There is no business like the food business

I went to the food blogger’s dinner at Mumbai last night. This was sponsored by the wine division of the folks at UB. Hosted at Olive at Mahalaxmi.

The chief wine maker of UB was there and held forth on wines to a table of Mumbai’s food bloggers through the evening. I reached late after I had my breath knocked out by the heartless Mumbai traffic while navigating meetings earlier in the evening.

I was seated at a little table beside the main table. Caught up with a couple of old friends, Rushina and Jyotika. Wouldn't have made it but for the earnest urgings from both of them.  Met some new folks – couple of charming ladies from the agency that organized the evening and a Chino German animator who was marooned in India after the film she came to make got delayed. I missed out on the wine lecture though. Well, as they say bad boys have all the fun.

We tasted wines. Without the commentary to go with it. I must admit that I am a bit of a Bacchanalian philistine. Wines give me headaches. But some of the stuff did smell good. I made the appropriate motions of occasionally stuffing my nose into the glasses of wine. Hopefully, looked enough of a ‘connoisseur’ to not make the sponsors question the organizers for inviting me.

The food had its moments. Three courses. Managed to find a few shreds of smoked salmon in the smoked salmon salad. The lights were rather dim and some of the pinkish bits turned out to be tomatoes. Which, dear vegetarians, cannot be a substitute for smoked salmon. I selected the brie phillo puff for the next course. By a fluke of nature I got the grilled tiger prawns instead. Which was great as the prawns were huge and yet wickedly juicy. Wouldn’t have wanted to be one of the vegetarians around though when this happened to me. I chose chicken skewers with pilaf for the mains. The highlight of the chicken plate was the toasted pine (?) nuts which came on the side. Added a nice texture to the rice and meat. Had a bit from the beef that Irene from Germany went for. It was rather tough. Jyotika’s choice of lamb was more succulent…Moroccan and therefore fairly Indian in taste. I quite liked the rather strong cheesecake which was there for dessert. Overpowered the crème brulee that followed. Couldn’t taste the latter. Guess the conversations were the high point of the dinner.

These are interesting times for food in India and everyone wants a piece of it. So you have about three exclusive food channels being launched now. Every news channel has at least one food related programme going for them. You have recipe shows on TV, with pre Doordashan days production qualities, which are surprisingly good cures for insomnia. And restaurant reviews where every restaurant is the best in the world and where every dish is the meal of a lifetime.

Talking of TV, Master Chef Australia 2 was aired on Star World here and it caught the imagination of many. It suddenly had people who normally do not cook rush into the kitchen to make coriander enrobed pomfret or Crème Anglais. It democratized food and went beyond foodies, food bloggers, food snobs and critics. Suddenly food was cool. Till Star Plus blundered in with Master Chef India.

The food business in India draws inspiration from the West. If you have salivated over the French Laundry Cookbook and been enthralled by the prose in the Les Halles Cookbook then you have a restaurant cookbook in India too. The Mainland China Cookbook. If the Les Halles and French Laundry books are labours of love and passion then this is its antiseptic opposite. The same publishers have now done a book around NDTV's Rocky and Mayur's 'Highway on my Plate'. This is a Lonely Planet like restaurant directory which thankfully has a touch of colour. I read the chapters on Andhra, Arunachal and Assam last night and went to bed with colourful images of yak blood sausages, rohu cooked straight from the pond, pigeon curries, duck curries and meals eaten at tribal huts. There is still hope.

Following in the tradition of movie and auto awards you now have foodie awards. There was one from a newspaper group recently where a majority of awards went to restaurants of five and seven star hotels. Seemed more like a ‘Fine Dining’ award list. The remaining scraps went to stand alone restaurants which are normally in the news. The unsung, non PR savvy restaurants which just focus on serving simple and honest food went unnoticed. Then there was another award from the Internet portal of an American news channel. They said that the 'best’ place to enjoy street food at Mumbai was apparently Punjab Sweets at Bandra. I am sure that local vada pao and bhel lovers would have a point of view about the mineral water sanitized North Indian chaats trumping the Mumbai street food charts. The best biriyani here too was from a five star. So what are my choices for the 'best' restaurants at Mumbai? I won’t be vain enough for that. But here is a list of my ‘favourites’.

Food bloggers are everyone's meat. There are web sites and even mainstream newspapers and magazine lifting photographs and content from blogs without acknowledging the source. And you have startups and even established sites and newspapers and magazines asking bloggers to write for free...dangling carrots of visibility. 

The carnival continues. Restaurants and food marketers have discovered food bloggers. Offers to send yogurts and olive oils flood are mailed in. As do invites to "come and try the food at our restaurant". . And offers to host food blogger meets. “Would be nice if you and your food blogger friends drop in”.

Well, as the cliché goes, ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch and all that jazz. Why waste money on mass media, it is all about media efficiency. So would bloggers go the journo and junket way? Or would they remain an independent voice?

Only time will tell.


Sassy Fork said…
Thought provoking!
The readers can always tell when you write from your heart and when you don't.What draws people to a blog is its uniqueness and sincerity.That's why Finely Chopped is so successful.
People will read and check out a place.If they find things different than the review,they won't go back to the blog or restaurant again.
Unknown said…
this is very well written. I think the reason you are my favourite blogger in this city is the honesty as well as the integrity with which you chop. its been a great learning experience.
Nidhi said…
I am a long time lurker and really enjoy ur writing. Thanks to the number of posts on Candies, I went ther on my last Mumbai trip and I saw u there too on a sunday morning! But I actually felt a little akward coming up and saying hi :-)
Anyway also made a veggie version of your thai green curry recently and loved it!

Unknown said…
Nicely done, Mr.Knife. Doesn't seem like the food was all that great. Did they even pair the food and wine? Not that I am an expert.
I do hope food bloggers everywhere remain authentic and true. Enjoy the perks while remaining non-partisan. No Radia controversies please! :-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Sassy Fork, today met someone who knows Simon Majumdar, whom both you and I admire, for a while. She said that he is someone who 'calls a spade a spade'. That's how I would like to be know too...and thanks :)

@Curry Spice: Thanks a lot for that. And you do know that I admire both your blog and the photos a lot :)

@Nidhi, do say hi the next time though that's probably what I would have done too :) Glad Candies worked for you. Remove this fish oil and the meat and Thai curry can be a nice vegetarian curry too

@Shobita, I think they did pair the food and the wine. By the way I am not saying that bloggers are bad. Even I have done PR organised reviews. All I am saying is that there is a chance of being used
Unknown said…
Of course there is a chance, more than A chance as a matter of fact. And yes bloggers are human too and can be swayed by all the lavish attention and the gorgeous perks. All I am saying is enjoy it all but try to not let anyone sway your thoughts and opinions. After all wasn't that the reason for the blog in the first place. To convey YOUR experiences and opinions. The key word here is YOUR.
Just me two cents in, Kalyan. I love your blog and am sure you'll continue calling it as you see it or taste it.
Phew! Now THAT was a mouthful. ;-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Shobita, thanks for the vote of confidence. Actually one does tend to get overwhelmed by this 'attention' from the PR folks especially in the early days of blogging. What matters is where one stands after that.

I met Xanthe Clay, a food writer from the UK, yesterday. She told me that she's known Simon Majumadar, blogger turned food writer turned realist show judge, for a while. She described him as a man who 'calls a spade a spade.'

That's how I would like to be known. That's why I had started this blog
Sunshinemom said…
Good article, as always! I understand the carrot thing. I have been there, done it and learnt my lesson. Recently I was offered another 'free' article writing, but this time I just mailed my rates instead of going into any other detail. I am gladder too!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Sunshinemom, I guess we all learn. What is heartening is that all the blogger's night posts mentioned the sponsors so it was all above board. The reader could decide
Alka said…
You pen down from your heart...I know everyone says the same thing for you.but still.....I so very much long to meet the blogger friends when such invitation comes up..but then I never can make it..sometimes its some issues at home, other times I avoid being the part of the group just coz I am just not into Fine dining, wine,Classy food sounding as alien as the Martians, and neither am I comfortable with sophisticated high class people..I can not, for the sake of my life too, remember or identify the names/flavors of non-Indian food...and yeah the awards..least said the better...well for me,an evening spend with my family or close group of middle class friends, gulping a plateful of panipuri and demanding extra 'paani' without a guilt works out better...feel very out of place with 'learned' or 'immensely knowledgeable' ppl...outdated or regressive I may sound, but thts me ;-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Hey Alka,

Great to hear from you.

The beauty of blogging is that there is space for everyone. So you can choose exactly what YOU want out of it and focus on that. Blogging should be a source of joy.

I'd stop enjoying blogging the moment I'd try to pretend to be something I am not. Or focus on the end goals rather than on expressing oneself.

I have met some of my thickest friends in the last 3 yrs through blogging. The formal blogger meets might seem over powering and intimidating but they actually are not as you'd come across a nice set of people :)

But I have more fun when I hang around with bloggers I connect with and who have become my friends and at environments that we are comfortable's all about spontaneity after all.

Don't stress too much...that's not what blogging's about :)

Finally it's all about the extra paani puri or fau fuchka as we used to say at Calcutta