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Making sense of food in 2020

Instagram Lives whetted our appetite to explore food through the prism of art, poetry and politics

Ragini Kashyap's Konkan Christian bhindi and Punjabi Chicken curry. (Photos: Ragini Kashyap)
Ragini Kashyap's Konkan Christian bhindi and Punjabi Chicken curry. (Photos: Ragini Kashyap)

Cooking, in the early days of the lockdown, began with quixotic optimism. Dalgona coffee? Let’s try it. Banana bread? More please. Round rotis? Bring ’em on. While riding high on this newfound euphoria, I found a recipe for Mangaluru buns on Instagram, featured on a live video on Shubhra Chatterji’s account @Historywali. I tried it, with little success at making the buns puff gloriously like a puri, but nobody complained and they tasted perfect. When one is romancing recipes, like I was, even a small achievement in the kitchen makes the heart bloom. But it can cause heartache too, for food is shaped by hunger, discrimination and politics. In 2020, I kept going back to these no-holds- barred Live sessions for more.



Chatterji, a culinary researcher and director of award-winning food shows such as Chakh Le India and Lost Recipes, started an Instagram series, History On A Plate, in May. She chats with food experts about family dishes and regional cuisine, and winds up with a recipe. As the series progressed, it went beyond nostalgia and flavour pairings, exploring food associated with conflict and migration. It was through @historywali that I discovered several other accounts on Instagram which discuss food through the prism of caste, art, history, taboos and ecology.



Dalal wears many hats. He is a former professor of archaeology at the University of Mumbai, consulting editor at Live History India and a fab storyteller of all things food. He started two distinct series on his Instagram page —Know Your Ingredients and Know Your Proteins. He picked ingredients alphabetically, like E for eggplant and J for jowar (sorghum), to unfamiliar produce such as K for knolkol and U for Ube (purple yam). He would examine how each ingredient journeyed to India and found its way into our cuisine—and its impact on soil and agriculture. A steady stream of comments from around the world upped the interest quotient, with people sharing how a particular ingredient was used in their kitchens. For instance, in the live-stream about jowar, as Dalal pointed out the best agricultural practice of alternating wheat with millets, the comment segment was filled with a wealth of information, such as “my grandma used to make jwari Upma and khichadi” and Sindhis make a flatbread “doda with jowar” . The series was so popular that Dalal introduced virtual food study courses and has taught about 300 students on what our ancestors ate, how food evolved, and diaspora cuisines.



Kashyap, a development consultant, started the Third Culture Cooks supper club in Mumbai in 2018 with a menu featuring dishes birthed during Partition. This August, she took to Facebook Live to carry forward the conversation about how Partition affected Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Her Partition 73 series had guests of Indian and Pakistani origin from across the world. Acclaimed Indian-born British chef Asma Khan discussed how Partition influenced her family, while Mumbai-based author and journalist Jane Borges talked about how it changed the food and habits of Indian Christians. One of the most moving interviews is on food and art with painter and photographer Manisha Gera Baswani, who photographed Indian and Pakistani artists at work, documenting what moves them when they think about home. The project, Postcards From Home, was on display at the Lahore Biennale in 2018. Her photographs of artists were printed on postcards and were placed on sacks of wheat that leaned against one another. The installation was symbolic of the way wheat connects India and Pakistan. In the interview, when Gera was asked about the choice of wheat, she said, “Because wheat is known as kanak and kanak means gold.”



Mumbai-based Ghildiyal, a food writer, culinary consultant and the curator of the Godrej Food Trends Report, churned out about 100 live sessions focused on the spices of India. Her series, Spice Chronicles With RMG, started with Ghildiyal interacting virtually with her audience about the masalas she is familiar with, before moving on to hyperlocal produce and masala mixes from regional communities. In one episode, she explored the wild herbs used by the Adivasi communities in Maharashtra’s Sahyadri region instead of spices. While the digital spice trail continues, Ghildiyal also started two new series: Uttarakhand—Life, Food And Culture, and Indian Breads Day. For Ghildiyal’s encyclopaedia-like approach, Instagram needs better search functionality.



Food writer Antoine Lewis’ Instagram series, Cutting Through, spans a gamut of subjects, from contactless dining and preparing hospitality students for an uncertain future to women in agriculture, and food books. His editorial approach ensures he stands out in the overcrowded social media food space. One of the most illuminating discussions was with food writer Vikram Doctor, on whether YouTube had killed recipe books: They discussed the limitations of online recipes, and why a cookbook adds more value. The two episodes on food writers talking about their favourite food poems and the fictional places they have always wanted to eat in are filled with wonder and imagination.

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