when the kids were small, I didn’t have a full night’s sleep for years. There were days it was hard enough to get out of bed, let alone exercise or eat well. I wish I’d been kinder to myself then.
WHAT’S A REGULAR DAY LOOK LIKE?
It’s always a juggle with kids and no two days are the same. At the moment I’m cooking lots—I’m happiest in the kitchen. I’m trying out a lot of old family recipes, and I’m also thinking up new ways to use spices to make really tasty, beautiful looking, modern Indian food.
I roast and grind spices to make my bottle masala and vindaloo masala a couple of days a week—this is my favourite thing. I love the smell of roasting spices, it takes me back to being five years’ old in my granny’s kitchen in Bombay.
I’m also doing more teaching—at least once a week I have a class at Sophie Budd’s Tastebudds Cooking Studio in Highgate or a pop-up cook club, which I run with my mum.
BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
I really love talking to people, teaching them about the culture and recipes I grew up with, and hearing their own stories—so many people have such amazing memories of cooking with their grandmothers and eating the comfort foods of their childhood.
IF YOU WEREN'T DOING THIS, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
This is it! Spice Mama is my dream job, after many years of a more corporate life I’ve taken the plunge to start my own business.
FAVOURITE FORM OF EXERCISE?
Yoga, but it’s never as peaceful or calming as I imagine it will be. Mornings in our house are chaos, so I could easily have a cat climbing up me, be signing a homework diary or tying a shoelace while trying to stand on one leg.
YOUR TOP HEALTH TIP?
Only use natural flavours, colours and preservatives in the food you cook. Spices add taste and colour to your food, they can help you reduce the use of salt, sugar and artificial ingredients, and are so good for you.
They are the original super foods, with compounds that fight cancers, are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial—people still eating traditional diets have much lower rates of chronic disease than in the western world.
And you don’t just have to like Indian food—you can use turmeric and cumin in your rice or your eggs, put cinnamon in your porridge and coffee, cardamom and ginger in your tea, mustard seeds in your potatoes—there are heaps of clever and tasty ways to use spices every day.
BEST PLACE TO GET A HEALTHY TREAT IN PERTH?
I like shopping for good ingredients to cook with more than eating out. I like getting fresh herbs and veggies and poking around for interesting things and spicy snacks in local Asian grocery shops like Daily Supermarket and Golden Choice.
WHAT’S NEXT ON THE HORIZON FOR YOU?
Lots more hard work I think. I’d like to do more cooking classes and pop-up supper clubs. I also want to study, there is so much to learn about the benefits of traditional food and medicine.
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN, 23 FEBRUARY 2016
Celebrating her Goan heritage and the recipes of her late grandmother has led Perth mum Shaheen Hughes to develop her own authentic Bombay spice blends.
“My grandmother left me with the most beautiful hand-written recipe books; many of the recipes have origins dating back hundreds of years,” Ms Hughes, left, said.“I have such fond childhood memories of seeing her roast up spices to make masalas and when we eventually moved to Perth, the first thing we’d ask her to bring on her visits was masala spice mix.”
Ms Hughes makes two key masala blends; vindaloo masala and the signature family variety known as Bombay bottle masala. Traditionally stored in recycled brown bottles (Ms Hughes uses amber beer bottles), the intoxicating blend includes 20 hot and fragrant spices from chilli, paprika, cumin and turmeric to black pepper, cloves, shah jeera and saffron.
Roasting the spices, according to Ms Hughes, requires a keen sense of smell and knowing when to stop the roasting process. “I can tell when a particular spice is ready from its aroma. Cumin and coriander for instance require a longer roasting time; sesame or poppy seeds just need a quick flash-roast in the pan,” she said.
Ms Hughes and her mother Sultana run a pop-up Bombay Cook Club from their ayurvedic kitchen garden in Wembley. “There’s so much to learn about spices and how each one can complement the other in cooking — the flavours that help us reduce the use of salt, sugar and artificial flavours, and for their medicinal benefits for things like indigestion or arthritis,” she said.
Find Spice Mama at the Boatshed Market and Nature’s Harvest Cottesloe, Kakulas Sister Fremantle and My Healthy Place Floreat Forum or visit spicemama.com.au.