Sunday, April 26, 2015

goa on my plate turns one : a food writer retrospects

It’s been a year since I made the transition from being a food blogger to being a food critic with my very own column in a leading local newspaper, and I am feeling particularly nostalgic today.
40 articles in a year! Whew I didn’t know I had it in me, and I am absolutely and completely indebted to my editor Anuradha Das who had such tremendous faith in me.
To be honest it all began with foodietrails right here, and it makes sense that I try and makes sense of all that I learnt this past year , right here.  So here is me looking back at the year that was, and my one year old restaurant review column “goa on my plate” published in the Navhind times.

1.       Don’t let personal choices get in the way of you tasting EVERYTHING.: Now I am a Bengali, who lived most of her growing up years in delhi and Punjab, and then settled down in Pune, studied in places like Mumbai, Madurai and Goa. I love my alu paratha , pongal and sambar, ilish maach and vada pav with equal veracity.I do believe that the intact prawn heads add depth of flavour to a curry like nothing can, and the gooey ‘brain ‘ of the prawn melts right into the curry, just the way the marrow in a shank of meat does in mutton curries, but Goan prawn curry does not have prawn heads, unlike the Bengali version. Knowing the difference helps. Also the fact that you have all the proteins and have no major food allergies. ( this is different from a blog writer, you could be a vegan and have a vegan food blog, but as a restaurant reviewer you must look beyond the organic almond milk)


2.       Professionalism: In this one year I wrote 40 columns. That’s more than the number of blogs that I wrote in 2 years. Bad day at work, or you are just feeling bleh, are not reasons enough to not turn in your column. There was just one time when I went by 3 weeks without an article because of health reasons, and that too because my editor is a sweetheart.


3.       Read: I read every other newspapaer and weekly and travel magazine which had covered the same places to see what they had liked, how they had interpreted the menu, and did they dislike the sorbet as much as I did. Also about the cuisine you are planning to review. Turkish, Brazilian, Irani, African, , these were some of the foods I needed to exhaustively research on before reviewing the places which served them. I learnt that the Tahdig or the crispy rice at the bottom of the Persian rice cakes is a speciality and the rice was not “overcooked till the rice at the bottom got burnt”, it’s meant to be crisp and relished that way too.  (most of the travel food bloggers must already be doing that, I remember the hectic Kashmiri cuisine research prior to our Kashmir trip)
my favourite food writing book


4.       Don’t be a food snob: I love to write evocatively about the dishes I eat, that’s the only way I can make my readers hear the sizzles, see the butter glaze over the roast, and feel the charcoal smoky flavours of a roasted leg of lamb. But words like”marvellously piquant and tantalisingly sweet” are for my column. When eating out with friends and family I restrict my vocab to “amazing” “great” and “delicious”.no one likes to hang out with a food snob.




5.       Restaurant owners and chefs are people too: Some days are off days. Its best to give any place a second chance.


6.       Find your voice:Jamie oliver with his “these loverlies are absolutely delish” and Nigella Lawson with her “voluptuous sensuality” in terms of the words she chooses add so much character to their food. I as a newbie food writer am still finding my voice. It’s interesting to try new styles of writing every few articles, or change it to suit a particular restaurant. I am experimenting, still.

7.       Know your audience: when I started to write I knew that unlike a blog where my audience was as varied as from Poland to New Zealand, my readers were going to be locals. They could be the homemaker who reads my column while on her morning break with a cup of tea, or school going kid who likes food, or the really hard core foodie who had been to the self same restaurants and had an opinion. I knew too that with a name like “kuheli Bhattacharya” I may not be accepted as a”local” and thus after my first few articles, I chose to add my husbands last name as well, the “rane” helps me win over some of the people who come up to me and say “but you are not from Goa, no?” (unlike a blog where people seek you out, here you are wedged right in the middle of the local news whether it s a charity event, or the weather.)


8.       Don’t get personal: Ok, so sometimes I hate the restauteur, or the PR team gets on my nerves, but I don’t let that get in the way of reporting on the food. I don’t need them to be my friends, or the other way round. Having said that I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the most fascinating and genuine people from the food industry.


9.       Hate the rating system:I haqve system of rating from 1 to 5. It’s what catches a readers eye. But here’s the deal, it just doesn’t feel right to give any one a less than 2 rating and neither do I want to go over a 4.5. with such varied eateries like beach shacks, to upmarket chef owned restaurants, to restaurants in 5 star hotel properties, a point system does not do the food and the people who serve it justice. I urge my readers to read the subtext rather than just the scoreboard.




10.   Be true to your readers: over a decede ago, who am I kidding it’s more like 2 decades ago, I used to read a food column in a pune newspaper, written by an S Mukherjee. I used to love his columns so much that I had once written to him, asking him how I could write like him. Now everytime I write I think of my readers and how in those 700 to 900 words I can make their day happier. sure it’s only a food review column, but there is magic in the written word, whether in a blog, a diary, or in  news print.


My local news column has given me much, but I miss the connectivity of a blog, a chance to interact with other foodies who have tried the same places or have a difference of opinion about how the snapper should have been cooked.
Thus , the face book discussion page : goa on my plate an open forum for all to discuss food in Goa.
My instagram kuhelib with the hash tag #goaonmyplate where all the behind scene pics of the food reviews and real time pics, as well as the news clippings itself.
And twitter which I am still trying to figure out : kuheli1 .

ps: i will post an exhaustive restaurant review selection from the column soon enough, as a ready reckoner for eating out in Goa. :) stay tuned guys, and thanks for the love and support.