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Foodprints on the web

Served with love and passion

Restaurant reviews as appetiser, recipes old and new for the main course, anecdotes for dessert — city foodies are serving up a delectable range of blogs to please every palate. They may not have taken on a challenge as audacious as Julie Powell’s legendary 365 days, 536 recipes project, but these bloggers are busy rustling up, tasting, sharing and documenting everything from Chalkumro Pata Diye Chingrir Paturi to choux pastry and Borir Jhaal to biryani.

For starters

In a city known for its passion for food, blogging is yet another platform to cook up a storm. The city boasts “at least 20 active bloggers” when even five years ago the number was in single digit. Facebook even has a page called Kolkata Food Bloggers with 1,227 likes! And for most, it all began with the taste buds.

Priyadarshini’s Borir Jhaal

Jayati Saha, 42, is a self-proclaimed foodie since childhood. “Ma and Dida were great cooks. I still cannot forget the Borir Jhaal and Bhoger Khichuri cooked by Dida. They would often ask me to taste what they cooked. That’s how I developed this love affair with food,” said the IT employee who writes at jayatisfoodnfood.blogspot.in.

Fellow blogger Archita Ray (My Food My Life), an alumnus of Delhi School of Economics and a former risk analyst, has always had a passion for cooking. “Cooking has never been a task for me. Ours is a foodie family and I love to treat everyone to new dishes every now and then. One day my husband suggested I start blogging about all that I create for dinner. That’s how it began,” said Archita.

For some like Kamalika Chakrabarty, in the US for a few years after marriage, and Jayati, blogging meant a break from monotony. If Kamalika was egged on by her friends, Jayati’s inspiration came from her 13-year-old son who helped her create the blog.

Jayati’s Sabudana Vada

What’s cooking?

For some, the need to document family recipes and random kitchen experiments led to blogging. “After marriage, I would keep calling my mom for different recipes. At one point, I realised I wanted to keep them for posterity. That’s when I started blogging,” said Sayantani Mahapatra, a homemaker who started blogging in 2011 with A Homemaker’s Diary.

For Sayantani, Chalkumror Pata Diye Chingrir Paturi, which she learnt from her grandmom, is the most prized recipe on her blog. “I was in Bangalore then and really craving for the chalkumro dish. It was not easy to get chalkumro leaves in Bangalore till one day I spotted a chalkumro plant in the backyard of a south Indian family’s house nearby. I actually went there in the dark of the night to pick a few leaves clandestinely!” laughs Sayantani. All’s fair in love for food!

Jayati, who loves experimenting with ingredients, started off by using her blog as a diary to jot down recipes. “I keep experimenting but later forget what exactly I had tried. So the blog became a journal to store my recipes,” she said.

Kamalika’s Eggless Orange & Chocolate Marble Cake

In Jayati’s kitchen and on her blog, traditional favourites are constantly reborn in new and tastier avatars. So, dimer dalna (egg curry) gets a twist with a dash of rosemary and parsley and a thandai becomes a mousse. “While cooking egg curry one day, I added some dried rosemary and parsley and the herbs gave the dish a completely different dimension,” said Jayati, who has started writing a bit about the background of every recipe she shares. For the recipe of Chital Peti Rasha, Jayati wrote about how bony the fish is and how Bengalis eat it in two distinct ways — the peti or belly cooked in a light curry and the meat scraped from the boney back made into the kofta-like muitha. Like many of her fellow bloggers, Jayati too includes step-by-step pictorial instructions whenever necessary.

Spice it up

Recipes and culinary tips may be the entrée, but without the right garnish the blogs would end up being bland and uninviting. “Writing recipes can be a good starting point. But you have to move on to the next level where you share food experiences,” said Priyadarshini Chatterjee (Let’s talk food), who gave up a full-time job recently to pursue her passion.

Amrita turns photographer

Soon after moving back to Calcutta after a five-year stay in Bangalore, Sayantani put together an inventory of where to find baking and other exotic ingredients in the city, a list she has kept adding to and updating. “It was while I was in Bangalore that I started baking seriously and I discovered many places there for my baking goodies. Back in Calcutta, I had to look for them from scratch. So I decided to list all the places that stock up on some of the basic and not-so-basic baking supplies,” said Sayantani, who studied designing and international business and is now full-time mommy of a five-year-old-son and a three-month-old daughter.

Bloggers are also careful about posting the right recipes at the right time. So for Holi, Jayati shared a thandai recipe and during Sankranti most blogs boasted pithe-puli recipes. “Recently I did a raw mango series. Aam kasundi diye dimer jhaal, raw mango and pepper fish, kancha aam diye murgi, alur dom with raw mangoes… That attracted a lot of traffic to my blog,” said Priyadarshini. For Poila Baisakh, she shared her recipe of kosha mangsho.

Amrita Gill, who runs a blog (Sweet ’n’ Savoury) with husband Vishal Tupper, posts a recipe of something sweet on the 24th of every month. Sweet Day, as she calls it, is dedicated to daughter Vaanya, who turns three on May 24.

Most bloggers do their own bit of “research” — be it watching cookery and food shows on TV or following websites and international blogs. “Whenever I watch TV, I tend to watch food-related shows,” said Amrita.

Priyadarshini’s favourite blog is Farrukh Shadab Ansari’s cubesnjuliennes.com while Archita loves watching Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals on TLC.

Archita’s Tom Kha Gai

Pan to pixel

A food blog without photographs is “like Calcutta biryani without alu”! Kamalika Chakrabarty (Silence sings with Kamalika C) admits she didn’t bother too much about the look and feel of the blog till a fellow blogger suggested a few changes to make it attractive. “That’s how my learning started and I am still learning,” said Kamalika, who follows a lot of blogs herself to keep abreast.

It’s Kamalika’s blog that made Archita realise the importance of photographs. “Initially, I would click pictures on my cell phone. Once I had made an almond cake, which tasted really good but I don’t think the pictures did justice to it. That’s when I realised that food should look good too. Later, I started using my husband’s SLR,” said Archita, who read up about food photography and when someone suggested that a 50mm lens was a must she “dragged my husband to New Market to buy one immediately”.

But even with a Sony DSLR and her 50mm lens, Archita finds some items too difficult to photograph. “I have been trying very hard to take good pictures of chaler payesh. It is also difficult to click something like a chochhori. It is so tasty and such a quintessential part of a Bengali spread but you just can’t do anything about how it looks!” she rued.

Sayantani’s sesame cookies

Looks matter

If photographs are important, so is the presentation. From utensils to upholstery, everything must be in keeping with the food. As Sayantani developed a knack for food photography, she started picking the perfect props too. So, for photographing a traditional meal, she brings out her kansar bashon (bell-metal utensils) and haat pakha (hand-held fan).

It’s all about making it picture perfect. “If I am walking down Gariahat, I keep an eye out for that one colourful glass or plate or some tableware,” said Archita.

Vishal prides himself in the Ocean Platter he created. “It turned out like a picture. I used coriander leaves to create a tree and the yolk of a poached egg for the sun. I used breadcrumbs to get an earthy tone while extracts of purple cabbage served as the blue backdrop of sky and water,” said Vishal, adding that it is easier to get creative with desserts.

Not just woks and ladles, food bloggers must be comfortable with their smart phones and tabs too. “Initially I was not too tech-savvy but gradually I picked up a few tricks on Photoshop. There are several online tools to edit photos which I use for the right effect,” said Amrita. Hubby Vishal adds that they keep a tab on the blog traffic on their iPad.

The Kolkata Food Bloggers team with executive chef Sujan Mukherjee and K Mohanchandran, general manager of Taj Bengal

Taste of success

While most agree with Poorna Banerjee (Presented by P) that one’s love for food is incomplete without sharing and hence blogging is an obvious choice to keep the fire burning, they also admit a little recognition could be a motivating factor. When they started out, most city-based food bloggers eager to try out new cuisines felt restaurants didn’t take them seriously. “Most restaurant owners felt all we wanted is free food,” said Kamalika.

But things have been changing with several star hotels inviting food bloggers to taste their fare and review them. “Yes, there has been a shift. Swissotel, The Oberoi Grand and Taj Bengal have invited us and it has been a great experience,” said Amrita.

Food blogging is a fast-growing industry, admits Marco Saxer, general manager of Swissotel Kolkata Neotia Vista. “Bloggers are becoming more popular with each passing day. We had hosted a team of food bloggers recently and it was wonderful to see their knowledge and insight on food. We look forward to hosting them in future as well.”

Sujan Mukherjee, executive chef of Taj Bengal, recently met a group of food bloggers and found them enthusiastic. “They came across as a very energetic group and eager to learn. I am happy they are visiting restaurants and writing about food. But their knowledge is limited. I hope with time they will improve.”

For Poila Baisakh, too, a group of bloggers went to ITC Sonar and Taj Gateway and posted delicious pictures of some of Bengal’s best- loved dishes.

Kamalika was recently invited by the Food Bloggers Association of India to their awards ceremony at JW Marriott, Mumbai. “I missed all my fellow Calcutta bloggers but at the same time I felt lucky to represent our group,” she said.

Poorna, who has received a steady stream of invitations for the last couple of years, warns of the pitfalls. Many restaurants and F&B brands send paid review requests. I pick and choose events and products based on what my readers would love,” said Poorna.

Icing on the cake

What began as just a pastime has gradually turned into a source of income for some. Kamalika is one of those who took the leap from blogger to entrepreneur and now delivers baked products on order. “I am a home baker. Many of my blog readers started asking me to bake them cakes. That’s how I got into this little business venture,” said Kamalika, whose specialities include Cherry Dark Chocolate Egg less Cake and Death By Chocolate. She is also planning to team up with Amrita to conduct baking workshops.

Vishal’s love for experimenting with kebabs and barbecue brought him requests from friends to don the chef’s hat for private parties. “They preferred me to caterers perhaps because of the personal touch I bring,” he said. Wife Amrita has also started delivering sweets and bakery products on order. “Once during Durga Puja, a lady from Bangalore wanted someone to deliver home-made traditional Bengali sweets to her parents in Calcutta. I made Aata Diye Phool Sandesh (custard apple-flavoured sandesh) and delivered it to the old couple. They loved it and I was encouraged to continue taking orders,” she said.

Priyadarshini realised the scope of food blogging when a group from Malaysia travelling to Calcutta asked her to take them on a food walk in the city. “I am also planning to host pop-up eating experiences for select guests. There’s so much to do!” she signed off.

For now, the bloggers have their finger in every pie.

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