Living Next to Mrs Parker – Childhood Food Memories

Words: Robyn Samuels

Over the years, I’ve come to question my relationship with food and reflecting upon my fondest childhood memories, realised that we are ‘what we eat’ but perhaps not in the way that we think…

comfort food recipes

There’s so much embedded in who we are and a large portion of that conversation can be attributed to the nature versus nurture concept. Do I like the things I like because of my deep-rooted heritage, or are my interests a result of cumulated experiences?

Where culture and influence intersect, deliciousness is birthed.

The origins of our food journeys are not only cultural, they’re impacted by influence too. It’s the reason a Sunday isn’t a Sunday without coconut-coated fingertips after indulging a beautifully spiced aniseed and cardamom koe’sister. Or the reason I will drink a piping hot cup of tea in the heart of the summer, as my parents habitually claim that ‘it cools you down’. In my twenty-something years of existence, I’ve found that where culture and influence intersect, deliciousness is birthed.

My Fondest Childhood Food Memory

Growing up in Rylands, in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, skipping from house to house felt like the equivalent of club-hopping, only the religion edition. Back then, we lived in a semi-detached home; the houses were painted like tubs of Country Fresh Neapolitan Ice Cream – the one that’s usually disappointingly filled with frozen soup instead of ice cream.

Childhood Food Memory

On the one half, we had my family, the Samuels’ – spearheaded by my door-knocking Jehovah’s Witness father and my happy-clappy Christian mother. On the other half, we had the Parkers, a Muslim family.

My mother would often find me next door, scoffing down patata waras in Mrs Parker’s kitchen.

Too young to remember, I couldn’t tell you whether we had a post-box or not, or what colour our house was, but what I do remember is that our home felt far from detached. And for that, I have the Parkers to thank. Being the little rascal that I was, my mother would often find me next door, scoffing down patata waras in Mrs Parker’s kitchen, always in time for boeka. The best part about Mrs Parker’s patata waras was not the soft, pillowy, turmeric-stained potato filling, but rather the fragrance that summoned me to her kitchen – notes of mustard seeds, chilli, and my all-time favourite, coriander or ‘dhanya’, as we call it.

Then and Now

In hindsight, there’s obviously much left unsaid about the sociopolitical landscape that segregated coloured and black communities from the more ‘affluent’ ones. But I maintain, had I not grown up in the Southies and lived next door to Mrs Parker, my appreciation for Cape Malay and Indian cuisine wouldn’t have been as considerable as it is today.

I no longer live in a semi-detached home and have since moved to the northern suburbs, which is admittedly less ‘lively’. It’s been a while since I last had a patata wara, but every time I visit the Southies, I get a couple of patata waras from Wembley Roadhouse in Belgravia, which conveniently happens to be around the corner from my mother’s happy-clappy congregational church.

Patata waras or ‘batata vadas’ – deep-fried balls with a potato filling, spiced with ground turmeric, chillies, mustard seeds and coriander, and coated in chana flour.

They don’t taste as good as Mrs Parker’s, and I’m certain I’ll never find one that does, as the taste has been preserved by the nostalgia of my childhood food memories. But, whenever I do bite into one, I am always reminded of her.

Learn all about The Legacy of Cultural Icon and Cape Malay Cook, Faldela Williams.

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