Feast on their feed

Updated: Aug 24, 2019, 08:20 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi

From what goes into a traditional paella to the benefits of buckwheat, chefs turn teachers for their consumers, and social media is their hyper-interactive school

Feast on their feed
Bhee ji tikki

Do you know what lies between the fringe and the mainstream? Social media (SM). It's a conduit, really, and perhaps the only place without borders, fostering unhindered exchange of information. Naturally, this has impacted the food industry, and in Mumbai's online food community — comprising committed chefs, home chefs and restaurateurs — it is a like a super interactive school.

Mohit Chotrani talks about Sindhi terms like bhee, lotus stem used in Bhee ji tikki

Instagram, especially, is packed with information on all things food, but with the right accounts on your feed — that are disseminating culinary knowledge in an engaging way — it'll be easier to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Mohit Chotrani talks about Sindhi terms like bhee, lotus stem used in Bhee ji tikki
Mohit Chotrani talks about Sindhi terms like bhee, lotus stem used in Bhee ji tikki

Celebrity chef Ranveer Brar — who uses his account to promote different SM drives, like #foodfables, a series on Indian food and its inherent resourcefulness, or @rbskitchen, a sub-account which shares everyday cooking tips and tricks — says, "Much of this [people using SM to talk about food educationally] happens very spontaneously, and that allows the impact to be more natural and long-lasting."

Pallavi Jayswal is familiarising people with Spanish food

The chef is using these tools to talk about Indian cuisine more holistically. He adds that as someone who talks about food on different media, like TV and online, often, because of circumstantial limitations, there's a lot of information that gets left out. SM allows for those edited-out aspects to be discussed, too.

Pallavi Jayswal is familiarising people with Spanish food
Pallavi Jayswal is familiarising people with Spanish food

"Typically, there are three kinds of posts: one, where you share anecdotes about things or dishes already known to people; two, where you acquaint people with things they have no idea about. And then, there are engagement series, like My Kitchen Fails," Brar explains.

Ranveer Brar runs several educational series on Indian food

Interestingly, the chef tells us that platforms like Instagram are not educational. "They are triggering tools. You see something online that's interesting and then you go and Google more on it," he says, adding, "These platforms help you convey a message with more impact with the help of visuals. Or if there is a word limit, you learn to make your point crisply."

Ranveer Brar runs several educational series on Indian food
Ranveer Brar runs several educational series on Indian food

Since food itself is so diverse, its presence on SM is just as varied. If Brar is using Instagram to talk about legacies behind Indian cuisines, Santé Spa Cuisine, a health café, is using it to create awareness around clean eating. So, they have a series called Alphabets of Santé, where they select a letter once every week and a food item corresponding to it.

Anushka Jain helps come up with posts on ingredients used in the cafe’s dishes

On Wednesday, for instance, they picked "L" for lemon, and the post shares snippety information about the citrus fruit. Anushka Jain, the café's social media manager, shares, "Everyone is on Instagram. It is easier to engage people on such a platform." Jain adds that they're looking to use SM more pointedly to talk about environmental issues like the Amazon rainforest fires as well, because clean eating is entwined with sustainability.

Anushka Jain helps come up with posts on ingredients used in the cafe’s dishes

But SM has perhaps played the most significant role in bringing independent food businesses to the fore. Think pop-up ventures and home chefs, an industry that is entirely dependent on such platforms. A home-based or individual-led venture's USP is that they offer what you can't get at a restaurant. And so, typically, most popular businesses of this nature are dealing with eclectic food. Specifically in Mumbai, that would be regional cuisine.

Anushka Jain helps come up with posts on ingredients used in the cafe’s dishes
Anushka Jain helps come up with posts on ingredients used in the cafe’s dishes

Then, home chef Gitika Saikia is perhaps right when she says, "I would be nowhere without social media," because SM helped her gain popularity. For Mumbai's foodies, Saikia is a household name, but before that could happen, she spent long hours acquainting people with what she does. How will you order Assamese food if you know nothing about it, right? She continues to use the platform to talk about Northeastern food, whether it's ingredients like gool nemu, a type of lime, lesser-known bitter fruits or Eid fare in Assam.

Gitika Saikia
Gitika Saikia

Chef Mohit Chotrani, who started a delivery joint called The Sindhi Kitchen (TSK), leverages SM for the same purpose. "People know about Sindhi kadhi. But there are sub-groups among the Sindhis, and each one makes it differently. Some make it with besan, but many others use tomato instead, and toor dal, too! We want people to know about our cuisine because it's getting lost. There are hardly a handful of us trying to protect our legacy," he laments. Chotrani uses interactive activities, like a quiz on Sindhi food lingo.

"What does the Sindhi term basar mean in our dish basar ji koki," a post inquires. The answer is onion. Who knew! The account shares such simple and informative posts every now and then. "Hashtags and the visual elements help us convey the message more successfully," Chotrani says.

The ignorance around regional food mirrors itself in international cuisines, too. "When we started Uno Más last year, we did so with the aim of serving authentic Spanish food in the city. But it was a challenge because not many knew about it. A large part of our customer base is well-travelled, yes. But there's also a huge percentage that qualify as aspirational customers. They are basically people who are willing to try new things, if you tell them about it," owner Pallavi Jaiswal informs, explaining why the restaurant's handle has slowly become a space for them to converse with their customers, whether it's for taking feedback or to acquaint them with interesting stories around Spanish culture
and food.

And that basically brings us to the root of this phenomenon — a power-charged movement that is re-looking at food intelligently. Food, from the very beginning, has been inseparable from conversation. And what's the best way to start one? Ask a question.

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