Foodie Interview: I believe on globetrotting around the world for different cuisines

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Food is progressively ranking among the top factors for choosing a destination. Besides the activities, weather, accommodation and political stability, what and where to eat is a top search for many tourists. By combining eating and drinking experiences together with visiting places of interest, African tourists are getting the best of both worlds. We spoke to Sapna Shah, a seasoned foodie who explores the world’s history through the sense of taste.

How did you develop an interest in travelling and cooking?

Let me start with cooking. I had never lifted a saucepan in my life until I went to university. Since I went abroad, I had no choice of running back home to eat mum’s cooking. I neither had the luxury to eat out every day nor fancied the fast food restaurants. Like most students, it’s what I could afford but then I’d get a bloated stomach after like 3 servings. So, I had to pick that saucepan! Of course, like any other student, doing other things apart from studying is more important at uni. I used to make new dishes daily and since I couldn’t cook in small quantities so always used to call my flat mates over to have dinner with me. I used to justify to myself that I did it get enough time to read as I was making dinner which needs to be fulfil me!!!!! And that is how I started to enjoy cooking. I have not stopped ever since.

Somalia

For traveling, well, I am a bit of a historian geek. I love history and used to look up about different parts of the world. I always dreamt of travelling the world and visiting the places I used to read about. My first travel was to Malta with my best friends after we finished uni as that was when I could afford to travel. We had done a lot of research for the best price for airline and accommodation and that was one of my best trips. I then joined an audit firm in Nairobi and I used to travel the African continent via work and have visited places that are unconventional like Djibouti and Somaliland. I learnt to appreciate the African land and what it has to offer. I would always take 2-3 days on any trip to go visit the place and ever since, I have been traveling around either pleasure or work.

Your Instagram page shows an array of cuisines that go beyond the East African boundaries, what inspires you?

I believe food is the soul of happiness. I love to eat as much as I love to cook. I believe on globetrotting around the world for different cuisines and that is what inspires me: To create a variety of palates that tantalizes the soul itself. I love doing a lot of fusion food. I also do unconventional dishes e.g. ugali fries and dumplings in coconut sauce. I never follow recipes rather I create my own and I put the spices to what I am feeling at that moment. I also view cooking as therapeutic whenever I am down or stressed up and those are the times I create the most interesting dishes.

Do you travel for conventional or culinary tourism?

I always travel conventionally but culinary is a part of my travels. As I said I am a foodie, so I must always try local food, roadside food (even if I get an upset tummy!) and fine dining at any place I visit.

Ethiopian Coffee served at Yod Abyssinia Restaurant Nairobi

In some places, I took part in cooking classes like Thailand, Zanzibar, Malaysia, Ethiopia to name a few.

Since you travel with other people, how do you navigate the group dynamics?

I travel both with my family and my friends and sometimes I prefer to travel solo. Both with family and friends, we try to do a holiday at least once in 2 years. When travelling with my brother, I oversee all the plans of the trip. I am usually the one in charge of the whole itinerary, flights, accommodation and what to go and see do at the new places. However, we make a mutual decision of the destination. This is a known thing with family, so they know I will also plan the whole trip. I love to organize and usually have a travel diary.

Same with friends, we usually first decide on a place, which is the most exciting bit as we usually get to list 3-5 places each one wants to go so we can make a call to decide on which is easiest for everyone to get to and suitable for what we all want to do. All my friends are flexible so it’s never an issue to evidence on something. Once the place has been chosen, we all chip in with top things to do, the itinerary where to stay. It is easier to plan so we do not faff when we get there. About what to eat, everyone I travel with loves to experiment, so we usually get to try different cuisines and restaurants.

What are your 3 favourite destinations for culinary tourism and why?

  1. Thailand – you can never go wrong with food here and Thai food is just amazing! I literally cannot stress more. You can get all sorts of flavor here from chilli to sweet. The whole country oozes food flavors especially all sorts of satay. The combination of red chili with ginger and lime in their curries is topped off with sticky mango rice as a Thai dessert speciality. Thai street food is a must try. The food vendors are so clean to a point they wear gloves and have dustbins and they carry a floor mop with them on their food trolleys. Thailand is quite popular for its street food.
  2. India – who does not like curries? This is a whole continent of its own when it comes to food. From street food to high end restaurants, nobody can serve a variety of dishes like India. The way the vendors are so quick in making the street food is amazing. My favorite is “gol gappe” which is round hollow fried puris which is filled with boiled potato and chick pea filling and is consumed with tamarind and mint liquid sauce. You put one in your mouth and all the flavors just burst in there. My other favorite is of course masala chai and dosa (thin rice pancakes consumed with daal and coconut chutney). One of the best sandwiches in the world I have eaten are in India (Sandwizza – it is at Santacruz in Mumbai). The rich cultural heritage of India is such that the food across the country is its own heartbeat.
  3. Italy – the land of the pizza! The art of a good pizza is in its sauce and dough. An authentic sauce is a well-blended and slow-cooked combination of plump red tomatoes, fresh garlic, pinch of black pepper, salt, fresh basil, olive oil and the topper: a pinch of brown sugar (yes sugar is the ingredient that sets apart a brilliant pizza sauce from an ordinary one). This is what I learnt in the alleys of Venice from a boutique pizzeria. You can never go wrong with Italian food culture. The Italians, like Indians, are lavish chefs.

Any tips for first timers in the kitchen?

Yes, you always need music to get you into the spirit of cooking, so a radio is a must have. Your mood is always reflected in your cooking!

To understand the taste of each spice, I try one spice at a time with eggs to salivate the depth of the spice. Once you know this, you can then start combining spices to the desired level that you want.

Own a knife that works for you and which you are comfortable with.

Always heat the pan before you start putting food to cook. (A tip given by my grandmother which was passed down by her grandmother – don’t ask me why but something I have learnt is true).

Lastly, start experimenting with only one medium of cooking at a time (e.g gas, stove, electric, grill, oven, etc). Get used to oven and then start another one.

Happy cheffing!!!!!

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