THE RELUCTANT GOURMET Indian food blogs are clicking globally for giving modern twists to traditional recipes
You need someone who understands you. Someone who knows your local vegetable market has five kinds of desi spinach, but no basil. Who remembers the mouth-puckering flavour of semi-ripe mangoes, straight off the tree, with chilli powder and rock salt. Who knows the recipe of that Bengali dal, aromatic with paanch phoren, you ate from your friend’s tiffin box at school.
Ironically, a complete stranger from across the globe might just be able to help. Google a dish, find an Indian food blog. Find contemporary, healthy and quick versions of traditional recipes. Simple directions, often illustrated with step by step pictures. And read the ‘comments’ section offering inputs from dozens of people with variations and tips.
Pune-based Jyotsna Shahane (Cook’s Cottage), who has almost two million readers from around the world, says she began blogging in April 2005, when there were just two blogs from India online. “There was very little on the net about Indian food. Foodies, both Indian and international, were still looking to identify ingredients; there were no online glossaries in regional languages, people did not have access to regional recipes…”
When she started writing she found herself becoming part of a network of food bloggers from around the world. “I enjoyed the experience of testing, tasting and researching, as well as interacting. I enjoyed the writing: food somehow connects with everything…memories, travel, politics, agriculture, business and art. With interests in so many of these subjects I could write about anything that struck me as being relevant to daily life and it would somehow have a bearing, however tenuous, with food... The responses I received made it all worthwhile.”
Today, she says, “there are hundreds of blogs about Indian food, and they have all added a great deal to our knowledge about our own cuisine, from methods of cooking to local names for ingredients. You have to be pretty good at cooking, writing, photography and the Internet to stand out amongst this huge crowd, forget about the international blogs.”
While 60 per cent of her readers are from India, the rest come from around the world. “Many vegetarians find our cuisine far more inventive than western styles where meat is the main ingredient in any meal. Indian food has entered the mainstream in most countries… I think we have far more self confidence as a nation over our food now.”
Anita of the chic A Mad Tea Party stumbled upon the world of food blogging when she was looking for a recipe in 2006. Stating that the trend really took off in 2009, she says many bloggers tend to be NRIs, and women. “Food has a way of connecting you to your country of birth. Several bright young women who went to the U.S., with husbands on H1 visas, were not allowed to work and blogging was a good way to keep gainfully occupied, while staying in touch with India and things Indian. Also the first thing one misses when living in another country is the food you are brought up on. The taste buds light up at the thought of a long-forgotten vada pav or a vangi bhaat. They had the time and took the trouble to find out all the details of our varied cuisine through letters to mom and online forums about food.”
Bangalore-based Nandita Iyer runs Saffron Trail, a healthy vegetarian cooking blog, which she began in 2006, “very hesitantly, as an online diary of the stuff I cook…”A doctor and nutritionist, she writes on a variety of topics, discussing everything from “how many calories is your roti?” to how to make perfect filter coffee. She also maintains Tambrahmragecooks, a record of old recipes such as vatthal kuzhambu, arachu vitta Sambar and urulai podimaas. Nandita says her blog is representative of what she likes “to cook and eat, which is light and healthy.” With 5000 page views per day, her blog draws visitors from mostly the U.S. and India, followed by the U.K. and the rest of the world. Saffron Trail’s on Facebook and Twitter too.
As for Tambrahmragecooks, it was an idea from my friend Krish Ashok (who runs the popular Tambrahm Rage). He “wanted to combine traditional recipes with a funny text for them, but using voices of our grandmums, aunts and mums to give that touch of authenticity.”