Across the border

Zubaida Tariq: The grandmother Pakistan turns to for recipes, household tips or just plain comfort

A bastion of daytime TV for decades, Zubaida Apa has an answer for everything, whether it’s how to treat dandruff or how to cook korma.

Zubaida Tariq is not your average television cook. At a time when cable TV is saturated with glamorous celebrity chefs and Instagram is an endless curation of “food porn” by hipster foodies, Zubaida Apa, as she is known across Pakistan, is a phenomenon of her very own. She hit the screen in the nineties on Dalda ka Dastarkhawan, a cooking show sponsored by the cooking oil giant Dalda, and was an instant trendsetting success – she was Pakistan’s first celebrity cook and quite likely among the first non-film star celebrities in the country.

Tariq comes from a prodigiously talented set of siblings. Among the ten of them are poet Zehra Nigah, writer-actor Anwar Maqsood, playwright Fatima Surayya Bajiya, fashion designer Sughra Kazmi, and former Chief Secretary of Sindh Ahmed Maqsood. Zubaida Apa embodies the fascinating trope of the old-fashioned begum sahib: immaculately turned out, quietly authoritative and preternaturally ready to put on a smashing feast with nary a wrinkle on the forehead. The begum sahib is the equivalent of the western Lady, and both cultures are fast losing them to modernity and a rising middle class that is more egalitarian and also has no time to match their bangles to their sari, let alone wear one.

There is also the undeniable fascination with Urdu-speaking culture in Pakistan. “Urdu-speaking” refers to the migrant communities that moved to Pakistan from India during Partition. They came largely from Uttar Pradesh – from places like Lucknow, Allahabad and Muradabad – but also from the Deccan, where Zubaida Tariq was born in 1945. The Urdu-speaking communities retain certain cultural norms that do not adhere to provincial culture – women of Zubaida Apa’s generation will, like her, most probably have worn saris their entire life; chances are there will be an abundance of halwa, a paandaan in the house, a penchant for Urdu poetry and flawless diction. These are clichés, but clichés born of cultural affinities that have been preserved across generations and continue to represent a certain refinement and eccentricity.

Play

Decades-long career

Most of the national narrative in Pakistan is dominated by Punjabi culture, and yet most television dramas – by far the most popular manifestation of media consumption – feature stories about Urdu-speaking families, who are seen as cultured and quirky, quick-witted and sophisticated. Zubaida Apa is an archetype of this image, with her vibrant saris and jewellery, her tongue-in-cheek humour and her impeccable Urdu.

Her career has followed a steady trajectory. She began work with Dalda, and wrote a cookbook. She has developed spice mixes that make cooking easier, and has done a radio show called A Complete House. Her real niche, though, has been television, and she has hosted a cooking show on one television network or another for decades in a career that includes thousands of episodes.

Play

She is an emblem, a nostalgic and trustworthy relic of a better time – she refers to practices like qalai, or tin glazing of copper and brass cooking pots that used to be done back in the day when stainless steel had not captured the degchi market; one of her famous totkay or household tips include cutting off one’s split ends into a bowl of water under the light of a new moon. Every caller who phones into her live show Handi (cooking pot, in Urdu) are blessed with a “live long, ever happy in your home with your children and elders” kind of blessing that only your grandmother would say.

Zubaida Apa is your granny, your kindly aunt and your practical mother all rolled into one thin, immaculately coiffed woman. She looks like she uses all the totkay she suggests, and that has inspired generations to trust her. Apa cooks like you would, except with a mise en place – she forgets to add things, tosses them into the pan later, uses utterly ordinary utensils. Not for Zubaida Apa are KitchenAid mixers or stainless steel measuring spoons; a table “ispoon” is a regular old tablespoon snatched out of your cutlery drawer.

Play

Unpretentious granny

When listening to callers tell rambling stories on the show, she wipes off the stove with a tissue. While the set she cooks on has evolved over time, there are still no pans hanging from ceiling hooks or herbs growing in windowsill pots like a Pinterest-perfect kitchen. Her set looks like your kitchen, if it had an enormous island, and her sous chef Abeel Khan, who co-hosts the show, is like your daughter doing all the heavy lifting – move this pot, pour the sponsor’s oil from the enormous bottle, take the phone calls, gently prompt or steer the conversation when needed. They natter together cozily – Is this pot too big? Hm, let’s use the other one. Should we make the rice first, or the chicken? Chicken cooks faster so we can do the rice first.

Play

The show is obviously unscripted, and that spontaneity is what endears their audience. They feel like they are part of this scene, the camaraderie of women in kitchens. And then unpretentious Zubaida Apa says things like if your rice is not the right quality, you will never have a beautiful dish. A few months ago, on her return to Handi after a break, she candidly groused about how one’s children cannot be relied upon to keep you company, no doubt warming the cockles of every disgruntled South Asian parent.

Perhaps that is Zubaida Apa’s secret, the ultimate little something that makes her enduringly sought after, still a thoroughly practical and relevant bastion of daytime television in Pakistan. She has no airs. Unlike Martha Stewart, Zubaida Tariq has never presented herself as someone eager to please or out to charm anyone. She has always just been herself, and there is something reassuring about how she has remained the same over decades. She is not on social media, even though the Facebook page for Handi has almost 400,000 followers. Except for one disastrous whitening cream endorsement, she has not evolved into a lifestyle guru, selling candles or fancy frying pans. She has published several cookbooks and runs a restaurant with her son, but has never thrust herself into the spotlight. Perhaps this is why callers to her show can ask her for her famous tips, or totkay, for just about anything under the sun. They are not intimidated by Apa, despite her otherwise reserved demeanour. I’ve got diabetes and a gamy knee, one will confide, live on national television. What should I do? Someone else will call just to tell Apa and Abeel about how they got soaked going to a wedding in a torrential monsoon downpour.

Play

A segment of the show is dedicated to Zubaida Apa’s famous tips, and videos for them have thousands of hits on YouTube. Use olive oil for dark circles (use your ring finger and always massage outwards), aloe vera for sunscreen (cheap and easy) and when giving yourself a pedicure at home, throw a boiled, mashed turnip into the water – after all, Apa smilingly says, you can judge what a girl is like by her feet. Only Apa could get away with whoppers like that.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival

Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.