85-year-old Iranian immigrant home cook boasts over 800,000 views on social media

The traditional dishes have been passed down through generations and made from the heart. That’s because none of Nana Yousif’s recipes have ever been written down. She started cooking when she was 18 and is self-taught.

Now thousands of people watch her on a variety of social media.

“On YouTube we have 260,000 subscribers and on Tik Tok we have 537,000 followers,” said Dina Ibrahim, Nana’s granddaughter. “Actually Instagram just recently took off and we have like 64,000 followers.”

Yousif loves to watch YouTube cooking videos from all over the world. In September 2021 her 21-year-old granddaughter saw that and had an idea for a show called Nana’s Kitchen.

“So I slept over at Nana’s house and the next day we spent the whole day filming her favorite food,” said Ibrahim. “I think the first one we made was an Iraqi dish with stuffed zucchini.”

New videos are recorded in Nana’s actual kitchen when her health permits because some days her ankles are too sore to stand for long. Ibrahim is a university student in her last year majoring in psychology with a double minor in business and entrepreneurship. Now she’s turned into Nana’s Kitchen’s producer, camera operator and editor.

“My camera skills I feel like they’ve gotten really nice,” she said. “My siblings kind of like to tease me and they’re like, oh your hand is shaking here and there and criticize me but I think I’m doing pretty well now.”

She says Nana is fast in the kitchen and she and her cousin have to keep up and make sure none of the cooking steps are missed by viewers. And in most cases they have to guess at measurements.

“Sometimes while we’re editing we’re like okay this is a tablespoon and then we’re looking at the video and we’re like okay that looks like a tablespoon,” said Ibrahim. “Basically everything she does was just like from her heart and from her own knowledge of her.”

Nana has lived in Calgary for over 20 years. Her native tongue is Turkish and she speaks little English but she says a lot of people love her recipes from her.

“Everybody said it’s good, everybody,” she said. “(I cook for people from) Iraq, Iran (and they say) oh, Nana’s cook(ing), good!”

Nana has a lot of family in Calgary and Canada and more all over the world who are watching the videos to try to recreate her dishes wherever they are.

“They really miss Nana’s cooking,” said Ibrahim. “Nana’s old, she ca n’t travel and obviously traveling right now is very difficult so (the shows are) really good for them but they say even if they make it, she it’s not like Nanas.”

Nana will continue making videos posted on social media but her granddaughter has bigger plans.

“Maybe like if Nana could have her own cooking show in the future that would be amazing,” said Ibrahim. “Because you don’t see a lot of old grandmothers showing their traditions on television so that would be really nice but I feel like we’re still very far off from that.”

Learn more about Nana’s Kitchen here.

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