ASIAN SCENTS AND FLAVORS…
Different cuisines of the world are the thing that connects people regardless of the current place of living. While traveling I had a chance to try regional dishes served not only by local chefs, but also the ones prepared by host families. Despite the fact that both these experiences were filled with an extraordinary taste sensation, still the thing I appreciated the most was participating in the celebration of food in the company of befriended families. Even though English was sometimes replaced by their national languages, which gave me a feeling of constant, lively racket, I was still glad to learn the importance of sharing meals around one table, having common conversations and relishing traditional meals. What’s more, in this way I had the opportunity to try the dishes I had never heard of before or the ones I hadn’t had the courage to think of.
And while my traveling experiences are mainly related to the light and fresh Mediterranean cuisine and definitely heavier German food, I was given a chance to visit places serving Asian meals – Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Thai cuisine. I must admit that even though the earlier mentioned Mediterranean cuisine spoiled my taste buds harmonizing with beautiful scenery I was admiring while having my meals – it happened that light breeze and drops of sea water were cooling my heated body, with my being totally indifferent to these tickles provided by surrounding me nature because I happened to admire the blaze of colors on my plate and the creatures, which must have once been related to some extraterrestrials. Still it was the Asian cuisine that moved me into the fairytale world – filled with aromatic spices, which not only gave the dishes original flavors, but also were accompanied by amazing scents that filled the whole room, making my mouth water on the thought of the dishes I was just about to consume. Asia, as a continent, is rich in flavors, scents and colors – so different from the European ones and still so close thanks to the fact that they are often at our fingertips in restaurants run in our home countries.
I admire people who are not only able to cook well, but also to gather people around one table to celebrate not only food, but also being together. I’m truly pleased to introduce you to my today’s interviewee – Zhou Zhenru – a blogger, a passionate fan of cooking and a creative jewelery maker, who will tell us a little bit about the things she deals with and the things she it totally passionate about.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Zen: Hi, my name is Zen and I blog about Asian food. I was born in Singapore but only got into cooking when I moved to London (UK) where I started having friends over for meals. (Before that I couldn’t even boil water!) I love throwing house parties – in fact, I started Greedygirlgourmet with the idea about making it a recipe blog for dinner parties but then, COVID. Right now, I focus more on Asian recipes with a test kitchen approach, such as this soy sauce chicken and these peanut cookies. Basically, I try several versions of a famous recipe, share what I’ve learnt in the process and come up with my own variation of the recipe at the end.
Passion Piece: You’ve got a truly creative soul. How starting with DIY jewelery projects ended up with being a cooking pro?
Zen: Before I started blogging, I was making and selling jewellery. My 1st blog was actually about DIY projects – I was lucky enough to get featured on BuzzFeed and TimeOut but unfortunately never managed to build enough traffic that I could make it my full-time job (which was my goal). Eventually, I decided to close it down as the hosting fees etc were adding up. Cooking & jewellery making are very similar in that they’re both acts of creation, which is what I enjoy, so 1-2 years ago, I decided to start blogging again, but this time focusing on food, which I figure has a bigger audience than handmade jewellery.
Passion Piece: How was your passion for cooking born? Was it mostly inspired by your national cuisine or you rather looked up to well established international chefs?
Zen: As mentioned above, I started cooking when I left Singapore and had my own place for the 1st time in London, UK. (In Singapore, most people live with their family even as adults.) It was really fun to have friends over and to share my country’s dishes with them (or to make them the food they missed, if they were also from South East Asia)! What probably encouraged me to really pursue cooking more seriously was getting praised by my guests, lol!
Passion Piece: What flavors dominate your meals? How would you describe them?
Zen: Strong flavours – I am not a fan of bland food! South East Asian food uses a lot of herbs and spice. One of my favourite herbs is kaffir lime leaf, which is SUPER fragrant – I have a pot on my balcony! Personally, I adore spicy food, but not everyone can eat chilli so I usually include non-spicy versions on my blog too.
Passion Piece: How did you face the ups and downs of being a rookie cook at the beginning? How did you try to gain some useful experiences outside your own kitchen?
Zen: Haha, there aren’t many downs – the only things I can think of are the outsized grocery bills (when people keep coming to your place to eat, it can get expensive!), inadvertently triggering the fire alarm a few times and having to eat up recipes that failed (particularly depressing when I make a huge batch.) Outside of my own kitchen, I also volunteered at soup kitchens and supper clubs in London to learn more, as well as signed up for cooking classes at Leiths and Cordon Bleu. Miss my time in London!
Passion Piece: What is your favorite recipe? Why?
Zen: It’s hard to pick an ultimate favourite but 1 recipe I am very, very fond of is this 12345 braised Chinese spare ribs because it is SO easy to make but really good! Everyone I’ve made it for has liked it – I’ve even been asked to cater for parties with this recipe- and it’s pretty much a fool-proof dish to make, even for beginner cooks.
Passion Piece: What are the essential skills one needs to acquire to be successful while preparing meals?
Zen: Not sure any skills are needed! If you’re following a recipe, make sure to read it through before starting to cook (although to be honest, I’m quite impatient myself and sometimes forget to do this). Don’t forget to salt – sometimes food doesn’t taste good because we’ve been too cautious with salting (restaurants add so much!). And, even if the 1st time was a failure, don’t give up!
Passion Piece: Last but not least, besides being a passionate cook and jewelery maker, you’ve also got some love for animals, and for horses in particular. How was it being a jillaroo in the Australian Outback?
Zen: The Australian horse-riding “camp” was 1 of the best experiences of my life! Initially, I wasn’t sure how it would go as I had only just started learning to ride and the horses were fresh out of the Australian dessert, but the irony was that the “wild” horses (in Australia) were so well-behaved and, in contrast, I broke my collarbone after returning to Singapore & riding a “trained” horse! One thing we had to do in Australia was catch our own horses every morning (sounds easy but when the horses are still semi-wild and the paddock is HUGE, it can be challenging (and fun)). I’ll never forget the moment halfway through the trip when my horse saw me, got up and walked TOWARDS me instead of running away. My heart literally melted. Sadly, I couldn’t take Honeybunny (which is what I named my horse) home to Singapore with me.
Passion Piece: What do you love doing in your free time?
Zen: Haha you’ve probably covered most of it. But my perfect day would be starting the morning with a nice long horse riding session with good friends, followed by a delicious meal, working on my blog, curled up by the fire with a good book (and a dog, although I don’t have one at the moment), having friends/ family over for dinner and maybe finishing the day with yoga & some DIY projects.
Passion Piece: What are your plans for the nearest future? Would you like to release a cook book or maybe to have your own cookery show on Food Network?
Zen: I was actually asked to be on a cooking show when I was in London (Great British Home Cooks or something like that) but am not a fan of being on TV. Moreover, I was right about to leave UK (to return to Singapore), so the timing was wrong. In 2022, I hope I can finally turn my blog from a money-draining resource into an income-generating one. And then to get a loan to get my own place! (I’m back to living with family in Singapore and I miss having my own space after 7 years in the UK!)
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Zen: Life is short, let’s make the most of it!
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I just can’t wait for your new recipes.
See you around!
Photos by: Zhou Zhenru