How 'Great British Bake Off' winner Nadiya Hussain's DNA discovery took her on a new food adventure

Cape Town – From winning a baking competition to making Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday cake – Nadiya Hussain's love for food has gained her worldwide stardom.

Since winning The Great British Bake Off in 2015, the 34-year-old's career kicked off in high gear.

She has become a well-loved face on BBC Lifestyle, hosting several cooking shows including The Chronicles of Nadiya, Nadiya's British Food Adventure and Nadiya's Family Favourites.

Nadiya's first visit to South Africa was to promote her new travel cooking series at the BBC's annual winter upfront held in Johannesburg last week.

Having never promoted anything outside of the UK, Nadiya was overwhelmed by all the love she received in the country.

"The amount of love I have been shown since being here has been incredible. It was slightly shocking; I can't believe it. I am just so pleased that people outside of the UK have watched the shows," says Nadiya.

Her new show, Nadiya's Asian Odyssey, came about after making a surprise discovery about her DNA.

"Underneath this scarf, I have big, black curly hair and I thought I must be African," she jokes.

"My grandad comes from a village in Bangladesh; there was no census, no history, and I was convinced my dad just made up names. Last year on Boxing Day there was a sale on DNA tests, and I got one. The test revealed that my family are from Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal."

Nadiya Hussain in Nadiya's Asian Odyssey.

This revelation set Nadiya on her first solo journey where she connected with the people, the places and of course, the food.

It was a surreal experience for her visiting the places where her ancestors are from.

"It is really odd because I never thought about visiting these countries. So, I didn't have any preconceived ideas of what they would be like.

"When you go to a different country you go there because it is a nice place and you want to go on holiday. Every moment when I was out there, walking around, I was thinking about the fact that somebody I know, somebody I was related to could have been here. It was like walking amongst ghosts; it was surreal."


In the two-episode show, Nadiya visits a French pastry school for disadvantaged girls, scales fish, prepares palm sugar, meets Buddhist nuns and cooks a meal for them, and also tries some insects. 

And it turns out eating insects was one of her memorable onscreen moments.

"I knew that I had to film with a guy who loves insects and is just madly passionate about them. But I didn't think that I would actually do it. When I was there, I was like I don't know if I can do this. I actually couldn't believe that I did that and that was one of my most memorable moments," she says.

She adds jokingly: "And the bits that you don't see – being bitten by mosquitoes and your arms and legs and your feet swell up so yeah, that was also memorable."

Nadiya Hussain in Nadiya's Asian Odyssey.

What surprised her most about the food culture was how close it was to Bangladeshi culture – another unexpected connection to her heritage.

"The food culture is where I made the most meaningful connection. When I was in Cambodia, I was watching them make fermented fish, and I grew up on that stuff.

"When I was in Thailand, they use a fish sauce; that smell was something that I was used to smelling. All the smells were so familiar. And in Nepal the lentils – I grew up eating lentils, and I couldn't believe that it was something everybody had every single day," says Nadiya.

And what food shows does the TV cook enjoy watching herself?

"I will watch every food show – I watch Masterchef. I like watching Come Dine with Me, and I like watching First Dates because I want to see what they eat. I like food shows, if there is food involved, I am happy."

Tune in to Nadiya's Asian Odyssey on Wednesday, 29 May at 20:00 on BBC Lifestyle (DStv 174).

(Photos supplied: BBC)