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Local tastes, global readers

Foodies are turning to the Internet to find regional dishes, from a Morok Metpa from Manipur to a Mentikoora Pulao from Andhra Pradesh, to prepare in their kitchens, even as the number of bloggers willing to spill details rise in number

By the end of January, 28 year-old IT professional Srinivas Satya will be moving to Germany for good. But his parents, who hail from the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, aren't worried about what their son will eat. That's because Satya, who studied abroad eight years ago, learnt how to cook basics like rice and rasam by making long-distance calls to his mother, and reading food blogs for general tips. Today, however, Satya can whip up a mean Rasmalai, Tandoori Chicken and Vathalkuzhambu, as he has discovered what several Indians living both, in India and abroad, have increasingly begun turning to, to get their fix of homemade food: regional food blogs and videos.


Srini Satya prepares Vathalkuzhambu (sour tamarind curry) at a friend's
place in Wadala. He learnt how to make several region-specific dishes
through food blogs and videos like Geetradhu's  YouTube channel, run
by 59 year-old Srirangam-resident Geetharadhakrishna Pic/Satyajit Desai


Satya's favourites include Geetradhu's  YouTube channel, which showcases recipes of dishes from Tamil Nadu, such as Pachaparuppu Sambar, Sweet Badam Rice and Pori Urundai, and www.bongcookbook.com for recipes on various fish preparations -- Bengali-style, of course.

Satya is making use of the sudden spurt in regional food blogs and videos online in the past few years.
Fifty nine year-old Geetharadhakrishna, who goes by the name of Geetradhu on YouTube, started the video blog to teach her children how to cook home food after they moved to the UK and Canada.

"I started the blog in 2008 to educate my children who are abroad. In the past two years, I began to get a lot of queries from NRIs, so I became more regular and started uploading traditional dishes. I have received feedback from viewers telling me that they feel as if they are seeing their mother, or grandmother cook," says Geetha, whose husband shoots videos of Geetha cooking and uploads them on YouTube. Today, the channel has 912 subscribers and has got about 13,00,000 views.

Madhvi Gupta, a restaurant reviewer for a Punjabi TV channel that airs in the US and Canada, would understand Geetha's sentiment. "Living in India, we are not used to cooking on our own, but out here, we have no other option but to do so," says the 26 year-old New York resident. And while, like Satya, she would rather turn to a blog run by someone from a specific community for 'authentic' recipes, Gupta is partial towards blogs written by non-resident Indians.

"They give recipes based on the exact ingredients available in the US, as opposed to an Indian blogger, who might refer to ingredients that are not available," she says.

One of Gupta's favourite video blogs include Show Me The Curry, run by a pair of 40-something Dallas residents, Hetal Jannu and Anuja Balasubramanian.

Balasubramanian moved to the US in 1990, while Jannu was born in a Gujarati household, but began living in the US as a toddler. The pair of self-taught cooks started the video blog in 2007, which now receives close to 45,000 views daily. "Many newly-married women write to thank us.  We also get mails from bachelors, who say they can finally enjoy home-cooked meals and not rely on take-outs," says Jannu over e-mail.

"Since Indian cuisine is so region-specific, people are more than happy to make dishes from other parts of India," she adds. While their website that goes by the same name also offers recipes of English puddings and muffins, regional recipes such as Gujarati Kadi, Khandvi and Paani Puri are greater in number.

However, several food bloggers are aware of Gupta's concern about ingredients. Geetha, a resident of Srirangam, a small yet famous pilgrimage site in Tamil Nadu, often offers alternatives. So does Gayatri Vantillu, a veritable YouTube celebrity, who uploads videos on dishes predominantly from Andhra Pradesh. Unlike Jannu and Balasubramanian's videos that are made using professional sound and video equipment, Vantillu's videos are cruder -- she uses Windows Moviemaker to arrange a series of photographs and sets it to a voiceover in Telegu. Originally intended for the Andhra student population that travels abroad, Vantillu, a retired professional, started receiving mails asking her to offer English subtitles. Last year, Vantillu made that addition. She now earns close to Rs 50,000 a month in revenue from her videos.

But regional food blogs do more than just help Indians living abroad to differentiate their machhi from their mor kuzhumbu. Krish Sharma is a consulting eye surgeon residing in Derby, in the UK. That's his day job. For the 37 year-old Manipuri, however, spreading knowledge about his state -- from its food to its songs, its herbs to traditional clothes -- is a passion. He uploads videos about Manipur, including interesting recipes of red chilli fish preparations, and salads, under the pen name Teraksha on YouTube. "Regional blogs," says Sharma, "are closer to the heart." Evidently.

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