Cooking with refugees: Sajeda’s Rohingyan style crispy beef

Community Kouzina brings us powerful stories from people with refugee backgrounds, of new beginnings and maintaining strong cultural ties through cooking.

“My mother and father were amazing cooks. Especially my father, he taught me so much”.

Sajeda is of Rohingyan heritage, an ethnic minority in the predominantly Buddhist country of Burma where she was born. In 2013, Sajeda, her husband and their children fled Burma seeking a safer life in Australia. Now a mother to six children, two of which were born in Australia, Sajeda pays homage to her heritage and her parents by continuing to cook the dishes she loved as a child. “Many recipes remind me of my family and eating together. I know they miss my cooking too”.

Preparing all her spice mixtures from scratch, including grinding her own Garam Masala, Sajeda is a sensory cook; “When I eat out, I like to recreate things. Once I taste something, I know how to make it again at home”.

Sajeda wearing an apron and relaxing in a red velvet chair
© Eleni Christou/Community Kouzina

Beyond sharing her food with family and friends, Sajeda is a regular volunteer at Settlement Services International’s Community Kitchen in Auburn, where she cooks for up to 400 people depending on the occasion.

Resourceful and a fast learner, Sajeda speaks six languages: Rohingya, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, English and little bit of Arabic. Sajeda’s attention to detail and her own cooking is reflected in other parts of her life; since eight years of age she has been practising the art of henna and has often shared her expertise at weddings and community celebrations. She is planning to turn her talent into a business venture in the future.

Sajeda’s Siggussū – Rohingyan Style crispy beef

A bowl of crispy beef next to rice and yoghurt dressing
© Eleni Christou/Community Kouzina


  • 1 kilogram of beef
  • 1 teaspoon of Garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of shredded ginger
  • 4 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
  • 3 onions sliced


  1. In a small bowl, mix the Garam Masala, tumeric, salt, ginger and garlic until combined
  2. Using your fingers, massage the spice mixture into the meat and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes
  3. Place the meat, with 1/2 a cup of hot water in a medium size saucepan on low heat
  4. Cover with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes until tender
  5. Remove from the saucepan and using a knife or scissors, shred the meat into 2cm pieces
  6. Place the shredded meat in a fry pan with a little oil and onions and fry until slightly crispy
  7. Serve with with glutinous rice topped with shredded coconut and toasted black sesame seeds

Story and photos by Community Kouzina, in collaboration with the New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week 2017, a series of creative events showcasing the artistic talents and cultural heritage of people from refugee background. Hosted by 107 in Redfern between 21 June and 2 July, the New Beginnings Festival is an initiative of Settlement Services International and is part of the broader New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival 2017.