Tea with Salma Abdelnour of Jasmine and Fire
What is it like to have a fascinating career as a food and travel writer and publish a great novel like Jasmine and Fire: A bittersweet year in Beirut (see my review here)?
Definitely a wild experience, especially if, like Salma Abdelnour, you’re open to eating haggis (sheep’s pluck), lambs brains and all things Japanese. Live vicariously through her in this interview.
How long did it take to write your book? What was the process like?
My publisher gave me exactly one year to write the book—an unbelievably short amount of time! So I made a deal with myself that I would write every single day, whether that was in the morning or midday or late at night. I could write for 10 minutes or 6 hours; it didn’t matter (at least in the beginning), as long as I did some writing.
I didn’t allow myself any excuses for an entire year. That’s how the book came together. Well, that plus lots of coffee and midnight snacks and lots of lots of rewriting and trimming before I felt that the manuscript was ready to send to my editor.
After all the hard work, it’s such a happy feeling to have something concrete to show for it, something I’m proud of.
Although if I were to reread my book again and again, I’d find a million things I wish I’d done better. But I hear that’s the curse of being a published author. You’re never quite satisfied with the finished product—but you’re delighted to hear from readers who’ve connected with it and passed it along to friends.
Is there a new book in the works?
Not one I’m ready to talk about quite yet…
Which countries are emerging as the most creative and nutritious food cultures?
I’m wild about Japan, and I could spend many years there eating my way around every city, village and region in the country. It’s an incredibly innovative food culture, and at the same time it profoundly respects tradition—not to mention that Japan has such fantastic ingredients to work with.
How has travel influenced your personal food philosophy?
I don’t know if I have a food philosophy per se, but I think every place on earth has fascinating stories to tell about its food culture. Even in countries with limited ingredients and a less varied repertoire of traditional recipes, there’s something to be learned about how the local population has fed itself over time. Think about dishes like haggis in Scotland, smoked puffin in Iceland, and fried lamb brains in Lebanon, where I grew up. Every country has dishes that may sound wacky to outsiders, but if you get the chance to travel and eat around with an open mind, you’re bound to find local specialties to fall for–and brag about to friends later!