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Interview with Anissa Helou (Part Four)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/08/16


Anissa Helou is a Chef, Cooking Instructor, Culinary Researcher, Food Consultant, Food Writer, Middle Eastern Cuisine, and a Writer. Her new book is entitled Feast: Food of the Islamic World. Her Instagram material can be seen here. She discusses: being bugged by East/West differences; favorite Eastern foods; favorite Western foods; A Taste of Syria, In Exile (2014), diversity in the culinary world; the mix of food and culture; how nations lose their culture; collaborative and solo projects; recommended authors; and reaching out to her.

Keywords: Anissa Helou, chef, cooking, culinary arts, food, Middle Eastern, writer.

Interview with Anissa Helou: Chef; Cooking Instructor; Culinary Researcher; Food Consultant; Food Writer, Middle Eastern Cuisine; Writer (Part Four)[1],[2],[3]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In a presentation on making Tabbouleh, you described that the way Western people prepare Tabbouleh bothers you. You joked, “The one thing that really bugs me about the way Western people make Tabbouleh is the kind of bulgur they use and how much of it they use. It really gets me. (Laughs)”[4] What other East/West differences in preparation “bug” you?

Anissa Helou: Turning names of dishes into generic terms as is the case with hommus.

2. Jacobsen: What are your three favorite Eastern foods?

Helou: Noodles, dumplings and sushi.

3. Jacobsen: What are your three favorite Western foods?

Helou: Pasta, steak and mille feuille.

4. Jacobsen: In A Taste of Syria, In Exile (2014), you, within the culinary expertise and with references to the World Food Programme, personalized the statistics of the situation into individuals.[5] For instance, you write:

Rabab lives with her teenage son and daughter in a large room in an abandoned shopping mall, near Tripoli in north Lebanon, alongside 150 other Syrian families. Some, like her, paid rent while others squatted. The complex looks as though it was built in the 1960s, with generous spaces and wide walkways, across which dozens of children run around, seemingly oblivious to their families’ tragic circumstances.

Rabab’s room is a haven amidst the chaos, neat and calm with a curtain dividing her living space from the kitchen. Long benches are against two walls and a modern Persian carpet covers the floor. There’s TV and an Internet connection, and a revolutionary flag to remind her of home. Rabab invited me to lunch as soon as I explained over the telephone my interest in finding out how the displacement of Syrian women was affecting the way they fed their families and whether they still cooked the same way they did back home…

…Rabab was peeling small aubergines, in stripes leaving some peel on, before cutting them in half, lengthways. She then made a slit in the middle of the fat part of each half, explaining that this helped them cook through. She cooked potatoes every day and made sure to buy her supply at the beginning of the month to avoid any shortage. She, and almost all of the refugees, relied on assistance from World Food Programme to buy their food. Initially, the programme distributed food parcels but these only contained dried goods and so they developed a credit card system redeemable in select shops (320 throughout Lebanon), with an allowance of $30 per person per month. Laure Chadraoui, the programme’s senior communication officer, explained that the $1 a day was calculated to provide the necessary 2200 calories a person needs for good nutrition…

…Sitting with Rabab, sharing her thrifty food, brought back memories of my many trips to Syria, in particular those days I spent in Aleppo, getting lost in the labyrinthine lanes of the medieval souks that are mostly destroyed now, stopping to talk to ladies like her, or Safia, or Umm Ahmad. The hospitality was the same but the food wasn’t; Syria’s rich culinary heritage is in danger of being lost like much else in this beautiful country.[6]

An interesting idea to bring together international organizations, culinary expertise, basic necessities such as food, statistics, and individual stories to shed light onto areas of need in the world, that is, Syria. What is the importance of diversity in the international culinary world?

Helou: It is very important to have diverse voices be heard so that people can find out more about different culinary cultures, how they develop, whether they are at risk because of conflicts and so on.

5. Jacobsen: How do culture and food mix?

Helou: Food is culture. It is a wonderful way to get to know a country, its people, their customs, history, social lives, religious restrictions, and so many other aspects of a country and its people. For me travelling for food is the best way to get to know a country as most people open up as soon as you talk about food, far more than if you were to talk about art or music. Almost all people like food and know a certain amount about it whereas with other aspects of culture, the number of people who read or listen to music or go to exhibitions is far more limited.

6. Jacobsen: What other nations or cities seem likely to lose their culture?

Helou: Any nation that experiences prolonged conflict or aggression.

7. Jacobsen: Any upcoming collaborative projects?

Helou: Feast, Food of the Islamic World was an epic undertaking and it is just published now. I think I will take it easy for a while before I think about the next project.

8. Jacobsen: Any upcoming solo projects?

Helou: See 7.

9. Jacobsen: Any recommended authors?

Helou: Nevin Halici for Turkish food, Zette Guinaudeau Franc for Moroccan, Charles Perry for medieval Arabic Cookery, and Mary Taylor Simeti for Sicilian.

10. Jacobsen: For those with an interest in further personal research into you, they can contact you, read the blog, Twitter, or visit the personal/professional website.[7],[8],[9],[10] Any other means of further research into you?

Helou: My latest and most favorite way to communicate online nowadays is Instagram and that is where people will find me traveling, eating, working and generally enjoying life.

11. Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Anissa Helou.


  1. [anissa Helou]. (2015, January 15). anissa making tabbouleh 08. Retrieved from
  2. [AP Archive]. (2015, August 3). Egyptian street food arrives in London. Retrieved from
  3. [Canongate Books]. (2014, September 3). Anissa Helou’s Middle Eastern Meatballs. Retrieved from
  4. [Canongate Books]. (2014, March 8). Chefs who inspired Signe Johansen and Anissa Helou to cook. Retrieved from
  5. [discoverspice]. (2013, March 30). Anissa Helou – art, passion and the Mediterranean!. Retrieved from
  6. [Firehorse Showreel]. (2012, August 6). El Chef Yaktachef – Episode 9. Retrieved from
  7. [QatarUK2013]. (2013, November 26). Evenings with Aisha Al-Tamimi and Anissa Helou: Dishes from Qatar. Retrieved from
  8. [SallyB2]. (2013, February 20). Anissa Helou On Koshari, And The Rise Of Middle-Eastern Cuisine In London. Retrieved from
  9. [sbsarabicvideo’s channel]. (2010, October 26). Karabij and Natif with Anissa Helou. Retrieved from
  10. [Sharjah Book Fair]. (2011, December 26). Anissa Helou at Sharjah Book Fair 2011.wmv. Retrieved from
  11. Arabian Business. (2013). Anissa Helou. Retrieved from
  12. Arabian Business. (2013). Anissa Helou. Retrieved from
  13. Christie’s. (2016). Christie’s. Retrieved from
  14. Derhally, M.A. (2013, May 2). Anissa Helou interview: Accidental Cook. Retrieved from
  15. Helou, A. (2016). Anissa Helou. Retrieved from
  16. Helou, A. (2014, June 8). A Taste of Syria, In Exile. Retrieved from
  17. Helou, A. (2014, May 24). MOVE OVER BROCCOLI, CAULIFLOWER IS THE NEWEST SUPERFOOD. Retrieved from
  18. Hodeib, M. (2014, Septemer 24). Anissa Helou: the elegant chef. Retrieved from
  19. Jalil, X. (2016, February 9). Women to take centre stage at LLF 2016. Retrieved from
  20. Martha Stewart. (2016). Cooking Turkish Meat Bread with Lamb. Retrieved from
  21. Martha Stewart. (2016). Moroccan-Style Stuff Bread. Retrieved from
  22. O’Sullivan, E. (2014, May 3). Anissa Helou’s Laster Supper. Retrieved from
  23. Robinson, W. (2014, October 03). Chef Anissa Helou’s Expert Tips on What to Do in Abu Dhabi. Retrieved from
  24. Sarfraz, E. (2016, February 21). All about freedom of expression. Retrieved from
  25. Shaukat, A. (2016, February 22). Garnish cooking with research, experiment. Retrieved from
  26. The World Bank. (2016). Middle East and North Africa. Retrieved from
  27. (2016). @anissahelou. Retrieved from
  28. Wood, S. (2013, October 15). The food writer Anissa Helou on her new cookbook, Levant. Retrieved from
  29. Yang, W. (2014, July 5). First Stop: Anissa Helou’s Istanbul. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Chef; Cooking Instructor; Culinary Researcher; Food Consultant; Food Writer, Middle Eastern Cuisine; Writer.

[2] Individual Publication Date: August 15, 2018:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018:

[3] Photograph courtesy of Anissa Helou.

[4] [anissa Helou]. (2015, January 15). anissa making tabbouleh 08. Retrieved from

[5] Helou, A. (2014, June 8). A Taste of Syria, In Exile. Retrieved from

[6] Helou, A. (2014, June 8). A Taste of Syria, In Exile. Retrieved from

[7] Helou, A. (2016). Contact.

[8] Helou, A. (2016). Blog. Retrieved from

[9] Twitter. (2016). @anissahelou. Retrieved from

[10] Helou, A. (2016). Anissa Helou. Retrieved from


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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