F.A.Qs: Jen Sahi of Whet Your Wanderlust

Image credit: Jennifer Tsao
Image credit: Jennifer Sahi

Whet Your Wanderlust food and travel blog creator Jennifer Sahi is my kind of food lover: well-traveled and curious, with a palate that not only appreciates, but compels her to seek out an eclectic array of eating experiences. She earns points with this food blogger for being genuinely enthusiastic about sampling foods that others might dismiss out of hand, and also for wanting her next food-focused journey to take her to New York City, where my very own love affair with food and drink was born. Jennifer recently answered nine questions from your truly on topics that include the food scene in Dubai where she currently resides, her past experiences with French nouvelle cuisine, and what eating in Hokkaido, Japan was like when she lived there.

Flavorful World: You recently experience the wide variety of exotic foods at Donghuamen Night Food Market in Beijing. Of those food items you tasted for the first time, tell us which one(s) required you to summon the most courage to try. Which did you enjoy most and why? Which did you enjoy least and why?

Jennifer Sahi: Thanks for starting with that question. Ahem, I didn’t actually eat any of the insects at Donghuamen Night Food Market. However I DID eat a grub in Ecuador earlier this year. I was in the Ecuadorian Amazon at a lodge in the jungle, and a lovely plate of grubs was sent to my table by some friends that I’d met on an earlier tour. It was cooked in a banana leaf with some potatoes, and under the circumstances, I just couldn’t say no. And I was pleasantly surprised as the flavour was actually garlicky and quite tasty. It was the texture that was a bit more unusual – it had a cartilage-like crunch on the outside with a mushy soft centre on the inside. Recently on a Filipino food tour in Dubai, my hosts ordered the famous isaw – barbecued chicken intestines. I was video-ing myself pulling the intestines off the skewer with my teeth and gobbling it up as I went along. It had a great charred flavour and I didn’t even think about the unusual texture until I’d eaten half of it because I was concentrating so hard on holding my camera still. My best advice – don’t think, just eat. Next time I’ll have to do the same when I’m back in China.

FW: Tell us about the current food scene and food trends in Dubai.

JS: The food scene in Dubai is really taking off. Dubai’s always had great Arabic food, Indian food and a wide variety of hotel restaurants. We’ve also been getting more international chains than ever before (we have burger joints representing the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, and more) with many restaurants choosing Dubai as their first international destination. And in the past year there have been even more new F&B outlets cropping up, from homegrown Emirati restaurants (such as those serving Emirati food, as well as other dining concepts such as Home Bakery and Salt food truck which were created by Emiratis); to dining, shopping and lifestyle destinations like The Beach and Boxpark; to outdoor eateries like at Kite Beach. The trend at the moment is away from fine dining to more casual, informal outlets with good food. British celebrity chef Tom Aikens recently opened Pots, Pans and Boards at The Beach which is an informal restaurant with a sharing concept, and Darren Velvick (who’s worked with Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing) recently left the fine dining Table 9 to open The Croft, a casual British restaurant with a shabby chic beer terrace. It’s still not quite New York, and there are a lot of foods you still can’t get, but I’m sure rainbow bagels are coming soon. I’ve spun off my Dubai dining reviews to the following site: www.dubaifooddiaries.com.

FW: You’ve spent time in Hokkaido, Japan. What single insight or piece of advice did you bring away from your eating experiences there?

JT: If you’re a diehard foodie, it’s 100% worth seeking out the little hole in the wall joints for the best foodie experiences. Don’t worry feeling out of place or not speaking the language or not being able to read the menu. The Japanese people are so friendly and will always go out of their way to help you. You will not regret it, I promise!

FW: Tell us how you devised the Adventure Rating system you use to evaluate some of the eating experiences you’ve blogged about.

JS: I’ve never really thought of myself as adventurous. But I grew up in a Chinese family and therefore probably have more open tastes than many. I wanted a unique way to suggest how outlandish I felt a destination or a dish really was, so the adventure rating was born.

FW: To what degree has the prospect of sampling new cuisine been a determining factor regarding the order in which you’ve traveled to/resided in more than 70 countries? Where would your ideal next voyage take you?

JS: Surprisingly, the prospect of sampling new cuisine rarely has anything to do with whether or not I decide to travel/live somewhere! The biggest factors are normally if I’ve been there or not, how far away it is, the cost… However once I do decide to travel somewhere, that’s when food comes into the picture. I usually spend far too much time researching to find out where and what I should eat. If I didn’t, I would have such food regret, because I usually don’t travel to the same location twice. I’ve only just realized that I can search food pictures in Instagram to find delicious-looking things to eat. Just today I ate two things in Chiang Mai that I spotted first on Instagram!

My ideal next voyage purely for the sake of food would have to be NYC. My last visit was about 4 years ago and I’ve been hearing about so many amazing food innovations coming from there (rainbow bagels, cragels, cronuts…). Plus I just can’t get enough of NYC bagels (the normal kind) and deli sandwiches, and there’s no place quite like NYC to get either.

FW: What has been your most memorable food-related outing that didn’t involve eating at a traditional indoor restaurant? Where did you enjoy it, and what aspect other than the food itself made the experience memorable?

JS: My most memorable food-related outing would have to be the one I’m on right now. I’m travelling with a fellow foodie (my mom!) who loves to eat as much as me. There’s nothing better than travelling with someone who appreciates food as much as you do. As I write this, we’re in Chiang Mai with no ambitions other than to eat the cheapest, most delicious, and most photogenic food. Mom’s advice is to buy only one of everything so we can have more room to sample everything. (And of course mom always knows best.) So far we have yet to eat in a traditional indoor restaurant and we’ve not had a bad dish. We’ve been on the lookout for the cheapest outdoor restaurants and the best street food. The experience is all the more memorable because I’m enjoying it with mom.

FW: Tell us about your favorite aspect(s) of French nouvelle cuisine as you enjoyed it in Yvoire, France.

JS: One of my favourite aspects of the French cuisine I enjoyed in Yvoire is that everything is so fresh. Driving through the countryside around Yvoire, weaving in and out between France and Switzerland – you see cows grazing, healthy vineyards, the fresh air and the lake water. The filet perche you get is straight from Lac Leman, the wine is from the vineyards in France or Switzerland, the cheese is from the local dairy, the fruits are from nearby farms. There’s something really special about eating such fresh, local food.

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?

JS: “From Chicken Feet to Ouzi – a Chinese girl eating her way around the world”

FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods to enjoy with delicious wines, how do you most enjoy spending your time?

JS: That’s a hard question! My life does pretty much revolve around food. When I’m not cooking, eating, writing about food, or planning my next meal, I like to go to the gym to keep the weight off, so I don’t have to worry about what I eat as my next meal.

*Note to Readers: Want to join Jennifer’s food quests as she traverses the map in search of wonderful things to eat? You can start by subscribing to WhetYourWanderlust.com. Keep the party going after that by following her on Instagram and Twitter. Lastly, you’ll want to keep up with her Dubai dining reviews at DubaiFoodDiaries.com. Safe journey!

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