Next up in our series of blogger interviews is Shayma O.Saadat, founder of The Spice Spoon. Here, she chats to us about her gypsy lifestyle, her cooking advice to Qypers, trying alligator meat and eating cold Chinese-takeaway noodles for breakfast:
Qype: Can you tell Qypers who you are and what you do?
Shayma: I am a Pakistani-Afghan with Iranian ancestry. I have lived in Pakistan, the USA, Nigeria, Kenya, the UK, and most recently, Rome, Italy. But after six years, staying true to my gypsy lifestyle, I moved to Canada last year, for love and marriage.
I like a dash of salt in my fresh orange juice, cold Chinese-takeaway noodles for breakfast and the ‘three B’s’ of Italy: Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera.
I am an Economist by profession and also the author of The Spice Spoon, a blog dedicated to food from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, as well as my travels around the world. I love feeding those I love. With a glass of Barolo, of course.
Qype: What prompted you to start your blog, and what elements do you think have contributed to it becoming so popular?
Shayma: I enjoy preparing a ‘boeuf bourguignon’ as much as a Pakistani chicken curry, but I wanted to document those particular dishes from my part of the world, which I have learnt to create from my aunt, my grandmothers and most importantly, my mother. Having learnt to cook intuitively, the way they do, I couldn’t quantify and share the recipes with friends. After receiving a recipe request from a dear friend in Rome, I decided to put pencil to paper.
I have been told that my blog reads like a food memoir. I relate all my recipes to personal experiences, vignettes from my childhood, as well as set an historical context around the dish. Perhaps this is what readers may find unique about my blog.
Finally, given the current milieu in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, I would like to think and hope that my blog provides readers with a much needed antidote of humanity and romanticism about our people and culture.
Qype: What cooking tips would you give to Qypers?
Shayma: Two things I learnt from my mum:
1-When making ladyfingers (okra), ‘shuffle’ the pan on the burner, but never, ever stir, otherwise the goeey syrup will start oozing out; and
2-Always soak your Basmati rice for at least half an hour in cold water before cooking.
Lastly, invest in a Shun knife, it will change your life.
Qype: What was the menu of the most memorable meal you’ve prepared?
Shayma: For my friends in Rome, an appetiser of steamed baby capsicum stuffed with aubergine, mint and robiola cheese; main course Pakistani chicken curry and Basmati rice with vermicelli in the Lebanese manner with sautéed broccoli rabe as a side; and for pudding, a strawberry and zabaglione semifreddo. Served with a Supertuscan from the Maremma.
Qype: What’s the strangest food you have ever eaten?
Shayma: Alligator meat at a restaurant called Carnivore, when we lived in Nairobi, Kenya.
Qype: Got any thoughts on the rise of the ‘citizen reviewer’. Are the bloggers/Qypers becoming as important as the Jay Rayners and AA Gill’s of this world? Do restaurateurs need to sit up and take more notice of the ‘man in the street’?
Shayma: In my humble opinion, we should have respect for both the professional journalists’ as well as bloggers’ reviews. It’s fascinating how ‘citizen reviewers’ have added a new dimension to the restaurant vetting and reviewing scene; many people can relate to the reviews written by ‘the man in the street’. For the restaurateur it’s a matter of distilling the information from both sources in an informed manner.
Qype: If you had to pick one London restaurant for your last meal on earth, where would you choose?
Shayma: My last supper would have to be at a place I have had memorable meals with my friends and family over the years. I would go to my old haunt, Mandarin Kitchen on Queensway. We would do a ‘cin cin’, with a Cava, then move on to jasmine tea. I would order the crispy duck, and slowly assemble each pancake, adding those tiny, chopped scarlet chillies they give you. Then I would have the crab claws in black bean sauce. I’d eat a lot of jasmine rice, doused with soy sauce to remind me of my childhood, when my father would tell me off for indulging in this gross habit. I would then go to the Boots across the street to buy a slab of Green & Black’s 85% dark and die a happy woman.
Qype: What would your perfect London Sunday consist of? (Let’s assume it’s a perfect Sunday weather-wise, and the tube is working perfectly, and you have a perfect bank balance).
Shayma: After reading the The FT Life and Arts section, my husband and I would meet my friends at Raoul’s in Maida Vale, where I have been going for brunch for the past thirteen years. While waiting in line, I would have an Illy caffè macchiato and later, tuck into Eggs Fiorentine. I would lure my best friend into ordering the french toast, as usual, so I can tear off pieces of it and dip it into the orange zest-infused maple syrup. All of us would then make our way towards Regents Park, first walking past St. John’s Wood, then the Marylebone Cricket Club and into the park. I’d have a ‘99’ and make circles around the glistening boating lake. Then we’d make our way home for a little siesta. Later, we’d walk down to the Elgin and have a drink with friends.
Qype: Give us one place which you think every Londoner should have in their little black book of hidden gems?
Shayma: This is a tough one because I am quite happy with “mainstream London”- be it a shish taouk at Maroush on Edgware Road, steamed gai lan at Ping Pong or afternoon tea at the Fifth Floor Cafe at Harvey Nick’s. But one hidden gem which comes to mind is Masa in Harrow, (those of you who still consider Harrow to be a part of Middlesex may be the most reluctant to go). It is worth it, for the best mantu; an Afghan ravioli and borani bonjon; slow-baked aubergine slathered with yoghurt. Don’t forget it is BYO and be prepared to see a hip-gyrating Katrina Kaif and Shahrukh Khan on the big screen plasma while you eat. A small price to pay for good food.