An epicentre for the intermingling of different cultures and stories, London comes with an incredible melange of global food and cuisines. Traversing North, South, East, and West, through time, tradition, and memory, we take you from story to story, from Persia to Italy, from parent to child, from idea to conception – to plate. These are the stories of some of London’s most authentic, passionate, and driven chefs.
Saiphin Moore – Rosa’s Thai Café
“Once in London I really struggled to find the authentic Thai food that I enjoyed at home, so I decided to set up my own market stall in Brick Lane to bring the authentic home cooked food I’m used to back to London. At the time I was cooking everything in my tiny kitchen and taxiing it down to the market stalls. After a little while we wanted a more permanent place to call home and managed to find a little English Café for sale around the corner, that Café was called Rosa’s”
– Saiphin Moore
Saiphin Moore left Hong Kong with her husband in 2006 and set up a little café named “Rosa’s”. Little did anyone know this was soon to be the sprawling success that is now Rosa’s Thai Café, found in 12 separate locations across London.
Growing up, surrounded by fresh ingredients, in the Khao Kho district of Thailand, and born to Laotian parents,
Saiphin Moore’s food comes from a beautiful amalgamation of the two.
Rooted in nostalgia and authentic home-cooked food, the fusion of sensational tastes and textures at Rosa’s Thai Café are a testament to Saiphin Moore’s passion and experience with cooking.
From early on she was drawn to food, cooking for her younger siblings, helping to run the family grocery shop and going on to own her own noodle shop at the age of 14. She takes inspiration from her aunt, who she used to help with small jobs in the kitchen, and who she describes as having been a big influence on the way she cooks Thai food in particular. Her story through food then follows her to Hong Kong where she worked in restaurants and takeaways before eventually opening up her own restaurant: Tuk Tuk Thai.
“We would always eat Lao cuisine at home” says Saiphin Moore, “which is much spicier and more pungent, but Thai food has always been special to me: it brings back happy memories of cooking Thai dishes once a month for the monks at the temple, which always had to be cooked perfectly. When I cook Thai food I liked to keep it as authentic as possible, and the same goes for my Laotian cooking.”
– Saiphin Moore
Using seasonal produce and sustainable suppliers, Rosa’s Thai Café is committed to reducing its impact on the environment mish-mash keeping its recipes authentic. And they manage this. Rosa’s Thai Café is forever unpretentious, cosy, and busy. The fast-paced environment seems to mimic the kick and flare of the food.
“I became more and more knowledgeable about food as I spent more time in the industry. My life has always pushed me to become a chef and I’m proud to be a self-taught chef!”
says Saiphin Moore.
Saiphin Moore serves, where aromas and textures float amongst the clientele, sizzling on both plates and taste buds.
Find Saiphin Moore’s favourite dish, Penang Curry, a favourite from childhood, below:
Panang Chicken Curry Recipe
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.
- 3 tablespoons Penang Curry Paste (or shop bought red curry paste)
- [5 red chillies, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 2 tablespoons of finely sliced galangal, 2 tablespoons lesser galangal, 3 lemongrass stalks sliced, ½ tablespoon finely sliced lime zest, 1 tablespoon finely sliced coriander root, 4 shallots, 10 small garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 teaspoon shrimp paste]
- Finely grind or pound the chillies and salt until you have a fine paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and grind or pound until smooth. Can be kept in the fridge for 4-8 weeks if stored in an airtight container and up to 6 months in the freezer.
- 400ml coconut milk
- 300g chicken
- 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar
- 5 kaffir lime leaves, plus extra to garnish
- Steamed rice, to serve
- 5 lime leaves, finely sliced
- 2 red spur chillies, finely sliced
(You can make this dish vegetarian by simply swapping out fish sauce for light soy sauce, and the chicken for vegetables or meat alternatives of your choice)
- Heat the oil in a saucepan over a high heat. Add the curry paste and stir-fry for a few seconds until fragrant.
- Pour in the coconut milk and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the red oil rises to the surface. This might take about 4-5 minutes.
- Add the chicken, soy sauce, and palm sugar. Stir until palm sugar is completely dissolved.
- Continue to cook on medium heat until chicken is cooked through.
- Turn off the heat and add the lime leaves and chillies.
- Best served hot with steamed rice.
Sally Butcher – Persepolis
On a corner of bustling Peckham sits the yellow-mustard coloured storefront of Sally Butcher’s restaurant and deli Persepolis.
Absorbing Iranian culture and food from her husband, this formidable cook provides Persian cuisine in and amongst a veritable bazaar of groceries, cookware, books, C.D’s and curious.
Lost in colour, spice and thought, Persepolis draws you in by sight but also in taste. With only nine (and a half!) tables, the mantra of this little, but not to be underestimated, cafe and deli is ‘snack while you shop’, discovering new ingredients and delightful mixtures, tastes and fusions, all from a candlelit table where you can eye up some jars of something delicious.
‘Small’ plates are laden with a vegetarian meze of falafels, tabbouleh and muhammara, ideal for sharing.
All dishes are created and cooked by Sally Butcher herself in a tiny kitchen and the menu varies daily.
Zoe Anjonyoh – Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
“Every mouthful is like a hug”.
Providing Londoners with a real taste for the most delightful Ghanaian food, founder, and head-chef at Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, Zoe Adjonyoh’s food is rooted in her heritage. Born to an Irish mother and Ghanaian father, she describes her passion for cookery as something that comes from:
“Being from two families of feeders – both Irish and Ghanaian grandmothers who were over feeders – feeding people has always been a way to convey love and affection in my upbringing. My connection with Ghanaian food and ingredients comes from my Dad being Ghanaian and bringing home exciting ingredients that took him back. home to Accra – over time I realised as a child that food was my way to connect with that culture and heritage and it was something I wanted to share with people. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen started in 2010 and it’s been non-stop ever since.”
– Zoe Adjonyoh
Retracing back to its humble beginnings in 2010, Zoe Adjonyoh set up a stall in her front garden serving ‘Zoe’s Peanut Butter Stew’ to Hackney Wicked Arts Festival goers. The story goes people loved her food so much she was encouraged to do it the next year, with her making space in her own living room for a make-shift restaurant. Next came to her “supper clubs” and then her residency at Pop Brixton. This year, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’s move to The Institute of Light in London Fields, allowing for 200 seats and much more kitchen space, really is proof of the sheer brilliance and respect her cooking has now garnered.
She makes sure to differentiate Ghanaian food from the all-encompassing term: ‘African food’, but looks at the ways in which it is indeed gaining momentum in the food industry.
“Until my cookbook was published, I was working outside the walls of the mainstream food industry – I was very much focused on cooking and running my businesses. Championing this cuisine and giving food from across the continent a voice has been hard work but very worth it – there is still a long way to go in terms of representation of these cuisines in the public eye – progress is steady though there are still the same barriers to entry for POC from mixed economic backgrounds who don’t necessarily have easy access to finance or food networks and the inherent nepotism that fuels many white male careers – there’s plenty still to be done.”
In a beautiful celebration of West African ingredients and flavours, Zoe provides the best of sustainably sourced British ingredients, employing a no-waste policy, whilst still managing to put to plate an incredible array of comforting, warming, traditional and sometimes re-interpreted dishes.
One of her most popular recipes, her Red Red Stew, a dish from childhood, is listed below:
This dish is so-called, I’m told because it’s coloured red twice – once from the red of the palm oil and a second time from the tomatoes. But there’s a lot of duplication in the titles of dishes in Ghanaian cooking in any case. This stew of black-eyed beans (cowpeas) cooked in a gently spiced tomato sauce is a great vegan dish eaten all day long in Ghana – an alternative to baked beans for breakfast or as a bean casserole for lunch or dinner. Usually eaten with Simple Fried Plantain, this is tasty, nourishing comfort food that’s super easy to make.
Red Red Stew
Ingredients (SERVES 4 ):
- 200g (7oz) dried black-eyed beans, or 400g (14oz) can organic black-eyed beans
- 75ml (5 tablespoons) sustainable palm oil or carotene oil
- 1 red onion, finely diced
- 2.5cm (1-inch) piece fresh root ginger, finely grated (unpeeled if organic)
- ½ tablespoon dried chilli flakes
- ½ red Scotch Bonnet chilli, deseeded and diced
- ½ teaspoon curry powder
- ½ tablespoon chilli powder
- 400g (14oz) can be chopped or whole plum tomatoes
- 200g (7oz) plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato purée
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- gari (fermented, dried and ground cassava), for sprinkling
- If using dried beans, rinse and place in a large saucepan, cover with a good depth of water and bring to the boil then simmer for at least 1 hour or until the beans are tender enough to be squeezed easily between thumb and forefinger.
- Drain and set aside. If using a can of beans, just drain, rinse and drain again
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over low–medium heat until it melts (palm oil has a low smoke point, so be careful not to let it burn).
- Add the onion, ginger, chilli flakes and Scotch Bonnet and sauté gently for a few minutes until the onion is translucent.
- Add the curry and chilli powders and stir well.
- Add all the tomatoes, tomato purée, sea salt, and black pepper and stir through.
- Leave to cook over medium heat for 45–60 minutes or until the tomatoes start to break down. If you want a smooth sauce, blend with a stick blender at this point.
- Add the cooked or drained canned beans, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for a further 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the beans don’t stick to the pan until the beans are tender and the tartness of tomatoes has dissipated.
- Check the seasoning before serving in a bowl with some gari sprinkled on top, along with a side of Simple Fried Plantain (see page 42).
TIP If using canned chopped tomatoes, add them 20 minutes into the cooking time or stir in 1 tablespoon sugar to counterbalance the tartness of the tomatoes.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen by Zoe Adjonyoh is published by Mitchell Beazley, £25 www.waterstones.co.uk
Selin Kiazim – Oklava
Selin Kiazim draws on her Turkish-Cypriot heritage to bring you the amazing authentic dishes behind London’s Oklava. She completed, with a distinction, her chef’s diploma at Westminster Kingsway College in 2008, working next at The Providores under the guidance of Peter Gordon, the Tapa Room, and later becoming head chef at Kopapa. She now owns and is head chef at two restaurants, Oklava and Kyseri.
Oklava, opening in 2015, and co-owned by Selin Kiazim and Laura Christie, gives us a blend of Turkish-Cypriot heritage and food, an amalgamation of spices, wood-fired cooking and sharing dishes. The restaurant provides Turkish brunch, all cooked on a stone oven and real charcoal grill, along with Cypriot island cooking, which involves taking from the seasonal locale.
Oklava literally translates as a traditional type of Turkish rolling pin, and so it is unsurprising that the restaurant bases itself in ready baked goods, bread, pastries, and pide (a Turkish flatbread).
The warming dishes you can find here are intended to be shared. Choosing from light snacks, vegetables, pides, seafood, meat, and desserts, the array of dishes churn up coriander, orange, cemen yoghurt, candied aubergine, seftali, crispy pomegranate and chilli in a wonderful and exciting mishmash of exuberant and exciting tastes and flavour.
Nikandre Kopcke – Mazi Mas
Apart from providing beautiful home-cooked and authentic food, Nikandre Kopcke provides jobs.
Mazi Mas is her social enterprise and roaming restaurant that employs migrant and refugee women, giving them the meaningful skills required to then go on to own and create their own businesses.
Slow and steady, the social enterprise takes the long approach, where their investment into a select few women, including training, childcare, and English classes, aims to provide them with the necessary and empowering skills and qualities of someone able to make it on their own in the labour market.
Mazi Mas, meaning “with us” in Greek, was inspired by founder Nikandre Kopcke’s nanny and Godmother Maria Marouli, an immigrant woman from Greece who struggled to find work when she moved to Queens, New York, but who had had one (then impossible) dream: to set up her own bakery.
Mazi Mas is Nikandre Kopcke’s effort to make this dream possible for other women like Maria. The social enterprise helps women who are highly skilled, but because of a lack of resources, training and experience struggle to find work in the U.K. It is a restaurant that empowers and invests in its staff but also provides the most delicious and culturally diverse array of flavours, sensations, tastes, and smells.
The cooking they provide is healthy, authentic, passionate, and brilliant! Using food as a medium, the chefs at Mazi Mas create a dialogue between different cultures, ages, foods, stories, and backgrounds. Mazi Mas provides a space to share, grow, and experience new flavours.
Words by Sophie Field