NEW YORK, March 20 — When it comes to French cooking, the Caribbean and East Asia usually don’t spring to mind. But the cultural remnants of France’s colonial empire still reveal themselves in many intriguing ways.
In her latest book, Provence to Pondicherry: Recipes from France and Faraway, the food writer and cookbook author Tessa Kiros takes readers through Provence, Guadeloupe and Vietnam, and then from Pondicherry, India, to La Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean, and finally to Normandy, France.
Kiros said it was important to her to understand the food origins of a country, given the French influences that were infused in all the places on her itinerary.
“I like to see what the land has produced and what the people have made with their hands,” she said. “I want to learn about the traditions that have been passed down."
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Kiros.
Q: How did you become a food writer?
A: I started writing my first book, Twelve: A Tuscan Cook Book, after the birth of my second daughter. I was always collecting things and keeping journals; it was just a collection of things that I really loved in one place. My first book was essentially a journal of my time in Tuscany, Italy. This has been going on for 20-plus years.
Q: What are some of your favourite childhood culinary memories?
A: I was born in London; my mother is from Finland and my father is Greek-Cypriot. However, I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. I think they have wonderful meat in South Africa. We always used to go out and get sticky ribs. They have great dried meat — the biltong — which is like a beef jerky.
Q: Where are some places you would like to revisit?
A: I was so impressed with Vietnam. I loved India and would love to go back to Mexico. La Réunion was incredible, in terms of nature. One of the most exciting feelings is when a plane touches down and you need to get out and start from absolutely nothing.
Q: How did you craft such an array of French and French-inflected foods?
A: In a place like Guadeloupe, there are African people standing on this beautiful Caribbean beach holding baguettes and eating blood sausage like boudin noir. And then you start thinking, how did this food get here? That is what I was looking for. In Guadeloupe, you have an incredible mixture of things: The French that came and stayed, and a mix of things from Africa and India.
Q: How has food affected your family life?
A: I love the concept of families cooking together and learning about things that have been passed down for generations. I like to wake up on Christmas morning and show my children how to make cinnamon cardamom buns.
Q: How long did it take for you to write this book?
A: Roughly two years. After all the travel, then I had to make sense of the recipes and put them together in a tangible way for readers.
Q: Of all the recipes in the book, what are some of your favourites?
A: I was thrilled with the sacristains, which are pastry twists with almonds. I loved the iced coconut coffee, banh mi and barbecued lemon grass pork in the Vietnam section. I tried to squeeze in the recipes that I loved because I want to be able to refer to them. In Normandy, the pots de crème au caramel, a custard, and La Teurgoule Normande, a regional rice pudding, come to mind. I had to look deeper to find the French thread in India. Indian food is so strong with the flavours and spices, so there is no way to really mix the recipes. I was told that the food in Pondicherry was spiced down a little bit, and a lot of coconut milk was added to the curry because it was too hot for the French people. So there is a lot more subtlety. — The New York Times