Readers, do I ever have a treat for you this week! I’ve had this interview in my back pocket for a couple of weeks now and I have been SO EXCITED to share it with you, because not only does this week’s Chewing the Fat interviewee have a passion for food that is positively infectious, but her photos are works of art. Seriously, these are food porn to the nth degree!
This week, I’m delighted to feature Anjanee Szczupak, who runs the gorgeous and utterly inspiring Fig & Honey, a travel blog filled with tempting photography of far away places and tasty treats. She was born in England, lived in America and Australia and now lives in Cologne, Germany where she loves spending her days trying new recipes from different lands, sitting in cafes with friends and exploring the world.
And you guys, these recipes? Unbelievable. Normally I use this last paragraph to tease some of the subsequent interview’s highlights, but every last morsel of this one is vicarious foodie bliss. I dare you to gaze on Anjanee’s beautiful food photos and not have your heart flutter and your tastebuds begin to salivate. I know it will be hard to tear your eyes away from the pretty pictures, but I promise her answers are wonderful and well worth your time as well. I think it’s also worth pointing out that the food pictures featured in this interview are all of dishes that Anjanee created herself… Mind blown!
So what are you waiting for?!? Enough of me prattling on, let’s get to the good stuff!
We’re big fans of “foodcations”—on more than one occasion we’ve taken trips motivated solely by the desire to eat our way through our destination. Of all the places you have visited in your travels, if you were limited to only eating the food from one country, which place would you choose and why?
I would think that 80% of our holidays probably fall under “foodcations!” Food is so intertwined with culture and I think tasting your way through a country is a great way to get a feeling for the culture. If I were limited, I would probably have to choose Thailand as my country of choice. It’s such a large country with varied cuisine from top to bottom. I love the fresh ingredients and am very partial to all sorts of curries and noodles. I think you could not only eat like a king there, you would be quite healthy too! It’s been awhile since I’ve been back but I would love the chance to spend a couple months in the country learning how to cook like the Thai do.
And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?
Hmm, there are a few countries that lie on the bottom of my list, but Hungary might have to be my least favorite. It’s a very general statement since I’ve only visited one city, Budapest, but overall my experience was not fabulous. I absolutely love the cafe culture in this city and the architecture is just amazing. However, the food falls a bit short for me. It’s quite heavy and filling and consists largely of cabbage, meat and potatoes. The food is just a little bit one dimensional and a tad bland. That said, I would love to visit more of the country and explore what I’m missing!
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
I have tasted quite a few weird things over the years, but I would have to say my most adventurous edible was most definitely Impala. While on a Safari in South Africa, we spent the day searching for all the popular but elusive animals- Lions, Cheetahs, Elephants, Rhinos, Hippos, etc. During our search, the animals that weren’t so camera shy were the Impala, Buffalo, Kudu and Zebra. Once we got back to the lodge, we changed for dinner and met everyone for a memorable meal. Turns out that Impala steaks were for dinner! Not as gag-inducing as some of the other foods I have tried, but definitely exotic!
Many travelers mention succumbing to McDonald’s or other fast food cravings while on the road… what is the guilty pleasure food that you indulge in when traveling?
Though I can never bring myself to eat McDonald’s while on the road (there are so many local non-chain options!) I am very partial to pizza. Sometimes after trying too many different cuisines or flavors, all I want is a really good comforting margarita pizza!
Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! When you are traveling what’s the one food from home that you always crave the most?
It sounds rather unexciting, but usually the thing that I’m craving is most definitely a good English cup of tea. The worst thing about being away is only being able to find lukewarm weak tea. English tea must be piping hot, super strong and always served with a splash of milk. It’s the British tradition that has stuck with me and my family most over the years. Nothing solves all your problems or helps you celebrate like a hot cup of tea!
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?
The traditional Bratwurst and Sauerkraut is always a tourist option in the Brauhauses (Beer Hall/Brewery) here, but I would have you try the lesser known Flammkuchen. Translated as a Flame Cake, it’s what I call a German version of a thin crust pizza. Originally from Alsace, France – it’s a very thin bread topped with creme fraiche, grilled onions and bacon and placed in a log burning oven. It comes out golden and crispy and very light and airy. Don’t expect to be full from just eating one! Paired with a Kölsch (the local beer) and you’ve got yourself a great meal!
The name of your blog refers to two foods that taste incredible together. Throughout our own travels, we’ve come across some pretty creative and undeniably delicious ingredient pairings (like duck with cantaloupe in Beijing!). What are some of the best combinations you’ve come across that you never would have dreamed up at home?
One of the most recent combinations that I’m loving is Pumpkin and Gorgonzola. I just love the creaminess from the pumpkin and the bite from the gorgonzola. The combination makes each mouthful amazing! I also loved trying Ottolenghi’s Roasted Eggplant and Pomegranate in London this past summer. The pomegranate adds a burst of tartness to a very creamy eggplant – great combo.
If there’s one continent that rivals Asia in our minds when it comes to epic food, it’s got to be Europe. However, one country that generally doesn’t inspire rhapsodic praise from travelers to that part of the world is Germany; if the stereotypes are to be believed, the food scene outside of Berlin seems to revolve around sausage, cabbage and potatoes. You’re currently based in Cologne, so tell us: do we have it all wrong? What’s the one German dish you’d make sure all dubious foodies try to change their minds? Is there to be a lot of regional variation throughout the country—if so, which part warrants further investigation by food travelers?
Agreed, Europe does rival Asia when it comes to epic food but in a very different and perhaps simpler way. The food in Europe tends to be very simple in the flavor profile compared to Asian food but equally as tasty. When it comes to Germany, I must say the cuisine is still very much a mystery to me! However, I can definitely say that the stereotypes are not true. It’s undeniable that sausage, potatoes and cabbage are staple diets of many Germans, but so much variety exists throughout the country that it would be a shame to overlook it all.
The country is quite large for European standards and there exists much regional variety. For example, in the north, fish is incorporated largely into the cuisine while down in Bavaria, more heartier meat and potatoes is the standard. In the center, much local produce and game largely influence the offerings. I have heard that the Black Forest region is very much known for some of the best cuisine in Germany. It’s largely influenced by French cuisine and incorporates a lot of the local produce. I believe it also has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin Star restaurants in the country. This area is one I’d love the opportunity to explore a little more!
I’m not sure one dish would do it, but I would urge foodies to give the roasted duck a go. It’s usually roasted filled with onions and apples and rests on a bed of vegetables. The bed of vegetables are then used to make a gorgeous gravy which really complements the succulent meat. Duck is always a popular option here and the flavors combine a bit of savory and sweet which I think that German cuisine is very much known for.
You’ve spoken quite lovingly on your blog about spending a lot of time in the kitchen with your mom as a young girl learning to cook. Are there any specific dishes that you vividly remember cooking with your mother? How did growing up in an Indian kitchen shape your approach to food and cooking?
I owe a lot of my cooking skills to my mother. She taught me not only the basics of cooking, but to learn to taste your food and experiment too. I think the Indian style of cooking is very different to the styles of the western world. It’s very much about understanding the individual flavor profiles of spices and ingredients and being able to successfully match them together in the correct quantities. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but its focused very much so on tasting often to figure out what is missing and whether the best balance is achieved among the complexities of flavor. This varies from family to family and region to region and is based on your individual tastes, which is what I love.
In the end without me realizing till recently, this style of cooking had very much influenced how I taste and how I cook all different cuisines. In restaurants, my guilty pleasure is trying to figure out all the ingredients that went into making a dish and then trying to recreate the flavors at home. In general, I cook much more with feeling than with recipes. I have a hard time following recipes to the letter and often end up making changes here and there.
One thing that I distinctively remember making with my mother are chapatis. They’re rolled unleavened flat breads that are a staple in the region of India that my family is from. We use them as a utensil to eat all of our curries and to soak up all the sauce. Basically a dough of whole wheat flour, oil and very hot water is kneaded and then divided into small handful sized balls. These are rolled out and then cooked over a very hot slightly curved griddle. The first point of pain, is trying to make these round. When you’re first starting out, shapes range from triangular to very square and rarely round. Then the second part (my least favorite) is cooking them over a griddle. This is usually done with your bare hands which is not so easy when things are often too hot to handle! I learned over time that there is an art to not burning your fingers, just as much as there is an art to rolling quickly and into a round shape. However, these were probably the most difficult moments in the kitchen with my mother. Often ending with severe frustration and a couple steam burns, always on my part.
Though I don’t get to do it much on the road, I loved to cook back in Nashville (and like you, I never follow recipes to a T or use measuring implements!). I love Indian food so would try to replicate my favorite dishes at home, but found they always fell a bit short of the mark and were never as good as our favorite restaurant. What are your top tips for home cooks who want to accurately bring the flavors of the subcontinent to life in their own kitchens? What are the biggest stumbling blocks that one is likely to encounter and how can these be avoided?
I think that one of the biggest misconceptions is that the type of food that is found in Indian restaurants is what most Indians eat at home. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Indian curry from a restaurant, but what I cook on a typical basis is very very different. Normally we eat mostly vegetarian with lots of pulses and vegetables. Cream and butter are never really used at home, but do make restaurant curries taste amazing!
If you are going to attempt a restaurant style curry, I think one of the biggest things is invest in getting all the spices. I know each recipe usually calls for a ridiculous number of spices, but each one has its place and really rounds out the flavor. Plus, a lot of the spices are often used in many other cuisines so they won’t go to waste! Another thing is to make sure to have fresh ingredients. Dry spices go stale after time and lose all of their flavor. If you want to avoid bland boring curries, make sure they are fresh! Last but not least, a lot of Indian cooking is a labour of love. Though some things can be whipped up at the last minute, don’t expect a 30 minute meal. The patience is worth it, trust me!
We love the recipes you share on your site, not least of all because of the seriously drool-inducing photos that accompany them. Can you tell us a little bit about the process that goes into preparing these recipe posts and your approach to food photography?
As you know by now, I love cooking and sharing food with others. To me there’s no fun in eating alone or cooking for only for yourself. Food is best enjoyed with people – friends, family or neighbors. Since food is a large part of my life, I suppose blogging and photographing it came about quite naturally.
Often the part of blogging that is overlooked is the time spent developing and testing new recipes. I get a lot of inspiration from my travels as well as lots of cookbooks and of course Pinterest. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good cookbook on a rainy afternoon with a cup of tea in hand. Developing your own recipes often comes with flops and failures, but I love that my readers will always find something unique on my blog.
When I first started taking pictures of food, it was always minutes before it went to the table to be eaten. This was never ideal as either the food got incredibly cold or the pictures were sub par. I quickly learned that food photography and meal times don’t go together very well (who would have thought!) Now, I usually plan out my posts and prepare the food during the day so I can photograph with the best natural light and no time constraints. No one goes hungry, the food can go cold all it wants and the pictures generally turn out better!
My approach to food photography is very simple. I love bright images of food and always aim to have a well naturally lit picture. My favorite images are very simple and not over styled, very much like how I like to serve my food too. Plated on white with a a few garnishes here and there.
Bonus question: If you were limited to only using one fresh herb and one ground spice for the rest of your days, which would you choose and why?
Since I rarely use only one in any dish that I cook, this is such a difficult question! I think I would have to go with Cilantro for my herb and Red Chili Powder for my spice. I love how Cilantro freshens things up and adds a last minute pop of flavor to a number of different cuisines, namely Indian, Thai and Mexican (three of my top favorites). Red Chili powder because I can only go a few days without having some sort of spiciness in my food!
Thank you so much to Anjanee for taking the time to answer all of my questions and sharing her beautiful photography with us. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but these photos satisfy me in such a fundamental way I feel like each one is worth 1000 calories as well! Consider me both inspired and gifted me with massive inferiority complex… well done! You can make it up to by cooking some of these whenever Tony & I make it to your neck of the woods! 😉
Like what you read here and want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re always looking for new people to dish about dining with! You don’t have to be a long-term traveler, or even have your own blog to participate; all you need is a healthy appetite and an appreciation for food. Contact Us letting us know that you’re interested in taking part in this series, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you need to get started.