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FORMER Bahrain schoolgirl Sadiya Sajjad Hashmi has become a culinary sensation in Canada after starring in a popular TV show … thanks to a craving for a cake she regularly bought from a popular bakery in the kingdom.
She has become a household name across North America after appearing as a contestant on The Great Canadian Baking Show – an adaptation of the popular UK series The Great British Bake Off.
She was born in Pakistan, raised in Bahrain, studied in the US and has now made Canada her permanent home, where she lives with her husband, Assadullah Khan, and two home-schooled boys, Ibraheem Khan, eight, and Issmaeel Khan, six, in Edmonton, Alberta.
“Food is my ‘love language’ and one of the best ways to show people how you feel about them,” she said.
Sadiya, 38, was encouraged by her son Ibraheem to take part in the show. “My boys call me the ‘best baker mum in the world’ and every time we watched the Great British Bake Off they would ask me to audition for the show.”
But it wasn’t until Canada got its own version of the cooking contest that Sadiya finally decided to give it a shot. “When I was invited to audition, I thought it would just be a day out and, at the very least, I would get to meet some amazing bakers,” she said. “Little did I know that my Baklava Cheesecake entry would impress the producers and I would be on the set!”
The Great Canadian Baking Show is an eight-week cooking competition series currently in its second season and is being aired on Canada’s CBC Television. Sadiya is currently in the third week of the show and has just been named ‘Star Baker’.
The show brings 10 amateur baking contestants from across Canada in a ‘bake off’ competition of themed culinary challenges with acclaimed pastry chefs Bruno Feldeisen and Rochelle Adonis serving as judges.
Each episode features three rounds: the Signature Bake, the Technical Bake and the Showstopper. After the judges taste and critique the entries, they decide each week’s ‘Star Baker’ and send home a contestant.
Only three bakers make it to the finale, where they compete for the Great Canadian Baking Show title.
A lot of the food that Sadiya makes for family and friends is fusion-style. And that is what she is creating on the show. She is bringing flavours, which are reflective of her Pakistani origin, time spent in Bahrain and her North American college time.
She has already won the title of Fusion Baker. “The thing that got me on the show was my fusion Baklava Cheesecake. The recipe only came about because I craved Baklava from Tariq Pastries in Bahrain and the only way to get it here was to make it myself.”
Her home bakes and dishes are often experiments that take her back in time to the smells and flavours of Bahrain. Much of the spices she uses are brought back from her family trips to Bahrain.
“I remember as a child frequenting the spice shops at Manama souq near the Delmon International Hotel where you could find open bags of the best fragrant cinnamon, dried gorgeous rose petals and the freshest of cardamoms.”
Food, for Sadiya, is an ‘amazing connector of people’. “It has opened up so many cultures, people and history to me. I have learned things from travellers, from my neighbours; I have talked and shared recipes with people at the bus stop,” she said.
Sadiya believes good cooking comes from observation. “The best chefs are who believe in life-long learning and sharing,” she explained. “This is how we preserve and pass on our food culture. Also, I feel our religious culture is very big on hospitality and so cooking just comes naturally to most of us.”
Sadiya gets a feeling of victory when she shares her childhood food favourites with her boys. “My husband has also grown to love the dishes of Bahrain that I cook,” she said. “One example is Umm Ali, which I have not found yet in Canada. As great as bread puddings are, there is something extra special about Umm Ali. And after trying tonnes of recipes, I finally found the right one. Now I get asked for it here in Canada.”
Sadiya says she loves making the kind of food that puts a smile of contentment on her family’s face and any food that makes her children go ‘wow’ is a winner in her book.
And while Assadullah, a manager with auditing company, Deloitte, in Edmonton, likes Pakistani flavours, she prefers Bahraini and international cuisine. “So our boys get to enjoy the best of all worlds in their food,” she said. “I do lean heavily towards baking when it comes to desserts. There is something memorable that happens when a great dinner ends with an even better dessert.”
Sadiya and Assadullah often share their childhood food memories with their boys. One place that was both their favourite growing up in Bahrain was Eastern Bakery. “It was hard not to follow the aroma of freshly fried doughnuts when passing it on Shaikh Abdullah Road.”
Assadullah’s favourite was a fresh fruit cake from the bakery which Sadiya has managed to recreate for him. It is still his most requested cake on special occasions.
Sadiya, the second of four siblings, spent most of her life in Bahrain. She got her high school diploma from Pakistan Urdu School. She often reminisces over the good times spent here. “During my time spent in Bahrain, we had many Bahraini and non-Bahraini neighbours of various nationalities. And so we were introduced to the rich local flavours of Bahrain.
“I grew up in an era, where the Manama and Muharraq souqs were the places to go for shopping. Women would cook traditional recipes, like balaleet, luqaimat, kababs and food was freely exchanged between neighbours on every special occasion, like Ramadhan, Girgaoun and Eid.
“It was a time when food outlets like Amin Tikka and Showaitar were small ‘mum and pop’ operations. I am grateful to have grown up in Bahrain at that time, where I experienced the beauty that Bahrain has in its food and culture.
“I am glad that I have been gifted with the taste of Bahrain and I don’t give up till I re-create that taste. Luckily I am able to share my memories of Bahrain with my sons through food.”
Sadiya met Assadullah in Bahrain. Both grew up here but went their own different ways – he to Pakistan and she to the US for higher studies. They then returned to the island and started their careers. They married 11 years ago in Bahrain.
Sadiya has a strong message for women too, adding: “My message to them is to stay true to their faith and themselves. True empowerment comes from sharing and caring, and playing an active role in the community we live in, to make it a better place for yourself and others.”
She hopes her participation will inspire others to be happy in the places they are in life.
“Life is a journey with many chapters, each with its challenges,” she said. “Our biggest audience is the kids we are raising. It is very important to teach them how to live with a purpose.”
l Sadiya has a growing fan base on Instagram, where fans can follow her baking journey on @sadiyahashmi_