• Cassava cake tastes like home for singer Christine Anu. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Cassava cake tastes like home for Torres Strait singer Christine Anu.
Melissa Woodley

30 Nov 2021 - 6:27 PM  UPDATED 30 Nov 2021 - 6:30 PM

--- Learn endless cooking tips and tricks on The Cook Up with Adam Liaw which airs weeknights on SBS Food at 7.00pm and 10.00pm, or stream it free on SBS On Demand. Catch Christine Anu in the 'desert island dish' and 'from where you would rather be' episodes on 3 and 29 December respectively. ---


If you're stranded on a desert island, what's the one dish that you'd like to take with you? For Indigenous performer and recording artist Christine Anu, it'd be her mum's savoury cassava cake.  

"It's not a cake as the name insists that it's going to be; it's more like a slice," she explains. "A cake is also sweet, but [my mum's dish] is not a sweet food. It's made as an accompaniment with your main meal."

Although cassava has its origins in South America, this root vegetable is a staple for many people across the Pacific.

"Cassava cake was introduced to the Torres Strait when Christianity came, brought to us by the Samoan missionaries in 1871," Anu explains. "Now, every island woman, mother and grandmother has their own version."

Cassava cake is a mainstay of Torres Strait cuisine.

Growing up in Far North Queensland to a Torres Strait Islander mother from Saibai, cassava cake was Anu's childhood "island tucker". Her uncle had a backyard cassava plantation and harvested the vegetable, which her mother and Aunt May transformed into a savoury cake. 

"My earliest memories are of my uncle Rex constantly entering the kitchen when his wife and my mum were making the cassava cake," she laughs. "He kept coming in and asking if it was ready yet and I thought to myself, 'Gee, this must be a real treat for him to be so impatient like that'."

The best part of her mother's cake is its earthiness and coconut flavour.

"The cassava doesn't puree like a potato, so it still has that rustic, root vegetable type of graininess about it but is glutinous at the same time," she says. "It's a real bite into what home tastes like to me. It's the flavour of my upbringing and taste of my homelands."

"It's a real bite into what home tastes like to me. It's the flavour of my upbringing and taste of my homelands."

Anu has tried variations of cassava cake on her travels throughout the Pacific, Vietnam and Asia. These countries make sweeter versions, which inspired her to transform her mother's signature recipe into a dessert. 

"When you're cooking in places so far away, everything's much more simplified," she explains. "The original recipe requires just two ingredients, the grated cassava and coconut milk. Whereas, mine adds the extra ingredient of pineapple."

"I wanted to write my own song with my own dish."

Being able to showcase a dish that's the epitome of Torres Strait cuisine on SBS Food's The Cook Up with Adam Liaw enables Anu to come full circle.

"Adam gets to share his heritage on his show and he's quite the living inspiration," she says. "If he were a musician, his songs are his dishes and I wanted to write my own song with my own dish."

Anu takes pride that cassava cake remains special to her homeland and people. 

"It's a direct journey and route back to my heritage and to where I'm from," she says. 

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.

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