More foodwriting

Food blogs are gaining some prominence. In the last few days, two people have posted on my blog, one offering to send me Danone yoghurt to taste and write about, and another a missive from Sweden on food products planning to enter the Indian market. Which brings me to an interesting thought - Busybee and Vir Sanghvi notwithstanding, India does not have much of a culture of mainstream food journalism. No major newspaper has a food editor or even a dedicated food section. Food magazines are at best Femina supplements, while A Michelin-like guide is as distant a dream as many of the cars that sport those tires.

In contrast, The New York Times gives its (daily) food section prominence equal to the sports pages, while Europe worships its many food guides (chefs have committed suicide for failing to get the desired stars). The food press worldwide is massive - innumerable magazines with names like Gourmet or Restaurant (we're not even talking wine mags) sell lakhs of issues; they've successfully replaced grandma or next-door-aunty as the source recipes and kitchen tips. Similarly, cookbook sales in India are tepid, Sanjiv Kapur or Tarla Dalal never seriously challenging a Nigella Lawson or Madhur Jaffrey. Even Masterchef India is more about crying than cooking.

Part of this may be to do with the average Indian's inherent suspicion about any food that is not his own. When Raj or Kesari Travels advertises proudly never having to touch Italian food when taking tours to Rome (or French food in Paris), you start to get the message. Take me to Pisa but feed me no pizza, the average Indian traveller might say. Yes, vegetarian plays a role, but its hard to see how German breads, French jams or Italian cheeses - all of which these tours scrupulously avoid - can offend religious sensibilities. Nor is this phenomenon restricted to Mumbai Gujaratis; Bengalis are intrepid travellers but carrying food from home so that you will have something to eat on your travels has been a constant refrain. Indians travel to see the world, only through the eyes - the mouth is strictly reserved for noisy opinions on what has been seen.

Its not that India has no eat-out culture - the dhabas, the udipis, the chaat, mithai and kabab stalls have all been flourishing for centuries - but the focus is firmly on familiarity. For most of India, wife-knows-best is less an expression of marital subjugation; more an inability to accept any kind of dietary flutter.

This is a huge pity, really. India is one of the world's great culinary destinations, stuffing at least a dozen of it's greatest cuisines into a relatively small diamond of land. And yet, less is written about all this than the perfect way to boil an egg.

11 comments:

  1. well thats really food for thought. My dad loves raj and kesri and i hated each and every time we went on one and my gripe was what a waste of a trip. Also Danone contacted me as well and I was like im not sure what you expect of me...should i send them my address ? shudder

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  2. Can we change this? Seriously.
    I live in Washington DC and when I go to Borders or Barnes and Nobel bookstores I see Indian cookbooks vanishing from the shelves quite fast.

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  3. In fact most of us who blog do it for reasons other than getting a free yogurt or even a full meal. It's time people realise that our blogs are not meant to be inexpensive advertising hoardings... Someone had once shared an interesting thought about east vs west. - think he said that food for the west has been an indulgence but for years large part of the east has bEen an economy scarcity. He gave this as a possible reason for the paucity of a food styling culture in India. I think there could be something there when it comes to writing too what say?

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  4. @Santanu I was talking about sales in India, which are quite anemic. In the west cookbooks sell like the hot cakes that are in them, including Indian recipes written by the likes of Padma Lakshmi.

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  5. Excellent post, Shanky.

    These yoghurt guys are such a weird bunch -they asked me to help them reach out to bloggers and all that. I simply pointed them to the Bombay Eaters blogroll.. It's funny how they think they can use bloggers as cheap vehicles for advertising.

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  6. I personally don't have a problem with Danone or anyone offering to send me free samples. Of course, I may not like their products and say so, or may just feel they're not worth writing about at all - in any case, what I write should not be dictated by who sent me free stuff.

    Danone yoghurt in particular, I've had plenty of every variant of it in the US and think of it as pleasant but not particularly blogworthy. I'm still debating if that disqualifies me as a recipient of the freebie.

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  7. Never got any freebies 'coz of Blogging. But a reader offered to send me a slow cooker from Atlanta. :-)

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  8. Hi Shanky,

    Would you be interested in coming on a panel that will decide the Best Eats of Mumbai for CNNGo for 2010?

    If you are, please email me and then we can take it from there.

    A quick response would be appreciated as we're short on time.

    Sanjiv

    sanjiv.khamgaonkar@gmail.com

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  9. Wow, looking very nice blog. some great ideas. i like it!!!!

    Gourmet Free

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