The Daily Meal caught up with chef Susan Feniger to learn about how her travels have influenced her work. Feniger is the co-chef and owner of the critically acclaimed Border Grill Restaurants and Truck (it made was number 39 on this year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list). Along with Mary Sue Milliken (who we’ve also spoken to), she has starred on Food Network’s Too Hot Tamales and Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.
The Daily Meal: What has been your most inspirational food experience while traveling?
Susan Feniger: Everywhere I travel is amazingly inspirational, so that's a very challenging question, but one particular moment in Kerala, India. I spent the day on this small island with a guy we (my friend Alan and myself) met. He took us on his boat to his friend’s home: a small pink house on this island where we spent the whole day.
We started out picking sweet potato leaves, then his neighbor climbed up a tree, picked a coconut while at the same time draining juice from a thick leaf on the palm. He put the juice into a plastic jug that he brought down from the tree along with the coconut. He plugged the plastic jug up for later. I learned how to crack the coconut on this sharp piece of metal in the yard, and then drain that water out into a mug. Then, on another piece of metal (next to a gorgeous parrot), I grated all the coconut for a curry we were going to make.
We went back out to the river where we got a ton of these little tiny mussels for a late-afternoon snack that we sort of dry fried and with a mixture of spicy seasonings and salt. We then ate late afternoon with the yummiest of chai. We made our curry from tapioca root, sweet potato leaves, coconut, so fabulous! The day went on and we were only going to stay for tea in the morning, but ended up leaving about 8 p.m. on the amazing river, filled with food all day long.
TDM: What’s your favorite kitchen souvenir from your travels?
SF: A few things: my potato bhujia maker, my cast-iron talli, and all my stainless steel plates.
TDM: If you could eat your way through one country, which one would it be and why?
SF: Hmmm, too hard to say one. India is definitely one. Well, what I've found even after all these years traveling through India is I'm always totally blown away by the food and how it varies, city to city. I’m also blown away by the warmth of the people. The colors, the visuals, the food on the street make it feel like a very exotic and different world. It's truly a cuisine that continues to fascinate me, even after all these years.
Other contenders would have to include Vietnam, China, Mexico, and Portugal.