From London to Lahore, Tami and Tony Aftab collaborate on a photobook-meets-cookbook that honours family cooking
The Rice is on the Hob blends photography of Lahore with handwritten recipes, put together by the father-daughter duo.
- Olivia Hingley
- 1 November 2023
Across the world food is often seen as the substance that binds families together. Evening meals shared, recipes passed down through generations, that one restaurant you frequent every Friday. It’s this sentiment that sits at the core of father and daughter duo Tami and Tony Aftab’s new photobook-meets-cookbook, The Rice is on the Hob. Featuring Tami’s photos from a shared trip to Lahore, and Tony’s handwritten family recipes, the book is a beautiful mediation on the long-lasting resonance of home-cooked meals.
The book also centres on Tony’s short term memory loss. Tony’s condition came about after an accident in an operation nearly 30 years ago, when receiving treatment for his brain condition, hydrocephalus. Tami’s previous photo project, The Dog’s in the Car, is an ongoing collaboration with her dad that explores his memory loss, alongside questions of identity and intimacy. One specific aspect of Tony’s illness inspires The Rice is on the Hob; despite his memory loss impacting his day-to-day life, he’s never forgotten the dishes of his childhood in Pakistan. Food and cooking is now for Tony a “coping mechanism”, Tami says. While Tony might not be able to pursue his dreams of being a conventional ‘chef’ due to his condition, he now runs the widely-loved Serfaz Kitchen, a family-run home kitchen start-up which does sell-out kitchen takeovers and markets across London.
Moreover, for Tami, her connection to her Pakistani heritage has always been navigated through food, consuming Tony’s recipes while growing up. Having always had a long-term dream to co-author a book – and with the pair’s shared love of Pakistani cuisine – it soon made sense for them to travel to Tony’s hometown, Lahore, to execute a project. So, in February of this year, Tami and Tony travelled to Pakistan’s second largest city. Tami hadn’t been to Pakistan since she was 12 years old, and not Lahore since she was a toddler. Tami describes first experiencing Pakistan “disorientating” and “overwhelming” at times feeling like a stranger in a place her father calls home, “but then I taste the food,” she says, “and that feels like home to me”. Tony was also integral in guiding Tami. He would speak to strangers in Urdu to ask if Tami could photograph them, sourcing places to shoot, “thinking back on memories of childhood for inspiration and narratives”.
When approaching the image-making Tami explains how important it was to keep her father’s perspective at the forefront: “When discussing something as personal and intimate as my Dad’s illness, I wanted to make sure that my Dad held on to his agency within the way he was shown in our images.” Together, they often try to infuse the images with comic relief, or in Tami’s words “finding humour in something that’s otherwise very hard and often upsetting”. Alongside the portraits, photos of words strung up by string feature in the article like ‘the rice is on the hob’, ‘turn the oven off’, ‘close the fridge door’ and ‘we’re at the shops’. These sayings are taken from the many post-it notes you can find across the Aftab’s family home, helping Tony to remember recent acts and must-dos. “We’re inviting people to find joy and laughter with us, but there’s a fine line between humour and mockery, and Dad needed to be a collaborative part of it so that line never got crossed,” says Tami. Alongside these images feature Tony’s handwritten notes, annotated recipes and a four-page interview, weaving his voice around Tami’s images.
While Tami and Tony have been collaborating for the past five years, The Rice is on the Hob feels like the pinnacle. Working so closely together they’ve created something truly personal, merging their ideas to create something that represents both of them, but also how they view each other. As well as appreciating the images throughout, Tami hopes readers will cook her dad’s food, and share it with loved ones, “to feel the comfort and warmth whilst eating these recipes that are unique to a home-cooked family meal,” she ends.
GalleryTami and Tony Aftab: The Rice is on the Hob (Copyright © Tami and Tony Aftab, 2023)
Tami and Tony Aftab: The Rice is on the Hob (Copyright © Tami and Tony Aftab, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.