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How #SteelTheShow captures our love for Indian kitchens

Food photos on Instagram are synonymous with studio pottery and ceramics, but a steady influx of meals served in steel utensils is the new 'desi' cool

'Shrikhand' with black raspberries. Photographs by Shubhra Chatterji
'Shrikhand' with black raspberries. Photographs by Shubhra Chatterji

Last week, a micro trend started to pick up speed on Instagram—Indian meals served in steel utensils. Each image, be it that of ghee rice and langar chole dal or millet dosas served with sunset-orange Pitti chutney, was accompanied by the hashtag #SteelTheShow. Some of these posts also came with regional recipes.

The creator of the hashtag is Shubhra Chatterji, a culinary researcher and director of award-winning shows such as Chak Le India for NDTV, Station Master’s Tiffin for Living Foodz, and Lost Recipes for Epic Television Networks. It was during the shooting of Lost Recipes (2018) that the publishing house Hachette India approached her to work on a book to document little-known culinary traditions. Titled Rasa, the book is slated to release later this year.

Chatterji was browsing through Twitter when she came across a thread that championed the use of steel utensils. It was started by an user with the handle @ObiWanManobi. It struck her how under-represented steel was on Instagram although it is ubiquitous in Indian kitchens. She posted a poll on her page @historywali, prompting her users to choose between two hashtags—#DesiBartan and #SteelTheShow. The latter was a clear winner with more than 100 votes. She realized it had struck a chord with her followers. During the lockdown, she started a live series, History On A Plate, where she interviews a home chef who shares a traditional recipe while talking about their personal experiences with it. These live videos, featuring recipes from across India, such as Mangalore buns, halwas and kebabs, have more than 500 views each.

And now, her followers and the food blogging community, some of whom were part of her live videos, are using the hashtag #SteelTheShow to represent Indian food.

'Pyaz ke pakore' in 'kadhi', 'chawal' and 'aloo' with Nutri nuggets 'sabzi'.
'Pyaz ke pakore' in 'kadhi', 'chawal' and 'aloo' with Nutri nuggets 'sabzi'.

Rustic aesthetics in a natural setting appeal to Chatterji, who has shot across the country for her food shows. She prefers banana leaves, steel plates, kansa and clay over glass and ceramics. She recommends non-crowded frames to shoot stunning food images with steel. “Steel looks beautiful with a tea shop in the background or next to a wood-fired stove. I try to keep it as natural as possible. Which is why you see some wood in my shrikhand image. If you are shooting a cold dish and the condensation shows, it indicates temperature and I find that very beautiful," she says over the phone.

“I wondered why we don’t use steel bartans on Instagram. Do we take it for granted? Do we consider them as ordinary? Is there some shame attached to it? To me, it is a larger conversation," adds Chatterji.

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