Wake up, get on the Net and smell the masala. It’s a free lunch, a limitless banquet of delicious food prose, alluring images, unseen kitchen inventions and videos of (some) winsome chefs. Delicious recipes online have changed the lives of many and they’ve been around long before social networking sites were born. It is the commitment of a formidable community of food bloggers across the globe that’s fueling what we at The Indian American call “blooking” – cooking and blogging.
The blookers range from retired tech-savvy aunts to busy urban professionals and the ubiquitous homebound housewife, faithfully taking time off to share their passion for food, often garnished with memories of a loved one back home or a story of their own life linked to a particular dish. Apart from nostalgia and passion, blooking is also a fair ground for the causerati or the ambitious creativists in search of a book deal.
Food historians trace the Indian blooking movement to the nostalgia and cravings of the expatriate community. The salads, burgers, steaks or pasta they encountered in their everyday lives abroad could never fill that deep void for “ghar ka khana” or the craving for the aromas of mom’s kitchen.
Take Indira and Vijay Singari’s Web home, Mahanandi (themahanandi.org). Based in the Unite States, they began dabbling in cyber cuisine way back in 2005 and still command a cult following. It is here that little secrets of neighborhood grocery stores were discussed – like which store stocked curry plant saplings. Sometimes, serendipitous discoveries were made here. The best-known one is about Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix being a brilliant shortcut for making gulab jamuns.
For many blookers today, the blogosphere serves as a platform to express themselves or record their lives. Germany-based Meeta Khurana Wolff, author of What’s for Lunch, Honey? (whatsforlunchhoney.net) says, “My blog is a place where my readers should come, take off their shoes and cozy up with their favorite treats.”
Chennai-based blogger, Srivalli Jetti says her Cooking 4 All Seasons (cooking4allseasons. blogspot.com) began with a desire to write a cookbook. A software professional and a mom of three, Jetti says, “Food is never so delicious if there isn’t a memory associated with it.”
Some food blogs have acquired a niche and cater to a specific demographic. Apart from the regular regional repertoire, there’s everything from health food to yoga-bhakti cuisines to ayurvedic food to bachelor cooking to microwave recipes to even a blog dedicated to the healing properties of the avocado – the variety is staggering.
The eggless cooking brigade has a forum, too. Madhuram Prabhakar’s Eggless Cooking (egglesscooking.com) tells the story of her culinary journey. She moved to the U.S. after marriage and contracted the baking bug courtesy of Food TV. An Indian vegetarian, she didn’t have problems eating cakes and pastries (made of eggs) off the bakery shelf, but breaking open an egg in her kitchen was sacrilege.
She tried, but was put off by the smell. So one day, while trawling the Net to find a way to break jaggery mounds, she stumbled on Mahanandi’s eggless recipes. With a little research, she found several other recipes scattered on various sites and decided to put them together and give it her name.
Prabhakar has come a long way since then. Her Oven Toasted Cauliflower with tangy sambar powder flavor and the Baked Indian Tofu are among the most popular of her inventions.
Anushruti R.K.’s Divinetaste (divinetaste.com) has a section on ayurvedic cooking. There’s the Panaka or Lime Sherbet, a coolant for the Indian summer. The ingredients of these traditional dishes are said to balance the kappa (water), pitta (fire) and vata (wind) that, according to ayurveda, are the three main constituents of our body. Food, when eaten according to season and constitution can ward off diseases.
“My great-grandfather was an ayurvedic physician and my paternal grandmother learned this form of medicine from him and included it in her daily regimen. All the common ailments were treated with household remedies, usually in the form of what we eat daily. Delicious dishes using herbs and spices gave taste and contentment to the palate and also acted as medicine in disguise. It’s what our grandmothers and great-grandmothers cooked ages ago and now is almost forgotten,” says the blogger, who lives in Mumbai.
Another indigenous food crusader is Jyotsna Shahane, author of thecookscottage (thecookscottage.typepad.com). She describes herself as, “the deccanheffalump in search of missing things, lost belongings, elusive tastes, perfect pictures, subtle smells and, of course, the Holy Grail.” Her other pursuits include popularizing the healing powers of jaggery and jamun.
There’s even hope for the banished diabetic. Cooking 4 all Seasons has a section on diabetic food. There’s Gooseberry Rice or Appey/ Paniyam with Jowar Flour that is guaranteed to restore the diabetic’s faith in food once again. Another aspect of this blog is Spice Your Life, which caters specifically to children. Faced with the challenge of kids who’re picky about their food, Jetti says she needed kid-friendly dishes that would vanish in a wisp. That’s how it began, but now every month she hosts an event on kids’ recipes.
Microbiologist Alka’s Sindhi Rasoi (sindhirasoi.com) has another unique objective – to preserve the food traditions of the Sindhi community. Scattered after the partition of India, Sindhis live in various parts of the world. Sindhi Rasoi is an effort to unite Sindhi culture and cuisine. “Unlike other cuisines, Sindhi food is still struggling to get to the place it deserves. There are no dedicated food sites and few restaurants,” she says. She began the site in 2008 and it’s been a roller coaster.
Delhi-based food writer and cook Pamela Timms began Eat and Dust in 2009, when she moved to the city from Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. It is her “attempt to chronicle my food adventures in India and a one-woman crusade to urge everyone to eat street food.” Timms also began what she calls “Uparwali Chai” (high tea) where she makes curry puffs, smoked trout pate, macaroons, Florentine cupcakes etc. for some 40 people and charges a fee for those interested in partaking of the delights.
But does blooking really push the limits of food creativity? Authors admit they usually blog about fail-proof recipes handed down by family and friends, but sometimes those are tweaked to put the cook’s stamp on them. Sometimes, the recipes are the result of an effort to decode a restaurant dish. Wolff, whose blog was selected by Times online in the U.K. as one of the World’s Top 50 food blogs, talks of her experiments with macarons; she also blogs on dishes that have a sentimental value for her – like her grandmother’s saffron rice pudding, Kesar di Kheer.
Jetti says she mostly blogs about recipes she’s learned from her mother and mother-in-law, all tested and tried, and hence she’s not had many failures. But her recent adventure with Sago Muruku has been a lesson. “The sago did not get soft and we ended up mixing about a kilo of rice flour,” she says. There were fireworks and finally everything had to be dumped.
Monthly food events hosted by these blookers also help expand the scope of their creativity and hone their spirit of adventure. The host invites entries on a particular theme and participants must put up photographs and recipes of their creations by a deadline. Jetti has hosted the Mithai Mela, Rice Mela, Microwave Cooking etc.
Amid the explosion of media catering to foodies – TV channels, food shows and cookbooks – how did blooking acquire its pedestal? Prabhakar, a strong blooking advocate, believes in the interactive dynamism of food blogs. “TV shows and cookbooks are never really interactive. Though cookbook authors today do interact with readers on Facebook or Twitter, it’s never quite the same in a blog,” she says.
Anushruti also vouches for blooking’s uniqueness. Although cookbooks and television shows have their own pros and reach out to a certain audience, food blogs have their own space, too. They allow you to express your creativity without any hindrances or time limits and give bloggers a chance to communicate with readers continually, she says. She gets varied and enthusiastic comments from her readers.
Wolff loves the cookbook. “I don’t think anything can replace a cookbook.” But she acknowledges a shift in the food scene, with a lot of attention on food blogs. It’s a free platform that’s enabled talents to get noticed, she says. “It’s interesting to see the dynamics of food blogging. Blogs are written by everyday people. The readers are a part of this blogger’s life in a certain way. Depending on the amount of information the blogger gives on his/her blog, the reader shares the ups and downs, successes and defeats, making them feel closer to the blogger.” If the blogger lands a book deal, there’s an assured readership, she adds.
And sure enough, blooking has opened book-deal doors for many bloggers. Mallika Basu, the granddaughter of former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu and the author of the blog Quick Indian Cooking has just released her book, “Miss Masala: Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living.” It is based on her blog quickindiancooking.com that she began in 2006. “This book is for anybody who lives away from home and loves the Indian food and likes to cook for themselves, especially for those who are juggling a busy social or professional life,” she says. Spicing up the recipes are hilarious tales of her high-flying life as the director of a PR firm in London.
Celebrity author Monica Bhide, whose blog A Life of Spice (monicabhide.com) is a huge hit, has already written three books – “The Spice is Right: Easy Indian Cooking for Today” (Callawind Publications, 2001); “The Everything Indian Cookbook” (Adams Media, 2004); “Modern Spice” (Simon & Schuster, 2009). Based in Washington, D.C., Bhide also holds e-courses on food writing as well as cooking classes.
Jetti is also the author of a cookbook. Her e-book, “Flavours from South Indian Kitchen” was published in November and is now available on Kindle. The e-book has only 15 recipes, and it’s more of a teaser, she says. Her second cookbook, “Simple Quick Indian Recipes,” with over 50 recipes, is out.
Another blogger, Pune-based techie Vikram Karve (vwkarve.wordpress.com), has penned a humorous account of his quest for food on the streets of Mumbai and Pune in “Appetite for a Stroll,” published by Sulekha Books. Meena Agarwal, the Indo-Canadian behind the blog hookedonheat (hookedonheat.com), too has been commissioned to write a cookbook.
Blookers have added a new dimension to food and their lives. The bonhomie among them is admirable. United by their love of food, this expanding virtual community is conquering unexplored territorie