My Foodie Life: Saif Adam
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SAIF ADAM & ZOHRA KHAKU
Born in the UK, artist Saif Adam tells us about the food he grew up with and how his music has changed his palate.
I grew up in Essex where there wasn’t much halal food. At home my Mum made a mix of great Iraqi food – marag (curry), keema, dolma, grills and delicious British food. Mum was a real home cook who never wanted us to eat out. If I ever wanted food from fast food stores she would say “I can make it for you at home”. So when I wanted KFC, she made it in the kitchen. Pizza Hut? She can make that too.
When I grew older I experimented more. I found that I didn’t like spicy food and had a really British palate. I really loved a good burger. At university I had all the usual terrible food and it really showed on my skin. I got loads of spots! Straight after university I got into healthy food. I started going to the gym and began looking for nutritious replacements to keep full. I started thinking about protein, carbs and eating healthy.
I signed up to Warner Music in Malaysia in 2014 and that really changed the way I ate. I started exploring spicy food. Malaysian cuisine has a real kick to it and it was all new to me. At first something that was pretty mild for everyone else was too strong for me. I’d be in Indonesia and Malaysia for a month at a time and eat all the great food out there. I loved it. I go for it with spicy food now to the extent that some food now tastes quite plain!
A great experience I had in Malaysia was being hosted by the well-known artist, Hafiz Hamadun. He took me to a restaurant that allows you to choose what meat you want and then make it right there. You pop it on the pan in front of you and start frying it yourself. You then share what you’ve made with the person in front of you. The women in my house love to cook, so I don’t usually get to try my hand at it much; they keep telling me I get in the way! As a bloke who doesn’t cook, this restaurant was quite an experience.
When I was doing the album in Turkey I tried freshly caught and cooked shrimp. The restaurants were right on the shore. You really do taste the difference. When it’s fresh there is no need to any flavouring. The simple taste and texture is brilliant.
The other interesting foodie experience I learnt about was eating with my hands. With some food in Malaysia you can’t eat it with a knife and fork. Again, it was totally new to me. I’m used to eating with cutlery! Now I’m totally comfortable eating with my hands in Malaysia but I wouldn’t do it at home.
Food is an integral part of culture. It’s like looking into new music. If someone talks to you about a new artist you can’t just ignore it and say “I’ll check it out later”. They want your opinion straight away. Just like with music, chefs want to know how you feel about it. Do you like it? What did you think? What can I do to make it better?
Eating plays a huge part in all of my travels. The first thing I hear when I land in a country is ‘What do you want to eat?’. A major plus side when I go abroad: As soon as you land you go to a chaperone’s home. They invite all their family over and you get to share a meal. It reminds me of being back at home. There is something special about home cooked food.
I do sometimes gain weight on tour. When I’m in another country like Malaysia, it’s amazing but if I’m on my own eating out every single day, it takes its toll. My body shuts down and I crave home cooked food. When I travel I sometimes eat fast food. With run of the mill fast food chains your body is used to the bacteria and ingredients in the food. So it’s an easy choice when you’re in an unfamiliar place.
I’m quite experimental with my palate. Even now if I was to go back to Malaysia I’d experiment with more adventurous food. I always try something once. The only issue is that when you tend to really like something abroad, it’s never available in the UK!