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A scene from one of Renu Sikka’s workshops (Photo: Supplied)
A scene from one of Renu Sikka’s workshops (Photo: Supplied)

KaiFebruary 22, 2019

Our Stories on Plate: empowering migrant women by sharing food

A scene from one of Renu Sikka’s workshops (Photo: Supplied)
A scene from one of Renu Sikka’s workshops (Photo: Supplied)

Women from migrant and refugee backgrounds celebrate food and storytelling from their diverse cultures at Renu Sikka’s Auckland workshops.

“Food is something that connects people,” says Renu Sikka. “It sparks that conversation.”

Sikka is a teacher at Henderson Primary School in Auckland, and in her spare time runs workshops – mainly based around food – for women from refugee and migrant backgrounds.

This weekend, two of those workshops are running as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival, through Sikka’s ‘Our Stories on Plate’ project. “I ask them to bring a plate from their culture, share their food stories and write the recipes,” she explains. “The aim is to bring all these women together through food and empower them.”

It’s also about improving literacy skills, explains Sikka, who is originally from Punjab. The recipes will be printed on to fabric and made into placemats, with the finished products hopefully featuring in an exhibition.

“It’s about the culinary wisdom these people have,” says Sikka. “They’re all talented. It’s very important for them to sustain their culture through their language and passing on the food habits.”

Our Stories on Plate follows on from a workshop Sikka ran last year called MindFeast, where women from different backgrounds came together, cooked food from their cultures, and then did some creative writing. 

“The women loved it – getting together, letting their hair down, mixing, mingling, sharing their food stories through creative expressions like poetry and writing. Women who have never done this before – it was amazing to see what they had to say.”

Her ultimate goal is to produce a cookbook of the women’s recipes.

This weekend’s workshops are running at Wesley Community Centre and Onehunga Community Centre: more details here.

*Update, Friday, 22 Feb, 2pm: Sadly Renu has had to postpone the Fringe workshops due to unforeseen circumstances.

Renu Sikka, and food being prepared at last year’s MindFeast workshop (Photos: Supplied)

Renu Sikka has kindly shared her recipe for the classic Indian dish chicken do piazza:


This is a classic Indian dish of ‘do’ (two)’piazza’ (onions) – so two onions or double onions. It has a distinctively thick yoghurt sauce packing a medium level of heat, and it’s simply delicious! The dish requires the onions to be added at two stages and in two different forms: onion puree for the sauce then fried onions are added in at the end just before serving. The result is a thick, creamy sauce that smothers and clings onto the chunks of meat. The second addition of onions adds a totally new dimension to the sauce so if you fancy something different, spicy and richly creamy, this is a fab dish to try.

Serve with basmati rice, naan bread or roti.

  • 4 medium onions, 2 chopped, 2 sliced    
  • 3cm ginger, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ tablespoon chilli powder
  • 4 tablespoons plain yoghurt
  • 8 chicken thighs, skinned and chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ tablespoon garam masala
  • handful of fresh coriander, chopped

Place the chopped onions, ginger and garlic into a blender and blend to a paste, then set aside.

In a pan, heat the oil, add the sliced onions and fry until they are slightly crispy and reddish-brown. Remove the onions and set aside.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the blended onion paste – be careful, this will splutter. Place the pan back onto the heat and keep stirring the paste for 3 minutes until it has turned golden brown.

Add in the coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder and stir. Then gently start to stir in 1 tablespoon of yoghurt until it’s mixed well into the sauce. Do the same with the remaining yoghurt, a tablespoon at a time.

Add the chicken and stir for a minute until well coated with the yoghurt mixture. Add the tomatoes and salt. Stir until mixed thoroughly and bring to a simmer.

Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. 

Sprinkle in the garam masala and the fried onions. Mix and leave to cook, uncovered, for a few minutes until the sauce thickens. Add fresh coriander to serve.


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