Shiso Delicious

Sara Kiyo Popowa is a London-based photographer, author and influencer on a mission to inspire people with her Japanese-inspired plant based recipes and her approach to low-waste living. She created the instagram account @SHISODELICIOUS which evolved into a website, full time job and book Bento Power: Brilliantly Balanced Lunchbox Recipes. Bento Power is full of colourful, mostly vegan recipes and tips on how to cook more resourcefully.

One of the reasons we fell for Sara's style is colour. If you are reading this, we guess you are a fan too. Natural colour can be so vibrant and refreshing, we take a lot of it as day to day inspiration but maybe don't think about it as ingredients when we cook - and this is a whole new world of satisfaction. Sara even has a colour chart (see below) about the types of food and emotions they balance to. It's safe to say we were delighted to pick her brain...

You were born and brought up in Sweden, with Japanese and Bulgarian roots, studying in Japan before settling in London - that is one incredible mix. How has this impacted your cooking and style?

Haha yes I'm pretty mixed up! Different cuisines work for different parts of of my daily life I suppose. The comfort food I crave is what my Bulgarian grandparents cooked and fed us as kids: hearty tomato and pepper based dishes, paprika, mint flavours, rich savoury cheesy pastries. For hot, veggie-filled meals that are quick to make the Asian kitchen is my go to, as well as for packed lunches of course. Having grown up in Sweden anything creamy (as long as it's not actual cream!), yogurty or fermented is on my staples list, plus rye breads and oats of course.

In terms of style, both Sweden and Japan has this balance of functionality and aesthetics which is part of how I function too. I like what I create to have a 'use', or purpose. It makes me happy when the aesthetic, design or method of something, whether its a dish or stop motion animation, is led by this sense of usefulness.

Bento Power was originally made up to rescue you and your husband from boring lunch options - what was your pet hate as a lunch and what is your favourite lunch recipe at the moment?

Hah, well I've only really worked in an office for a few weeks and I was shocked to see what people ate for lunch. A sea of tubs, packets and wrappers from the nearby supermarket containing pretty lifeless food filled the desks at lunchtime. When I met my husband I was surprised to see that even though he was sporty and fit he was having lunch out 4-5 times a week. I needed to save him!!
Favourite lunch recipe at the moment is different variations of a chickpea 'tuna egg' salady thing. I eat this on brown rice with other bits and pieces, or just spoon it in on it's own, or on toast – yum. The recipe is pretty simple, smash up some chickpeas, mix in chopped up herbs, capers, dijon, black pepper, maybe some white miso or bullion powder, lemon juice plus some oily ingredient, olive oil (simplest) or vegan mayo.

When did food take over and become a focus in your life - was there a specific moment you knew it was a route you wanted to follow?

I was always into food and before Shiso Delicious, I did graphic design for a few health food companies (including The Raw Chocolate Company) and worked in health food shops and restaurants too. But when I combined food with art, my first passion, and put it on social media, the pieces fell into place.

You are an inspiration to a lot of people (Sara's instagram really is a place of wonder - if you don't already know it, check it out here), but what is inspiring you most at the moment?

My #3monthsofminimalplastic journey. Using my creative expression to relay a message that may actually inspire people to make small (or big!) changes in their daily lives is thrilling. Seeing the response really motivates and inspires me. Part of what inspires me with the minimal plastic challenge is working out ways of creating within its restrictions – how do I make something delicious and nourishing, and simple, with the food I CAN get? Love it.

The world of food and our choices have a huge environmental impact, if everyone was to change one thing in their routine, what would you like them to do?

Stop buying water in bottles. This is honestly such a ripoff – both for us and for our environment. If that's too easy, start taking your own cup (I use an old fashioned enamel mug) to gigs, shows, even to your public library – anywhere where drinks are sold in plastic cups. If everyone did those two things – wow.

'Extracts from Bento Power: Brilliantly Balanced Lunchbox Recipes. Illustrations by Before Breakfast Design and Sara Kiyo Popowa'

'Extracts from Bento Power: Brilliantly Balanced Lunchbox Recipes. Illustrations by Before Breakfast Design and Sara Kiyo Popowa'

Sophie Dunster