Earlier this week the sad news broke that Saima Thompson, the founder of south London’s Masala Wala Café, had sadly passed away at the age of 31. Her family told followers of her Instagram account that she died on the evening of Saturday June 27 surrounded by her loved ones.
She leaves behind her three sisters, Sanam, Ikra, and Nafeesa, her mother Nabeela and her husband Gareth.
Thompson had been diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer two years ago, and was told by doctors she only had 12 months to live. She went on the write about her experiences in a candid and confronting yet positive way on her blog, Curry and Cancer.
Following her diagnosis, Thompson also used her personal experiences to help bring together others in the BAME community who were struggling with issues around cancer. She established a Facebook group for BAME sufferers to share their experiences and support one another through diagnosis and treatment.
She went on to co-host on the BBC Asian Network podcast series Fresh to Death, discussing themes around death and afterlife from a South Asian perspective.
With her mother Nabeela, she established Masala Wala Café in 2015, serving Punjabi dishes to Brockley locals and fast building an avid south-east London fanbase. In their words, they were ‘on a mission to celebrate Pakistani cuisine for what it is, an art form’. Time Out described the place as a ‘perfect neighbourhood restaurant’ and honoured it with a Love London award in 2018.
Masala Wala Café is now closed to allow Thompson’s family time to grieve and make funeral arrangements. The restaurant has plans to reopen towards the end of July under the guidance of Nabeela and Thompson’s sisters (you can keep up to date with when you can visit the restaurant again here).
The family have asked that if people would like to and are able to give donations at this time, they can contribute to Trekstock, a young adult cancer support charity that Thompson was an ambassador for, or cancer support charity Maggie’s, Hospice in the Weald (which looked after her during her whole journey from diagnosis), Macmillan Cancer Support or Alike, a cancer charity for young people of which Thompson was a board member.