Rejina Sabur-Cross is a food blogger, the creator of the remarkably thorough and imaginative food blog Gastrogeek, and the author of a celebrated cookbook of the same name. She’s also a self-identified food geek, making her my favorite sort of person to talk with. Rejina recently answered a few queries on topics ranging from what typifies a “gastrogeek” to her favorite aspect of the native cuisine she enjoyed during her time living in Japan. Come on in to hear what three words she’d use to describe her cooking style, her experiences on a recent food tour through Lisbon, and much more.
Flavorful World: What qualifies one to be considered a “Gastrogeek”?
Rejina Sabur-Cross: Well, the word “geek” seems to have been overtly fetished lately and the negative connotations that the word held when I was a youth have been subverted so that it’s become something cool and aspirational, even. For me, this is very much a sign of a terribly broken Britain. I prefer the true meaning of the word, i.e someone who is obsessive about something to the point of being dull and boring. That’s something I can relate to.
FW: On a recent holiday in Portugal, you took the Eat Drink Walk tour through some of Lisbon’s most famous Michelin-starred restaurants. What was the most memorable thing that you ate and what was the most pleasant surprise you encountered on that tour?
RS: It was a great tour! We didn’t really do the Michelin starred restaurants as such, but the Ribeiro Market does have stalls from those restaurants and I had a superlative steak sandwich at one and also some delicious green beans shrouded in whisper-crisp tempura like batter with an onion-mustard mayonnaise dip. It was ever so tasty.
FW: Describe your cooking style for us in three words, then tell us how those words apply to your kitchen creations.
RS: Creative, haphazard, bold. So I like to be brave with spices and strong flavours, I don’t really like to stick to the rules when it comes to what goes with what or quantities and I think gutsy big flavours are the best. I really hate bland food. My kitchen is always a mess.
FW: During your time in Japan what was your favorite aspect of Japanese cuisine, and what if anything did you bring away from the experience of living there that has informed or improved your cooking style?
RS: I loved the fact that you can go to the fanciest restaurant or just to the 7 -11 in the train station and still have excellent quality food. I particularly loved the supermarkets. Japanese supermarkets are fascinating places, the sheer range of tofu, fish and pre-packed tempura alone was worth an afternoon’s browsing. I desperately missed the freshness and quality of everything when I came back to the UK. Japanese people will avoid eating any fish that’s more than 12 hours dead, and I think if we heeded by that rule over here fish would be much more popular.
FW: When you cook, what essentials are in your mise en place?
RS: A chopping board, a very sharp knife, a tea towel, a small toy (to distract my nosy 2-year-old) and a small plastic pot to put the rubbish in.
FW: In your recipe for coconut panch phoran sprouts, you call sprouts possibly your least favorite of all vegetables. Tell us a fruit or vegetable that you love despite its generally having a less than favorable reputation, and what is your favorite way to prepare and enjoy it.
RS: I love okra. It has a terrible slimy reputation over here, mainly because most people will experience some dreadfully over cooked rendition in their local curry house that’s been saturated in oil. As a Bengali, I was brought up to really enjoy fresh,green vegetables (but never sprouts) and crisply fried okra in a little cumin, chilli and garlic is still one of my all time favourite things to eat with a plain bowl of rice and dhal. The best okra are the small bright green vegetables, usually found in Asian markets, I find the big mass-produced ones in supermarkets always lack flavour.
FW: What has been the most fulfilling part of creating your Gastrogeek blog, and what is your next goal concerning its evolution?
RS: It’s been great to carve out a “food identity” for myself over the years, and amazing to hear that people apart from my immediate family actually read it! I don’t really have a next goal as such, but have really enjoyed making cooking videos so am planning to do more of those.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
RS: I would love to have the time to write such a memoir, but as I’m 7 months pregnant with a terrifyingly energetic toddler, I sadly can’t see myself having the time to do anything so indulgent for a while….one day maybe!
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
RS: I love going to comedy nights, we went to see Aamer Rahman recently and he was brilliant (http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/jun/04/aamer-rahman-reverse-racism-comedy-tour) also anything by Daniel Kitson. I’m usually too exhausted to do much these days, so kicking back with a box set, my husband and a bowl of salted honey and cardamom popcorn (melt butter and coconut oil with a couple of cardamom pods, add 3 popcorn kernels, once they’ve popped add the rest, shake pan with lid, pop corn, mix in your favourite honey and lots of sea salt – enjoy) is a treat and a half.