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Q&A with Tastemaker Alison Roman

A few questions

Alison Roman is a celebrated food contributor for The New York Times and a queen of quips who finds travels "insanely inspiring" for her cooking. Now she's going on her first trip to Vietnam – with us. So we sat down to chat about Vietnam, travel and the glorious smell of fresh laundry.


What’s your favorite food you have to convince people to try?

Constantly it’s anchovies. Which is annoying, because they’re in a lot of food you don’t think they’re in. I think the idea of small, salted cured fish really freaks people out. The amount of times I’ve cooked for people that I’ve snuck them into a dish is like a million times. And they’re going “this is so delicious.”


What’s your favorite go-to comfort food?

It’s absolutely pizza. In any form, high-brow pizza, low-brow pizza, expensive pizza, cheap pizza. Sometimes I’ll get a whole pizza for myself and I can’t eat it, so I freeze it and reheat it. Pizza in any form is probably the food that makes me feel the best on the inside. At least emotionally speaking.


Let’s talk about smells. What’s your favorite smell?

I love the smell of laundry. Which is tragic because I’m actually allergic to laundry detergent. But when I walk by a place that’s doing laundry, it does it for me – because it’s really amazing. And second to that would probably have to be… uh… I feel to pick one thing in the food world would be really limiting. A perfect peach is great but so is raw garlic to me. And also a really fresh sea scallop. But that feels a little cheesy, so I’m going to go with laundry.


You get “insanely inspired” by travel - how so?

I’ve never looked at a dried chili the same way after traveling in Mexico. It kind of ruins you, but it also encourages you to find better ingredients, but also to understand that some things are best to be enjoyed in the places you find them. There’s lots of recipes I’ve tried to recreate from other countries, and you just can’t. Because the ingredients you find there are special and unique and that’s what makes traveling so interesting. If we could bring everything from every other place to where we live, what would be the point of traveling?


What excites you about Vietnam?

Vietnam has been on my list of places to go for a really long time. And it’s not just because of the food but their use of ingredients that I personally love cooking with. They’re big on herbs and lots of really fresh citrus, and really clean flavors. And the fact that it’s so different, from north to south, and how the food in one city is so radically different than the food in another city. I’m really looking forward to figuring that out.


Banh xeo — why do you like these things?

Vietnamese rice crepe is one of my favorite things I’ve ever eaten. The first time I had it was at a restaurant called Tu Lan in San Francisco. It was, like, 13 years ago when I lived there. I remember thinking, “Oh my god, this is the most delicious thing I’ve had in my life.” It’s a very crispy, thin crepe. And they fry it. It gets really really crispy and they fill it with bean sprouts, and chopped shrimp and sometimes ground pork… It comes with lettuce and herbs and fish sauce. You cut it and wrap it in the lettuce and throw a little mint leaf or basil in there, and it’s almost like a little lettuce wrap or taco. It’s so good. I’m obsessed with it.

Travel to Vietnam with Alison Roman

March 3-10, 2019
We’re thrilled to be going with Alison on a food-filled, immersive journey to all regions of Vietnam. We’ll see why it’s really street-food heaven, on walking food tours of Hanoi and Hoi An, and a wild scooter tasting tour of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We’ll kayak past rice villages, wander ancient streets and meet graffiti artists of the capital, and learn to cook in a modern kitchen in Saigon.

Get more information here. But hurry, this single-departure will sell out soon.