By SHIRAZ PRADHAN
(special to Simerg)
During the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953, Khatoon Noonan was in primary school at the small village of Kumi in Uganda. Being a British protectorate, Uganda had a public holiday and Kumi had a fair to attend and a village party to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation. During the party, Khatoon’s mother dearly called by all as ‘Maa’ had cooked her eclectic dishes for the invited dignitaries including the District Commissioner and local Saza Chiefs. Even in those days, Maa’s culinary fame was recognized far and wide, especially her pickling dishes.
Little had Khatoon dreamt that in the 21st century, in May 2023, she would have the singular accolade of being the winner of Nationwide “Cook for the King” competition to commemorate the coronation of King Charles III in her adopted home of London. Her mouth-watering winning entry is an epitome of Khoja Ismaili Fusion cooking.
Aptly named “Pickling Mutton Curry,” Khatoon cleverly blended fragrant and environmentally friendly spices and local ingredients with meat favoured by King Charles to encourage local farming community. These were some of the stringent requirement of the u3a competition. The judges, some of whom are from national TV and culinary talk-show, had rave reviews about her creation which has attracted national attention.
A career bio-chemist Khatoon was a natural cook, given her deep interest in chemistry. Her childhood interest in cooking were encouraged by observing her mother and two elder sisters in the kitchen, feeding a growing family of ten children, granny and a regular stream of travellers and guests who would drop-by (there being no eateries in the village or vicinity.) Besides the Khoja Ismaili cuisine from native Kathiawad, being the family staple, Swahili East-Africa costal and Gujarati vegetarian cuisines figured prominently in Khatoon’s family. This was rounded-off with adaptation of fragrant local, fresh Ugandan products which unlocked natural flavours a thousand-fold. Khatoon absorbed all this knowhow like a sponge.
Always a brand-ambassador of Khoja Ismaili cooking, Khatoon’s experimentation with fusion of Ismaili cuisine with other cuisine began when she attended the remote St. Mary’s Convent at Namagunga, Uganda, for her A-levels. The cheery-nuns were her companions and mentors and she started to blend Western and Middle-Eastern cuisines with her native Ismaili cooking. The results were stunning. The honing of these experimental efforts continued through her undergraduate at Makerere and later at Newcastle University where she was studying for her post-graduate in bio-chemistry. Uprooted from Uganda, Khatoon had to now adopt her cooking with English ingredients. But she was well-equipped with the skill-sets and this would set the stage for the later phase of her life.
Always eager to share her skill and cooking with other, Khatoon wrote several cook books, her magnum opus being, “My Life through Food”, packed with recipes handed-down from generation to generation but moderated with local ingredients to unlock the fragrance and aromas of meats and vegetables. She regularly runs a South Asian cooking demonstration classes in her kitchen under the umbrella of u3a (University of the Third Age).
The Crowning Jewel to Khatoon’s life came when she participated in u3a’s “Cook for the King.” All her skill, knowledge and years of experimentation came to fruition with her winning entry “Pickling Mutton Curry”, a simple enough dish fit for a King.
Date posted: May 7, 2023.
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About the contributor
About the contributor: Shiraz Pradhan, in parallel with his work as an international engineering consultant, has contributed for several years to furthering religious education among the Shia Ismaili Muslim community in the UK, Canada, USA and Japan. He is the author of several articles published on this website and was a regular contributor to UK’s flagship Ismaili magazine, Ilm. Currently he is concluding the script of a full-length play of the 10th Century trial of the Sufi Saint Mansur al-Hallaj in Baghdad based on historical facts. He is also the Chairperson for the Association for the Study of Ginans (ASG), an organization that has in recent years established close collaborations with institutions around the world, hosted several Ginan conferences, online webinars and Ginan mehfils.
u3a Cook for the King — a competition to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III — has crowned its winner. To celebrate the coronation, u3a members were challenged to create Coronation recipes Fit for a King, while considering sustainability and the UK’s partnership with the Commonwealth. The winner, Khatoon Noonan, drew on her Ugandan, Indian and British heritage to prepare the winning dish ….READ MORE
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