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Zubaida Apa: Mistress of spices

Updated January 05, 2018

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<ul>
<li>Photos by Jaffer Hasan</li>
</ul>
  • Photos by Jaffer Hasan

This article was originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, on June 8, 2014.


She’s a late bloomer compared to her other siblings, such as Sughra Kazmi (the designer in the family known as Mrs Kazmi), who became celebrities at a relatively younger age. Today Zubaida Tariq alias Zubaida Apa has become a household name by doing culinary shows, writing cookbooks and even co-runs a restaurant with her son. “I began working at the age of 50! My cooking capabilities were nil as my mum wanted me to get an education and only allowed me to tend to small chores while keeping me far away from the kitchen.”

It was after marriage that she took up cooking as her husband would hold frequent dinner parties. During one such evening, a guest impressed with the gourmet dishes, asked her to join the food advisory service in his company. “During the seven years that I was there I became very popular. But then jealousies prompted me to leave. Soon after, I joined a spice company, sharing with them recipes with variations for nihari, behari kebab and sabzi, etc.

It’s been a long journey and today I am known for who I am while previously I was content just being a sister to famous siblings.”

Zubaida Tariq is famous for her handy culinary and housekeeping hints (totkas), and gives credit to having grown up in a joint family including grandparents, uncles and aunts apart from her immediate family.


Just by knowing her way around a kitchen, Zubaida Apa has worked her way into the hearts of millions of TV viewers in Pakistan and abroad


“There was always a surplus of love and advice. When I had children of my own the home remedies came in handy, and also the substitutes for recipes containing difficult ingredients; cooking wine was replaced with white vinegar and cream of tartar was substituted with baking soda. My tips are simple and easy to carry out as I was a good listener and observer.”

Her culinary advice segment on various channels has become so popular that spoof sms using Zubaida Apa’s name have become quite common.

Who would have thought that a person who was least interested in cooking would one day be known for her culinary wonders? She remembers the first time she made karhi with chickpea powder (besan) and water only, and which had to be discarded. Soon after, her husband’s friends came over for dinner quite unexpectedly and determined to succeed this time she recalled her mother’s recipes and whipped up a culinary delight.

Today, 19 years and 4,000 cooking shows later, she has made it big in the culinary world. “I have authored a book called Handi for a channel. Then for a cooking oil company I wrote two more. A recent book, Golden Cook Book, has all my new recipes, apart from three recipe books and one based on cooking tips for a publishing company — all in all the number comes to eight. I have gone through a lot but patience has rewarded me well and life has been good to me.”

With artists in the family — her son, husband as well as her brother Anwar Maqsood — it is surprising that Zubaida Apa is not similarly inclined.

“I have never been interested in painting as I had so much else to do. But we all used to sing when we were young. My mum played the harmonium, and apart from Sughra Apa and Umar Bhai, we all had good voices while Anwar Bhai would play the tabla.”

Rarely does one see a family on the top of their game and excelling in their respective fields as the Maqsood clan. Zubaida Apa says the credit goes to her grandfather who was interested in the arts and gave them the opportunity to develop a love for poetry, books, painting and music. “My mum also had these qualities,” says Zubaida, making it a point to mention her at regular intervals during the interview. “She was a poet and would help us to write, she would sing as she had a lovely voice and also cooked extremely well; in short she was a brilliant woman who devoted herself to our proper upbringing. She led an independent life even at the age of 86, and till the day she died, she cooked, cleaned the house and tended to the plants which she loved like children. When it was time, she simply called Bajiya to her room and a while later she died in her arms.”


“I know the skin whitening soap tagline is improper but I can’t understand why so much fuss is being made over it? It’s just a soap ad! Why doesn’t the media comment on ads which show scantily dressed women?” — Zubaida Tariq


Zubaida Apa is quite the showstopper in her colour-coordinated clothes, sandals and sets of bangles, with coiffured hair and make-up. “Bajiya and Zehrah Nigah Apa (the poet) were always simply dressed, but Sughra Apa dressed up well in her younger days. I also saw my bhabi, Ahmed Bhai’s wife, dress up beautifully so I decided to take after her. One should dress up well as it has a good impact on others.”

Any incident worth remembering? She recounts a funny thing that happened during her first TV interview. Her foot had gone to sleep and suddenly there was a fire in the studio and everybody was told to leave the building. “I got up but fell down, got up then rushed down stairs but in extreme pain. On reaching home I found out my leg was broken. So much for the excitement of being on television, I thought!”

Zubaida Tariq runs a restaurant with her son, Hussain. This time round the menu is desi with her own recipes. “There are other desi restaurants but they don’t have the home touch. We didn’t go for continental and Italian as it is available everywhere, but good desi food isn’t.”

Zubaida Tariq’s recipe for success is “whatever one does should be done wholeheartedly so that other people can learn and benefit from it as well.”

So what’s with the controversy about a complexion whitening soap ad on television and billboards which she has endorsed? Zubaida Apa says she was also unhappy with the line gora hoga Pakistan. “I had asked the product owners not to add the tagline but they did not listen. The reaction has been strong amongst the media, and there is even a billboard by a FM radio which shows someone who looks like me with a tape across the mouth saying ‘No totkas, just music’. The product owner (of the soap) is changing it as we speak. I know the tagline is not proper but I can’t understand why so much fuss is being made over it? It’s just an ad! Why doesn’t the media comment on ads which show scantily dressed women?”

Passing on a message, she says that it is important to make an effort to live in harmony. “In the past we lived in small houses but our hearts were big, now we live in big houses but our hearts are small. So it’s no surprise that we are surrounded with problems.” She ends our conversation with these lines:

Kaisay kaisay sahib-i-sarwat bikney ko tayyar huay,

Shehr kay basti koochay sub kay sub bazaar huay,

Kaisi sadain, kaisi duain, jogi chaelay, pir faqir,

Takia phaar kay jungle se bhagay, shehr kay hissay dar huay

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 8th, 2014