Saffron and on wings of are the keywords in this food blog’s name: The emblematic saffron—as so many of those other evocative spices like Ceylonese cinnamon, to mention but one—wings me away back to the late Sixties and mid Seventies when I lived in Sri Lanka (and yes, in those days it was really still called Ceylon!) and in Nepal as a child, visiting India occasionally with my parents and brother. I vividly remember Colombo and Kathmandu. Lush heat and green humidity and an incredible amount of noise; cows, dogs, crows; rickety rickshaws, cars (like the Morris Minor Traveller Woody), lorries squeezing along; and of course, millions of men, women and children. I remember a lot of smiles as well as the occasional hard stare.
Later we moved to Saudi Arabia—what a difference—with its enticing and yet aloof spice, gold and carpet souks. And then, in the early Eighties, back to Namibia, where I was born in 1963. That sheer endless expanse of veld and blue skies, baboons gorging themselves on the water from the pool in the garden, horrible hayfever, and frequent BBQ’s (called braais there) with tons of lamb chops marinated in fiery chutney, farm sausages spiced with cardamom and orange peel and baguette dripping with hot garlicky butter. And in the holidays off to Cape Town and Stellenbosch where we’d feast on traditional Cape Malay delights.
That sheer culinary bliss, those Lankan, Nepalese or Punjabi curries, those Capetonian bredies, bobotie and blatjang trigger that second reference in the blog’s name: on wings of in the sense of a phantasmagorical journey far away! As a young boy a big plate of Spaghetti Bolognaise (never Bolognese!) and a cucumber salad, slippery and cool, somewhere in a flat in downtown Colombo. The memory of a piping hot Kabuli nan with toasted nuts, roasted nigella, sesame and fennel seeds as a regular treat in a Kathmandu restaurant on Freak Street.
Waterblommetjies bredie, a stew made from mutton, sorrel and the eponymous crunchy aquatic flowers accompanied by steaming turmeric rice with raisins and almonds eaten al fresco under Cape oak trees. Or at a much later point in time, now in Girona, Catalonia: a starter of shelled broad beans with bitter-juicy olive oil and strips of fresh mint, followed by arròs negre, a soupy paella blackened—and delicately flavoured—by cuttle fish ink, sometimes also called „dirty rice“.
I come from a family working in the food business: My Swiss mother from the Lake of Four Cantons—for whom in her youth polenta was an every day dish when north of the Alps barely anyone had ever heard of the concept—and my German father who taught at hotel management schools in Asia. They both ran a successful restaurant in Windhoek quite fittingly called "Gourmet's Inn". When we weren’t at the restaurant, we would often visit other places to eat out or we'd be talking food. Food was and firmly has remained a passion, possibly an obsession!
At the moment, I live in the Belgian capital of Brussels and in Cologne, Germany. I'm therefore priviledged to live in two cities richly steeped in tradition: Cologne founded 2000 year ago by the Romans—no mean epicureans themselves—the largest metropolis in medieval Europe north of the Alps, and fourth largest city in Germany today. And in Brussels, the Burgundian hub, Habsburgian residence, melting pot of Flemish and Walloon culture, European capital.
Living in Germany or briefly in the US as a student, where fine food was not something to be taken for granted, there was only one remedy: do it yourself. And, as time flies, I’ve now been cooking for the past thirty years. And as it turnes out—quite unintentionally!—I have been focussing mainly on food traditionally prepared in that geographic belt that very loosly links the Maghreb, Mediterranean and the Middle East via Turkey and Iran with Pakistan and India.
The features in this blog will focus on the food cooked in this area also called the Fertile Crescent—and beyond. There definately will be forages into other areas like for instance South Africa, Germany or France and Belgium, yet on the whole I intend to concentrate on that first and ancient and utterly delicious culinary heritage.
The Roman poet Virgil wrote the following lines over the Greek deity Iris:
In English that means more or less:
Iris—the personification of the rainbow—is represented as a beautiful young woman with golden wings, hence the translation "on wings of saffron" with which she flies from one end of the world to the other.
As a messenger of the gods she is the link between the divine and the mundane. In Greek mythology it was thought that Iris who was also one of the Godesses of the skies and seas, and that she could refill empty clouds with sea-water–her rainbow was a kind of celestial water-hose!–so that the clouds could rain over the dry lands.
Shakespeare too knew the Greek myths and classical scripts, and the mention of "wings of saffron" probably must have sounded as exotic in, say 1611 as it does today. In his play The Tempest, Shakespeare integrates a masque into the main action and in this masque, Iris appears. With the tips of her saffron-coloured wings she brings about morning dew and therefore makes possible a nourishing ground mist over the quintessentially English landscape:
Iris with her saffron wings, who covers continents in a flash and thereby unites them; who brings the ordinary and the extraordinary into harmony; and who proves to be fertile and beneficial to man and nature—may this very Iris be a godsend for this undertaking too: Welcome, many-coloured messanger on wings of saffron!
Why have you chosen not to write about, say Hunan or Yucatecán food?
Because Fuchsia Dunlop respectively Diana Kennedy have already done so–and with such flair. Well, to be quite honest, that's not the reason. I don't write about the foods of those regions because I'm not so familiar with their culinary concepts: the traditions, ingredients, sights, tastes, scents, colours. It's a whole different culinary cosmos and I do not really feel at home in it.
How do you arrive at a new post?
Things I see, that I then associate with other things, analyse and finally bring together and integrate: Those are often inspirational sources which eventually lead to a blog post. This could be a walk over the weekend market on Place Flagey in Brussels. Or discovering a spice new to me like the cinnamon bud. Or an inspirational book like Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day. This process frequently happens in exchange with my partner Matthias, with whom I brainstorm and whose creative ideas are part and parcel of the end product.
Who is the photographer and which camera do you use?
Well, a large part of the photos are shot by my partner Matthias. Yet I also take pictures, though cooking is more my forte. In Cologne, we mainly use a Nikon D600 (lens: AF-S VR Micro Nikkor 105 mm/2.8G IF-ED) and in Brussels I use a Leica D-LUX 5.
May I make use of your photos?
All photos, the conceptual layout and design of the blog "on wings of saffron" are mine. Therefore I'm sorry, you may not reuse any of it without my prior explicit permission in writing.
If however, you would like to send a friend an e-mail mentioning my blog, I'd be thrilled. If that is the case–i.e. a non-commercial, non-advertising, non-publishing etc. distribution–please may I kindly ask you to use one photo only and to be sure to provide a permanent link to my entry at www.onwingsofsaffron.com. Thank you!
In all other cases, i.e. if you want to reuse the copyrighted photographic image in any profit-orientated way, you can contact me beforehand at contact (a) onwingsofsaffron dot com.
Who is responsible for those ghastly typos, the awkward grammar and erratic punctuation?
I am terribly sorry. What can I say? I work fulltime. Then in my spare time, I think of new recipes and how possibly I could make them interesting; sometimes I do research, sometimes I don't. I then buy the ingredients and subsequently cook what I intend to write about. If I'm satisfied with the end product, photos are shot (often multiple sessions) and then edited. Finally, I start writing in either English or German and then translate everything myself into the other language. After that I post it on my blog. Also, I do want to read the comments and answer them. In the end, I sometimes make silly mistakes.
Could you please recommend a good restaurant in Cologne or Brussels?
Unfortunately not, as we don't go out for a meal that often. Too busy with the blog; definitively ought to eat out more in the future…