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New life to old bok choy on Instagram

Despite its addictive scroll, Instagram helps create a mental repository of bobs and bits, which, even if you ignore the recipes, are useful to modify and elevate the food you cook

Stir-fried bok choy with baby spinach.
Stir-fried bok choy with baby spinach. (Photo by Samar Halarnkar)

Last week, I was trying to cook a quick vegetarian entrée for the wife when I realised everything looked so shiny, red and green—bok choy, baby spinach, ginger, Sirarakhong chillies, sweet chilli sauce.

Also read | The long journey of a chilli from Manipur to Bengaluru

Instagrammable, I thought.

Now, I was late to Instagram, the social media app on which millions appeared to have transferred their lives, desires, and fantasies. I did not think so, but my friends insist I spend a lot of time on it. As evidence, they point to photos of our cat—climbing a tree, meeting his favourite doggie friend, even sleeping. Guilty as charged.

I post anything that interests me, from alerts about rising land and sea temperatures, stories of dispossession and majoritarianism, love stories, and funny Dakhni and Konkani shorts.

What I don’t seem to post enough of is what I cook.

I am not a food blogger or vlogger or whatever, and I doubt I will ever be. I don’t know how to use a selfie stick. I don’t have the patience to plan a script. I am bad at following a recipe, and I don’t even follow anyone who cooks—except this lovely, shy Goan woman who makes simple, daily food in her very plain-looking kitchen and begins all her posts with “Hello friends, bore asa (are you fine)?”

The little bits that I post are related to ordinary, daily cooking. Sometimes, the colours of the ingredients and the finished product look quite lovely, so I put out some posts, stories or reels—I am learning to distinguish between these. I didn’t think anyone was interested. To my surprise, I noticed lots of views and comments.

Intrigued, I stepped up food posting just a bit, in between my other interests. The reactions to my most recent post, the recipe which you can read at the end of this column, was the most surprising. People commented not just on Instagram but on Facebook, on which all my posts automatically appear because I am unclear on how to disable the feature.

Where is the recipe, many asked. I was embarrassed. I posted my recent bok choy and baby spinach entrée as a lark. It was no more than a tweak to a very popular dish, but I guess Instagram people want to know how to make something as soon as they see it. I suppose I am one of them now.

I do stop at Instagram food posts but only if they have recipes. If I don’t get them, I move on. I like to think I am not as bad as everyone else who leads a life on endless scroll, but sometimes I find my 10-minute interlude has become 45 minutes. I like to think I spend all that time profitably by making quick mental notes of ingredients and cooking styles.

The one thing that this Instagram food cornucopia has done is to keep my brain in a state of permanent ferment—I appear to mentally file spices and techniques, recalling them haphazardly but usefully when I cook.

That’s what happened before this little episode with bok choy, bunches of which I found in my kitchen, left over from a memorable Manipuri pork that I featured in my last column. The pork was gone, but the greens remained.

In between cooking for the child—who prefers my endless Goan fish curry varietals or kebabs—and for guests who come for the meat, I realised recently that I had neglected the spouse, who apart from being vegetarian prefers desi khana as her daily staple, with a bit of kick. She’s the type of person who liberally spikes khara bhath (upma) and poha with sriracha.

She does like the occasional “Chinese”, but it must be desi Chinese, liberal with spice and equipped with a kick. There was no better way to do that than to tweak the bok choy with smoky Manipuri Sirarakhong chilli, a giant stash of which I have in my store room and usually reserve for pork. I quickly wove together those bits of information floating around in my head, adding star anise and the sweet chilli sauce, which I often use with mayonnaise and sriracha to make a sauce for kebabs (I don’t care much for it but the daughter and her friends do). I think I picked up that sauce on, where else, Insta.

I like this new, mental repository of bobs and bits, which, even if you ignore the recipes, are useful to modify and elevate—or try to—the food you cook. There is, after all, some use to the endless scroll.


Serves 3


4 bunches of bok choy, cleaned and cut into half

1 small bunch of baby spinach

2 tbsp garlic, minced

1 tbsp ginger, julienned

2 petals of star anise

6 Sirarakhong dried chillies, broken into two

8 peppercorns, crushed

1 tbsp white sesame seeds

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

2 tsp sesame oil

Salt to taste


Heat oil in a wok. Add sesame seeds and dried chillies until they pop. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry for a minute. Add peppercorns and bok choy and spinach. After stir-frying for a minute, add the soy and sweet chilli sauce. Mix with greens and stir-fry for a minute. Cook till the bok choy is done and retains a crunch. Add salt.

Remove and serve with white rice.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He posts @samar11 on Twitter.

Also read | Animals that talk and other Manipuri legends

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