Tasting times

 In Speaker / Gateway

The subject of last Tuesday’s talk was ‘The new food revolution’. That would make the guest speaker – a food blogger of repute – Kalyan Karmakar, a revolutionary. However, Kalyan is more documentarian than a part of any resistance. His talk skated through milestones that have brought food consciousness to where it stands today. Affable and full of anecdotes, Kalyan provided a delicious end to a hall full of well-fed Rotarians. But not before he received a glowing introduction from Rtn. Camellia Punjabi who has, herself, been called the ‘Queen of Indian food’ by taste curator Vir Sanghvi no less.

Kalyan represents bloggers, a tribe that is fast losing its relevance today and yet it is one that brought him to the limelight he enjoys today. “I am talking about the foodie revolution and the role bloggers played in that although
blogging doesn’t really exist today or if it does, then it is probably in a new form. But that is India, we keep evolving.”

Kalyan’s own journey over the past decade shows the journey of food in India. It was the food bloggers of a decade ago who paved the way for the street cred that Instagram foodies bask in today. Kalyan worked at IMRB when he was first struck by the wider, community impact of food. He was showing a client around Mumbai and when he saw the way she was soaking in all of its drama, so much of which was driven by food, he realised that food brought about connections between people of disparate cultures. Food had a way of diffusing conflict. And, people were always happy to share food stories.

He says, “Ask them what they had for breakfast or what their mother cooked for their birthdays as a kid or did they ever try cooking and they will open up and invite you home. That is when I realised the power of food, back in 1998 -99. Six-seven years down the line, I got increasingly bored with my work. I began cooking and trying out new restaurants. In 2007, my wife suggested I start a food blog via which I could vent instead of telling her about it. She started it for me and named it Finely Chopped because, at that time, I was very angry. So it was meant to be an angry, young blog but I started enjoying its diary format so much that I found it hard to stay angry.”

Many bloggers began this way. Around 2013, there was a shake-up at his firm which inspired him to take a sabbatical. At some point he met a book editor and they discussed book proposals. He got a go-ahead, following which he started writing. His wife did the naming, calling it The Travelling Belly. He realised he wanted to be a food writer but it was a new field and there was uncertainty. Luckily for him, Masterchef Australia ripped through Indian TV screens.
Suddenly, younger people found themselves obsessing about food as much as their mothers and grandmothers. Home chefs sprung up all over the country. Food writers began to be taken seriously as a wider group with serious influence.

Eventually, there was a sizeable chunk of junta who could separate the wheat from the chaff when they came to good food. That led to the next lot of reviewers like one’s next door neighbour who ate out all the time and now posted
reviews on free apps which were taken very seriously. This community birthed huge lists that segregated food not just
by type of cuisine but also by time of day consumed, number of people it was good for (singles, couples) and so on.

Some people invested in their own lives and food stories. Kalyan was drawn to the lives of others. He says, “For me it was more about people from other cultures and cities and their lives; people who are different from me. I thought
I would share their stories because that would give people a lot of hope which, in a way, is what Rotary Club does: give people hope and enable them.”

His latest post was of a trip to Surat and his trip to a bakery there called Dotivala, established in 1861. Coincidentally, the bakery is owned by Rtn. (Dr.) Mehernosh Dotivala’s family which caused many Rotarians seated in the hall to turn around to give him an acknowledging look. But Kalyan had not known this.

Of his experience at the iconic bakery, he says, “It was packed like Juhu on Sundays when Amitabh Bachchan comes out to wave. Everyone was making their way to take the khatai – they don’t say nankhatai, for some reason. From 1861 to
2018, which is 180-odd years and six generations, it had maintained its quality and continued to grow. Those are the stories I wanted to share.”

At the meeting, Kalyan then bumped into Mehernosh who told him he was from the same family. “He is a smiling
gentleman who told me he is from the same family and that his family sells biscuits there and if the buyers develop cavity issues, he fixes them here. So it is a wellintegrated family business,” joked Kalyan.

Kalyan has worked with Vir Sanghvi, writing for EazyDiner, edited a website called Food Network where he met Rtn. Tara Deshpande. He says, “My latest project is The Times Kitchen Tales with The Times of India. We bring food stories from across India every Sunday and write a column which introduces you to a new topic. People write in Letters to the Editor. We publish them, organise meets where people get to interact with fellow food lovers; we recently had one in Mumbai.”

For a while, before he made all these connections, Kalyan felt alone in his food pursuit. “A few years down the line,
I started understanding that there were other bloggers. I found out about Rushina (Munshaw Ghildiyal) who did a bloggers’ meet. All of us were in our early to mid-30s, doing something else professionally but wanting to write. We were all taking time out at night from our families to sit and write. Rushina was one of the earliest bloggers in the country who started 12 to 13 years back. She brought all of us together. There are many of us now.”

There is Saee Koranne- Khandekar who started as a blogger and is now an author and culinary consultant. Maharashtrian food and baking are her specialty. “She has written a wonderful book called Crumbs,” says Kalyan. There is Nikhil Merchant, a restaurateur, gourmet consultant, food writer and blogger (Nonchalant Gourmand). “Everyone has a focus so Nikhil focuses on luxury.”

In Bangalore there is Archana Doshi who began Archana’s Kitchen. “She started with blogging and now she has developed her own website and it is one of the largest YouTube channels. She has given employment opportunities to a lot of people and built an entire ecosystem of her own. Monika Manchanda writes a blog called Cinnamon Tales, based in Bangalore, which began as a baking blog but, right now, she is consulting with restaurants and writing about local ingredients.

Nandita Iyer of Saffron Tales is a Mumbai girl who moved to Bangalore. She is also a nutritionist who focusses on healthy Indian and South Indian food, diet food and she has her own book: The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.”

“Then came Geetika Saikia from Assam, who wrote about Assamese food, Soumitra Velkar who is from a Maharashtrian Pathare Prabhu family and brings its unique food roots to the mainstream. Soumitra is an insurance professional who
does food with his mother and wife with the Pathare Prabhus, whose food is still not available in restaurants but it is through them that we got to taste their food. This helped people to know that there is lot more than chicken tikka masala and butter chicken to Indian cuisine.”

Regional restaurants around the country are coming into their own, says Kalyan. “A lot of heritage places around the
country have become very popular for what they are doing in the social media. Earlier, food bloggers wrote mostly about luxury and no one was writing about what is happening in the bylanes of cities. That is what my book is about.”

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