Cooking hasn’t been one of my strong points ever, and after getting married to a family whose cuisine was completely different to mine, I was lost. Since most of the dishes prepared in my husband’s home are unique, their recipes were pretty hard to find online as well. That’s when I found Thasneen Ansi’s blog “Cooking with Thas.” Almost all of mother-in-law’s signature recipes, like steamed plaintain cakes and layered crepes, were available to me. I became an ardent fan of the blog, especially because she got down to basics, and included pictures of every step in her cooking process. Not to mention, it immensely helped me in impressing my in-laws.
A Muslim Malayalee born in Trivandrum, Kerala, and now working in Ontario, Thasneen Ansi’s knowledge of Malabar cooking astonished me. With 12,000 fans on her Facebook page, and ranked 17th in the friendsEat list of best food bloggers of 2011, Thasneen is a celebrity in her own right.
In an email interview, I also realized she is down-to-earth and witty. Shared below are excerpts from the interview.
1. What inspired you to start a food blog?
Before starting my current food blog, I had a blog called “Thoughts Unlimited”. Here, I used to scribble down all the thoughts that raced through my mind. However, I found it tough to phrase my thoughts into fancy sentences. I wish I had a sci-fi machine that would automatically compile my thoughts into a beautiful passage. Keep dreaming, right?
It was around that time in 2008, I found myself getting obsessed with cooking and food. I noted down all the recipes on sticky notes and letter pads. Before I knew it, my kitchen drawers were filled with recipe folders. After a few months, it was a mess and I was in need of a place to save my recipes.
In 2009, I finally got some sense and started a food blog, more out of a necessity to keep all my recipes in one place, than anything else.
So what started off as a place to store all my recipes, turned into a passion. Unlike before, my thoughts and my words were in sync when I blogged about sautéing, grilling, baking and frying.
The blog journey that I started in 2009 still continues.
2. Who got you interested in cooking? And whose cooking style is your biggest influence?
Had it not been for the different cuisines, tantalizing flavors and mesmerizing aroma, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with cooking in the first place.
Having born into a foodie family, I grew up having delicious, home-made food daily. When I first started cooking, I imitated my mom’s ways, and tried my best to make my dishes taste just like hers. My mom has always been my first inspiration. But now I have started experimenting, with different cuisines, and I find every good cook unique and inspiring.
3. Are you professionally a chef? If not, do you think it helps that cooking is just a hobby?
I am not a professional chef.
Yes, it definitely helps as I find it very relaxing, and I am not restricted. I have the freedom to cook whatever cuisine I want, and whenever I feel.
4. Since women are “supposed” to cook, it’s easy for it to become a chore. What do you do to ensure it doesn’t become a chore?
There are days when cooking seems therapeutic to me and there are some days when it feels nothing less than a chore. Even after having a heavy dinner, we all wake up starving the next morning; that’s when I wish humans could store food in their bodies for a few days.
I make sure to add variety to my cooking almost every day, that way I feel enthusiastic to experiment and eager to taste the outcome. If I am absolutely uninterested, I don’t force myself to cook; I just dine out. Or, even better, just sweet talk by husband into cooking dinner
5. I know a lot of good cooks who do not cook daily. Do you think it is important to cook for your family on a daily basis? Can we automatically assume that women who maintain a cookery blog, cook sumptuous meals for the family every day?
The bitter truth is that we cannot save food in our body and so we have to eat 3 times a day. A lot of people who are neither food bloggers nor great cooks cook every single day to feed their family. My mom, for example, cooks fresh and delicious food 3 times a day, and I have never heard her complaining.
During weekdays, I cook dinner after I’m back from work. I cook enough so I can take some for lunch the next day. I am not a morning person and so I rely on instant breakfast. During weekends I try to treat my family with a fancy brunch.
Having a food blog doesn’t mean that food bloggers cook sumptuous meals every day; it just means that we dare to experiment with different ingredients. And, of all that, the best ones end up on the blog.
6. Being a Muslim have you faced any hurdles, from the public? Has anyone criticized you for not wearing the hijab or for not being traditional enough?
No, I haven’t faced anything of that sort so far.
7. Do you want to be a professional chef someday?
I wanted to find out what it feels like to cook for a living, so I applied for a job at a local restaurant and was hired. I enjoyed every bit of the training period and dreamt of becoming a professional chef. However, after the first week, I realized it wasn’t for me. It was hectic, extremely stressful and mundane. You stand on your feet all day, take orders and make the same thing over and over again. And, it has to be done the same way every time.
I ended up working there for a month before calling it quits. I did learn a lot of things and I consider it a valuable experience in my life.
8. What inspires you to keep blogging regularly? Where do you get your inspirations from? What are your favorite cuisines?
Cooking and blogging have turned into my passion and an obsession at the same time. If I don’t blog for a few days, I feel lost. My biggest inspiration is that my readers are eagerly waiting to read and try my recipes.
Though I love almost all cuisines, my favorites are Thai, Malabar and Indo Chinese.
9. Does the saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?” still stand a chance in today’s world? Do you think cooking is a way to a man’s heart?
100 %. From my experience, the easiest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Men just love to be pampered with food, they don’t care if it’s healthy or not, they just want it to be greasy and should make their taste buds go wild.
10. Has the fact that you have a food blog led to claims that you are more of an “ideal woman” among your family/friends?
I don’t believe that having a blog makes me ideal. However, I do get great compliments from family and friends who have visited my blog, even though they haven’t tasted my food yet. It’s a great feeling when they claim that they use my blog as their cooking encyclopedia (LOL).
12. What are the biggest challenges you have faced in terms of your blog?
I recently started a Youtube channel, for video blogging about my recipes. But I find it very tasking and quite a challenge. Hopefully I’ll overcome this with time.
13. How has being a Muslim helped your blog? And how has it been a hindrance on your blog?
I have a lot of Malabar and biryani recipes on my blog, which did invite a lot of Muslim crowd to my blog.
I chose to make my blog about food alone. I don’t sauté food and religion together. I am glad that I blog about food, which crosses all barriers of race, color and religion.
14. I have noticed that the web design of your blog is quite interesting; also the photographs look professional. Do you get all this done yourself?
Honestly, haven’t learned anything about photography. Switching to an SLR camera did help me to improve some of the aspects. My man being a techie geek has been a real help with the web design and adding new features to my website.
15. What advice would you like to give to young women, who want to pursue an artistic goal, even when professionally they may not be qualified?
Follow your heart, if you are passionate enough about anything, JUST DO IT. Keep it original and consistency is key, especially in the blogging field.