The Globavore Interviews: Gabrielle Yetter

The authors with their brand new book: Just Go! Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

The authors with their brand new book: Just Go!
Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

The next entry in my series of Globavore Interviews is with author Gabrielle Yetter.  She’s a woman after my own heart: nomadic, she’s lived in many of the countries I love, and we seem to have very similar tastes in food. Plus she’s written a book (while I just dream of it!).  She and her husband Skip have just published a book about leaving conventional life behind to do something adventurous — Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure. A little like my lemon pie life. I think I need to read that book to find out what I can do next!  

  1. Who are you and how does food play into your travels?  I’m a former journalist who was born in India (to British and Maltese parents), raised in Bahrain, moved to South Africa where I worked as a reporter then went “on vacation” to the U.S. at the age of 22 and never turned back.    In South Africa, I started writing restaurant reviews when I worked at The Star (Johannesburg’s largest daily) and, after moving to the States, founded The Ultimate Dining Guide of San Diego which I ran for four years.     Since then, I’ve continued to move around the world. I lived in Phnom Penh for three years with my husband, Skip, where I authored The Sweet Tastes of Cambodia (a book about traditional desserts) and wrote a number of restaurant reviews on local dining spots for online and print publications. I am presently exploring the wonderful world of house-sitting with my Skip and have no return address to put on my letters. He and I have just published Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure  about people who have stepped outside convention and created changes in their lives – which we launched this month in Istanbul! Growing up in foreign countries and travelling constantly also made me a foodie. Some of my earliest memories include eating brain masala in a local restaurant in Bahrain and searching for cheese pies in Malta.      Luckily for me, Skip is a wonderful cook so I’m constantly treated to the fruits of his labours in every corner of the world we visit.  

    Cambodian cooking class

    Taking a cooking class in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

  2. You’re at your favourite eatery with three companions (fictional, living or dead).  Where (and when!) are you, and who are you with? It’s hard to pick one so I’d go for a place with a great wow factor – Sirocco in Bangkok, which is the world’s highest alfresco restaurant and overlooks the sparkling lights of this incredible city from 63 floors up. My companions would be the razor-sharp witty comedian, Eddie Izzard along with Robin Williams and Dr. Brian Weiss (author of Many Minds Many Masters) — all of whom would provide fascinating conversation.
  3. What are your favourite foods?  If I were to fill a table with my favourite items, it would include the following: scallops, avocado, pistachios, oysters, sushi, portabella mushrooms, hazelnut cake and anything that contains truffles or truffle oil.    Ed.’s note: I love dipping perfectly made French fries into truffled ketchup … drooling now ….
  4. Is there anything that you’d never eat? What is it and why?  When we lived in Cambodia, we ate some weird things but there was one particular item I never considered (and never would): fertilised duck embryos. You can see the underdeveloped chick inside the shell and Cambodians find them to be a delicacy. To me, it sounds disgusting. Oh, and I’d also never entertain the thought of eating (or going anywhere near) the Chinese delicacy of live monkey brains. Anything that’s still living is not on my repertoire of must-have dishes.    Ed.’s note: Completely agreed, Gabrielle! I’ve become a lot more adventurous in my eating, but these two items would be impossible for me. 
  5. What do you crave but can’t get whilst on the road?  How do you satisfy the craving?  There’s nothing we can’t get that we want to eat when we’re travelling. We prefer to experience local food, find yummy treasures hidden in markets and discover new dishes that we’d never heard of.   Having said that, one of my food weaknesses happens to be truffles (or anything that smells or looks like a truffle). I am blessed in being married to a man who manages to find truffle oil on the road and have a bottle packed in my suitcase that has been replenished in England, Spain and Italy. 

    Making chocolates in Peru, photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

    Making chocolates in Ollantaytambo, Peru, photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

  6. What food are you embarrassed to admit you like to eat?  Pretty much anything sweet. I’ll always indulge in a donut or dig into a sugary snack, even if it’s hanging on a hook in a plastic packet in a supermarket.  Ed.’s note: that’s not so embarrassing! Or at least I hope it’s not or I might be in trouble ….
  7. What / where do you dream of eating, but haven’t yet had the pleasure?  My dream isn’t of something I haven’t eaten (as there’s nothing that I crave) but more a dream from my past. One of my favourite food memories is eating salzburger nockerl when I was in Austria many years ago and I can still taste it when I think of it. I remember it having the texture of a warm fluffy cloud which dissolved in my mouth in a flurry of sugared soufflé mingled with sweet meringue and vanilla. My dream consists of my eating it and having it taste exactly as it did in my memory.    Ed.’s note: I think this might have just jumped to the top my dream eating list.
  8. Strangest meal?  A couple come to mind. One was when I was travelling with my colleagues in Cambodia and we stopped for lunch on the side of a river in a small Cambodian village where they served snake. It was actually pretty good. Crispy on the outside, rather like a roast chicken.    The other was also in Cambodia when I decided to taste tarantula. It was a bit like eating softshell crab. The thorax was chunky like a brownie and the legs were crisp and crunchy. It happened to come with a delicious spicy sauce which disguised any other flavours that may have been lurking within.    Ed.’s note:  “Chunky like a brownie”?! Wow — now THAT’s vivid food writing!! 

    Cambodian meal; photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

    Eating with Cambodian friends in Cambodia; photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

  9. Ever had food poisoning while traveling? Any advice to share?  Since I was raised in the Persian Gulf and grew up eating some strange and not always sanitary foods, I’m blessed in having an immunity to almost everything and a cast iron stomach that can handle a lot. During our time in Cambodia, I only had one tummy bug in more than three years, while Skip was constantly sick with one stomach upset or another.     When we went to India we were particularly cautious since almost everyone we knew got sick when they went there. We used hand sanitizer relentlessly and made every effort to eat in “safe” looking places. It worked in that neither of us had any stomach sickness. But Skip caught malaria!
  10. Have you fallen so much in love with a foreign dish that you learned to make it at home? What’s the story?  Since Skip’s the cook in our family, he has been known to chat up chefs all over the world so he could get recipes — or he’d figure out how to make them himself (successfully, I might add). Most of those dishes are from Southeast Asia and his (and my) favourites include an eggplant and pineapple dish which is sautéed with chiles, and a delicious Thai curry made from scratch with all local ingredients.    Ed.’s note:  Ummmmm…. where are you now, and can I come over for dinner? 

    Eating at a roadside restaurant in Burma; photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

    Eating at a roadside restaurant in Burma; photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

  11. What’d the first thing you eat after returning home from a long trip?  I can’t answer this question as I don’t have a “home” to return to. We sold our house in the U.S. before we started travelling in 2010 and are now house-sitting around Europe.    However, I still consider England my emotional home and, when I go there (to housesit or visit my mum), the first place I head is a bakery. English cream cakes and scones have a special place in my heart (and stomach): chocolate covered eclairs oozing with fluffy cream, meringues stuffed with clotted cream and profiteroles made from soft choux pastry dusted with chocolate — there’s not one I wouldn’t devour in an instant.
  12. Favourite foreign ingredient you wish your home supermarket carried?  Again not relevant since I don’t have a home, but I always seek out truffle oil in any country. Southeast Asian ingredients are also important since we like to make Asian dishes and it’s usually hard to find good lemongrass or makrut lime leaves.
  13. Country / city where you’ve found the best food? Details please so we can check it out too!  Italy always wins, hands down (with Thailand a close second).   This spring, we spent five weeks in San Casciano, a little town outside Florence, and discovered the fresh pasta shop on Via Roma in the middle of the village. Every other day, we’d stroll down there, point to the pasta we wanted and watch the shop owner cutting it to order. To make it even better, a serving for both of us always cost less than US$2.    Everywhere we ate in this town (as well as in every other surrounding town) was bursting with flavour and freshness. And the pastries were also among the best anywhere. In this region, we discovered, a croissant is not just a croissant. It’s either glazed with sugar, filled with chocolate or stuffed with fresh cream.
  14. Country / city where you’ve found the worst? What made it so awful?  I wasn’t crazy about the food in Ecuador, particularly in Cuenca which we didn’t much care for as a city. Since I’m a vegetarian and South American cuisine is very meat-heavy (to say nothing of the poor guinea pig which is a regional specialty), there wasn’t a lot which appealed to me and I soon grew tired of rice and beans.

    The author is Thailand; photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

    The author sipping a fresh coconut in Bangkok, Thailand; photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

  15. What are your favourite markets for a) eating b) finding unusual things and c) for photography?  For finding unusual things, I’d have to pick the chaotic markets of Southeast Asia and in particular Chatuchak Market [JJ Market] in Bangkok, where 15,000 booths (400 of which sell food) offer everything from Thai hill-tribe outfits to fluffy puppies to som tam (papaya salad), coconut ice cream and pad Thai, all at dirt-cheap prices. Chatuchak would probably also get my photography award — not just for the food but for the variety of people you see eating, and buying, the food. From tiny brown-eyed children sitting in the dirt slurping mango ice-cream to elderly wrinkled men hungrily scooping noodles into their mouths and beautiful young Thai women, draped in silk, giggling with their friends as they nibble on chicken satay sticks – it’s all quite entrancing.       When it comes to markets for eating, I adore the travelling food markets that go from small village to small village in France. More varieties of cheese than you can imagine, fresh produce that has just been picked, juicy ripe fruit, multiple types of olives, handmade crepes, cheap local wines and (need I mention it again) truffles.    Last year, we were lucky enough to be near Carcassonne (in the Languedoc-Roussillon region) where there was a local market, specially held for the launch of the truffle. It only happens for a short period once each year and all the local truffle purveyors come out in force to display their best treasures to an eager crowd who rush the tables when the town mayor blows his horn at 11am to open the market. It’s an amazing scene which is mostly populated by locals and I’ve never seen anything quite like the mad rush to get the best truffle of the day from the rotund farmers proudly displaying their wares. 

    A market in France; photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

    Sampling olives in a French market; photo courtesy of Gabrielle Yetter

  16. If money were no object, where (and what) would you eat?  It’s not about the money for me. It’s about the experience. Some of my most wonderful food memories come from Phnom Penh’s Chinese Noodle House and I always salivate when I think of their piping hot green beans tossed in spicy oil with garlic and mushrooms (for $US1.50). On the other extreme, I adored the risotto served in Siena’s Antica Osteria Da Divo restaurant where our waiter wheeled an enormous wheel of Parmesan cheese to our table filled with risotto and stirred the cheese into it as it cooked then shaved fresh truffles over the top.
  17. Do you have any food regrets?  Not a thing comes to mind.
  18. If you could invent any ice cream flavour, what would it be? (yes, I am looking for ideas to add to my ice cream repertoire!)  I discovered a type of candy in Spain that consisted of tiny pieces of rice crispies covered in milk chocolate so I’d mix those into vanilla ice cream with swirls of warm caramel running through it.
  19. What do you love and hate about food writing (yours and/or in general)?  As a food writer, I love being able to take a step back from what I’m eating (figuratively) and spend time thinking about what dishes are made of and where they come from. That’s also one of the things I happen to dislike as I’m not able to be completely immersed in what I eat when I need to write about it (figuratively speaking) since I know I have to be objective.    In other people’s writing, I love it when I can taste and picture a dish through words, without even seeing it. What I dislike is when a writer is pretentious instead of being real with a reader (using terms that aren’t easily recognizable or trying to pull one over the reader in assuming they know more about food than he or she actually does).
  20. You’re having surgery tomorrow and there’s a reasonable chance you’ll lose your ability to taste (oh the horrors!).  What would you choose as, essentially, your last meal?  I’d begin with an appetizer of pan-seared diver sea scallops in the shell, followed by a plate of fresh fettuccine from San Casciano drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, a little salt and pepper and shaved white truffles. Alongside would be a small arugula salad with lots of avocado and a few slivers of sun-dried tomato. The meal would be accompanied by a few glasses of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and I’d end with a slice of hazelnut gateau drizzled with fresh cream and a whisper of warm caramel sauce. just-go-1 - Copy
Gabrielle Yetter is a writer who loves to travel and a traveller who loves to eat. British by birth, she grew up in Bahrain and lived in South Africa where she worked as a journalist. After moving to the U.S., she owned a dining guide in San Diego and worked for a global newswire service in San Francisco, Boston and London. She is now house-sitting throughout Europe with her husband, Skip, and the couple has just released their new book — Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure about people who moved outside their comfort zones and discovered new ways of experiencing life (available in paperback and e-book; the link above takes you to Amazon).  In 2010, Gabrielle moved to Phnom Penh with Skip where she volunteered and wrote two books – The Sweet Tastes of Cambodia, about traditional Cambodian desserts and The Definitive Guide to Moving to Southeast Asia: Cambodia.  Follow her on Twitter @Gabster2 and like her Facebook page TheMeanderthals.

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