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A taste of my culture and heritage

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Working at HM Land Registry
Nonsi Martins and her family at her traditional Zimbabwean wedding
My family and I, at my traditional Zimbabwean wedding. I am the one with the blanket/scarf around me and the huge beaded neckpiece in the middle sat on the floor.

HM Land Registry is the first place I have ever worked which recognises Black History Month. So when I was approached by one of the Inclusion champions to get involved, a part of me was really keen, but a bigger part of me was apprehensive because I thought: “Who will be interested anyway?”

I am a caseworker at Birkenhead, which as an office and a town is not very ethnically diverse. When this opportunity arose, I considered how I try to live outside of work: purposefully. I saw Black History Month as an opportunity to bring that life mantra to work.

I rose to the occasion, as it were, and made some African food for the office. The reception to the ‘Taste of Africa’ experience completely surprised me. People queued up to taste my food, with genuine interest about what the food was and how it was made. It was a terrific opportunity for me to speak about my African heritage, the women in my family (and my new married family) and our histories.

When we hear the words ‘Black History Month’, we immediately think of the history of slavery and colonialism, and while these are important histories that (re)shape our future, there are other histories that remain largely undocumented. Histories and legacies closer to my heart, which can be found in our family among generations of women in the form of recipes.

In African tradition, recipes are passed down generations through the bonding of women, the mothers teaching their daughters and these same daughters going on to teach their own daughters. These learning exchanges are a passing on of ‘cultural tools’ (to quote the psychologist Lev Vygotsky) as the younger women engage with the ‘more capable’ women and, in the time shared, exchange ideas and ways of thinking about the world. These co-created ideas form values and attitudes and develop into a sense of identity for the younger women within their family, culture, and legacy.

Though thousands of miles away from home, the recipes my grandmother taught my mother, who then taught me, remind me of where I come from and where our family story began – in Zimbabwe. In what would have been (and in many ways still is) a patriarchal society, this is how women built their legacies.

Black History Month 2018. Remembering the past, changing the future.

Fast forward to 2018, my mother is the bridge to my grandmother’s legacy (the past) and in her own teachings, which have been influenced by the strides we have made in black history (the present), she passes on our family history to me (the future), for the new era.

Recipes in my family are symbolic of so much more. They symbolise legacy, family, and unity and are packed with history about the experiences of women and the triumphs that have led us here. My family’s recipes represent the women of the past, present, and future. In the spirit of African female legacy and history, I share with you our oxtail stew with coleslaw family recipe for you to try at home.

Oxtail stew and coleslaw (southern African style)


1 pack oxtail (however much you need)

1 tube garlic puree

1 tube ginger puree

Dried thyme

2 chicken stock cubes

2 onions

2 canned chopped tomatoes

1 hot pepper or Scotch bonnet or pepe powder

1 green cabbage

1 red cabbage

4 carrots


  1. Put frozen oxtail in a pot with one roughly chopped onion, four squirts of garlic puree, four squirts of ginger puree, a sprinkle of dried thyme and one chicken stock cube.
  2. Add boiling water to the pan until the oxtail is mostly submerged.
  3. Boil covered for 2.5 hours on low heat – checking every so often that the meat is getting tender.

(In the meantime)

  1. Cook your rice as normal (basmati is better with this dish).
  2. Blend one to two cans of chopped tomato with an onion and hot pepper or Scotch bonnet.
  3. To make your coleslaw –- grate both cabbages and the carrots and mix with salad cream. Set aside.
  4. When the oxtail meat is tender, add the blended tomato mix to the pot and cook for a further 30 minutes to one hour (depending on preference for tenderness – I prefer mine falling off the bone!).
  5. Add more hot powder/salt according to your preference.
  6. Serve the stew with rice and coleslaw on the side.


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  1. Comment by Bertram Webster Frater. LLB. posted on

    This must have been a very warm experience for you and your colleagues. I consider this a pleasant surprise with much comfort that you are working with real people.

    • Replies to Bertram Webster Frater. LLB.>

      Comment by Nonsi Martins posted on

      Bertram - thank you. I feel exactly the same and now feel that I can bring my ‘fullest self’ to work.

  2. Comment by Lisa Campbell posted on

    Lovely article, Nonsi. I, from HMRC and a Caribbean background, understand the apprehension that you felt when contemplating being a part of Black History Month but through your article, I now feel that I have a new way of looking at this. Thank you for your comforting words (and nice recipe - which I shall be trying). I will admit, I did think "yeah, food - the easier option, but will it really matter". I stand corrected. I will remember your article and embrace your experience with comfort and confidence of my family/cultural ties.

    • Replies to Lisa Campbell>

      Comment by Nonsi Martins posted on

      Lisa. Wow! Thank you so much for your words of affirmation. You know how it is... or how it can be but I’m glad that you feel that there is some hope. I’ve really taken to this idea of bringing my fullest self to work (and I’ve applied this in all aspects of my life).

  3. Comment by Ramona posted on

    Well done Nonsi!! I love and appreciate culture! What a clever way to advertise and celebrate our heritage as Zimbabweans.

    • Replies to Ramona>

      Comment by Nonsi Martins posted on

      Raising the flag high Ramona. Thank you 🙂

  4. Comment by David Williams posted on

    Thank you for sharing this taste of your culture and heritage.

    • Replies to David Williams>

      Comment by Nonsi Martins posted on

      Thank you David.

  5. Comment by Pam Brannan posted on

    Thank you Nonsi for your article - I found it very interesting and informative.

    I am definitely going to try your recipe.

    • Replies to Pam Brannan>

      Comment by Nonsi Martins posted on

      Thank you so much Pam

  6. Comment by Chris posted on

    This brings back so many memories. By a sheer twist of fate, I was adopted into the friendship circle of a group of Nigerian and Carribean descent men. I am Filipino. I learnt to cook in their way and I now regard Oxtail Soup and Mutton Pepper Soup as the dishes I would take if marooned on a desert island. We formed Liverpool's first black hill walking and camping group (open to all). Those years gave me acceptance, welcome, friendship and humour that I have not experienced since.

    • Replies to Chris>

      Comment by Nonsi Martins posted on

      Chris this is so wonderful! I love how you describe your experiences of camaraderie. Out of interest, is the hill walking and camping group still a thing? (I’ve struggled to meet other black/Africans up here). Thank you so much for sharing that.

  7. Comment by Nomsa posted on

    I thought, 'Oxtail', before I even realised you had included a recipe at the end of your article. Well done Nonsi. Proud of you..

    • Replies to Nomsa>

      Comment by Nonsi Martins posted on

      You know me so well Auntie! Thank you so much.

  8. Comment by Nonsi Martins posted on

    Hi all. THANK YOU all so much for your comments and positive reception to my post 🙂 I hope to do more!

    I apologise it’s taken me this long to comment back. It was actually my mum who told me there were some comments on here 🙂

    Let me know if any of your try the recipe.