Anyone who’s been following this blog for more than fifteen minutes knows by now how much I respect and admire the passions of a well-traveled eater. Jaleh Najafali, creator of food blog A Famished Foodie, is someone whose foodie passions I respect and admire a great deal. This, one could attribute to the fact that her love of food is strong enough that she hopes to build a future career around it. One could chalk my enthusiasm about her site up to her having eaten, lived, and studied in many parts of the world that I have not, despite her being quite young. Then again, my excitement over the interview she recently granted me might as easily be attributed to her being a fellow wine-loving comics fan like me, and I’ve found wine-loving comics fans to be pretty awesome people more often than not. We talked on topics like what factors contribute to a fantastic dining experience, to what restaurants she’d bring her favorite comic character to dine and why, and her favorite pairing of swine and wine. Also, we both apparently want to share a meal with Andrew Zimmern in an unfamiliar country, so this interview has that going for it as well. Check it out.
Flavorful World: Tell us your favorite swine and wine pairing. That is, select your favorite pork-focused appetizer, entrée, etc. Then tell us what wine you’d pair with it and why you chose each one.
Jaleh Najafali: This is a tough one! I like pork pretty much any way I get it, but I’ll go for the dish we make most often at home, sauerkraut. A lot of people don’t know that I’m part German, so my grandma makes this family favorite whenever we’re craving something a bit tangy. I like to pair this dish with some German wine. My favorite is Riesling, but for the best pairing, it needs to be dry. The acidity shines and the savory porky flavors are elevated by a nice glass of Riesling.
FW: Aside from our shared interest in food and dining well, we also share an interest in comic books, particularly in Joker-obsessed villainess Harley Quinn. Tell us, if you had access to any restaurant in the world, and found yourself in Harley’s company for a 24-hour period, where you would go for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and what aspect of your chosen eateries she would be likeliest to appreciate the most.
JN: I think Harley is a low-key kind of girl when it comes to food. Noma isn’t the type of restaurant this villainess would enjoy, though I’d certainly try and talk her into it. For breakfast, we’d probably go to a place like The Bagel Hole for some lox and cream cheese on a bagel. We’d go even simpler for lunch and stop at a deli to get the classics. I’m sure Harley would go right for a massive pastrami sandwich to tide her over until dinner. By the time dinner rolls around, we’d probably stop by a diner, where we’d order everything from milkshakes to biscuits and gravy. If there’s one thing I know about Harley, it’s that she can eat. Overall, she’d appreciate the large portions and ease of these places.
FW: In your Fantastic Five series, you cite 5 outstanding restaurants in various cities you’ve visited. Tell us what combination of attributes you feel places a restaurant a cut above it peers, and what locales we might see included in your Fantastic Five in the near future.
JN: Food matters of course, but there are a number of factors that I weigh before placing a restaurant on my Fantastic Five page. The décor, the friendliness of the wait staff, and the quality of their beverage program are all things that I consider. If I had a great meal, felt at home in the restaurant, and constantly want to return, there’s a pretty good chance that it will end up on my list. However, I’ll only place locations in my top 5 if I’ve visited them more than once. That way, I’ll know the quality is consistently good and worth recommending. In the future, D.C. will probably end up on the page next since I’ve been going down there more often.
FW: Your food blogs devotes significant focus to eating and drinking in the Philly, DelMarVa, and D.C. areas. For each of these areas, tell us which food- or drink-themed public event (that you’ve either attended, or hope to visit in the future) you find most interesting, and what attracts you to each.
JN: Philly has an amazing event called Flavors of the Avenue. It pulls together the restaurants located on East Passyunk Avenue so that people may try samples from each place. It’s a great way to meet chefs and try food from restaurants you may not have the opportunity to normally visit. Another event I really love is in Delaware. The Eating Rehoboth tours are held throughout the summer and are run by three people who know the area well. The tour includes a visit to five restaurants for small servings of food and drink, and is a great way to get acquainted with the busy Rehoboth food scene during the summer. Outside of these two areas, I’ve been bad about attending events, but hope to find some things in Baltimore and D.C. to explore.
FW: On your blog you speak of hoping to incorporate your love of food into a future career. What food-related career(s) are you most interested in, and how has that interest evolved since you launched A Famished Foodie?
JN: When I started my blog, I was interested in editing cookbooks. However, after interning in publishing, this field seems pretty exhausting. I want food to be fun. I would be interested in editing food memoirs or even becoming a food writer who explores ethnic cuisines, and I think blogging is a great way to prepare myself for either of those careers.
FW: What foods/ingredients do you most enjoy using when you cook at home and why? What foods/ingredients do you dislike and why?
JN: Some of my favorite things to use at home are basmati rice, mushrooms, eggplants, tomatoes, and lamb. Some of the best Persian dishes are made with these ingredients, but they are also versatile and can enhance almost anything. On the other end of the spectrum, there are few things I don’t eat. Still, I always avoid bananas, coconuts, green beans, and romaine lettuce. For me, bananas and coconuts overpower just about every dish they’re put into, so I never use them. My reasons for disliking green beans and romaine are a lot simpler; I find them to lack both flavor and good texture.
FW: Select a country you haven’t yet visited but hope to, whose food interests you the most. Then tell us what pairing of food and spirits native to that country you most look forward to experiencing when you arrive. Lastly, name the food celebrity, past or present, that you would want to share that journey with, and why you chose them.
JN: I’ve been dying to visit Morocco! The first thing I would want to try is one of their tajines (stews), preferably one made with lamb. As a Persian girl, I eat a lot of stews and find them comforting, so it’d be interesting to try the stews of another culture. The country isn’t particularly known for its spirits though, so any pairing would probably be something I’d have to decide on once there. I would take Andrew Zimmern with me to figure it all out because he’d try some of the more unusual cuisines, which is something I appreciate in any eater.
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?
JN: I’d have to go with Food Unlimited because that’s my dream world.
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods and traveling to exotic locales, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
JN: As you can probably tell from the Harley Quinn question, I spend a lot of my free time reading books and comic books. I also have a passion for history and consume almost anything to do with the Tudor dynasty. Of course, when I want to unwind, I do have a Netflix subscription that I am currently using to watch 365 movies throughout 2015.
*Note to Readers: True believers, gourmands, oenophiles…lend Jaleh your ears and eyes and stomachs by trotting over to A Famished Foodie and making it your home. Follow her tasty travels via Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. I defy you to come away not wanting to eat and drink something good.