Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Serendipity art festival 2017- India and the pursuit of arts

Serendipity Art festival 2017 was held from the 15 th to the 22 of Dececember in Goa’s Capital city Panjim. This is only the second edition of the festival, with last year being a brilliant showcasing of different arts , again all of it absolutely free of cost for all the patrons.
I attended the festival last year and I loved it (read about it HERE) , but this year I was so caught up at work, juggling my patients, my OPD clinics, taking the little one to school, planning the festive season , and also fighting off a migraine that I almost gave Serendipity a miss.

Which got me thinking to ‘how important is ART to us as average hard working middle class Indians?’ now, while I dabble in travel blogging, I can hardly afford to ‘ quit my dream job and take up travel as a life goal.’ The same goes for attending Art shows and art exhibitions.
Some where in April this year the Snapchat CEO allegedly said something about India being too poor to be a market for the rabbit ears photo filter app. And while I agree to an extent that India has more pressing problems than to create rabbit ears for our selfies,  Can India afford to neglect the pursuit of ART?

Serendipity art festival celebrated 7 facets of art , from the culinary to crafty, photography to music, dance and theatre, and all of this experiential art was available for free for anyone who chose to spend not their money , but their time at the venues.
But time is of premium. Especially for a working mom like me.

And so this blog is to filter what I gained from the sernedipty experience, so that You can decided for your self if it’s worth your time and effort.

#saf2017 arty neckpieces at the serendipity art festival

can you see me sporting the neck piece? read about these wool made out of plastic in the blog. serendipity art festival

The inspiration for the necklace? dreamcatchers in shades of orange and green amongst foliage of orange and green. Art is everywhere, if only we care to see.

Papier mache skulls, with the typical Kashmiri drawing of chinar leaves. A wall adjacent to it had urdu poetry about Kashmirs struggles. Headphones allowed you to hear the sonorous voices of the Ghazals as you gazed on to instagram worthy skulls. 

A dynamic white wall with red installation, a red letter box, : the state with no letter box, again so snapchat worthy, and representing Kashmir.

An entire room filled with gorgeous graphiti, and bold black and white images. The words traversing across walls, squiggling up and down, and making you travel along the walls, much like the Delta of the sundarban region that it is about. The walls talk about the tiger widows, and how every week men are dying at the hands of the tigers, whose land is usurped by people, and these people in turn turn to fishing, and these fishes are inturn stolen by others ( pirates) and the boats are stolen as well, and the cycle begins again, of death, poverty, dire circumstances, until people stop dreaming all together.

A food theatre where we ate courses such as Bengali jhaal muri, Bihari Litti chockha, Manipuri momoms, and benarasi paan among others. The actors shared a street vendors story, like how the Litti chokha seller has to pay off the policeman and the local goon, and pay for school and tuition and home u keep, so when you ask him if he can sell it for less he growls ,” do liiti, or chokha pachaas 50 rs , it wont be for less, and it wont be less spicy, and don’t you dare eye my daughter , you scoundrel!” , the Tamilian mango seller is married to her mama, in typical custom of consanguinity so prevalent in that part of the country, and she says it is “louv” love. A nuanced look at what the street vendors life looks like.

the litti chokha at serendipity, stand on the street. made by vasquito of Cluck tales

get to know the man behind the mask

An Australian masterchef shares her experience of India, and how she found her home in Goa which reminded her of her home near the Great barrier reef, and the beaches and sand called to her. She was inspired to cook the Goan crab xacuti with her own twists of fish paste , and honey among other things .

crab xacuti by sarah todd

Sarah Todd and I at the serendipity art festival

Dream catchers trying to catch the rays of the sun, and wool made out of recyclable bits of plastic being woven into yarn. A drum circle with people joining in from all walks of life. A rare museum of all our childhood things like a dial up phone, and toasters and old school computers, all now part of obsolute but pretty artwork.

A photo exhibition of Geeta Bali and the romance of yesteryears.

What did the art at Serendipity teach me? That art can be found anywhere, be it painted on the side of walls in the city, or perched on the rooftops, or hanging from trees in a children’s park, art is everywhere, and it has the power to bring about change. Just like the singers, poets, musicians , cinema artists of yesteryears who brought about revolutions through their art. Art can lead to something tangible through the ephemeral and ethereal. While you walked the corridors of Adil Shah palace, you realised that the Mapusa Market is a place of wondrous findings and needs to be preserved, or that the Pano Bhaju outfit of the Fado singers in Goa is essentially fashion fusion of many cultures traversed by the spice traders, or that there is something called the tiger widows and these people have faces and homes and most importantly dreams.

The Pnao Bhaju exhibit by Wendell rodricks

a closer look at the Pano Bhaju

Can India afford to spend time in the arts , while people die in famines?
I attended a stand up comedy show by Kenny Sebastian where he said ,” we live in a bubble, there are people in the country who are waiting for the rains , farmers who are dying because of the delay in rains, and we are grunmbling ‘yaar ye comedy show kab chalu hoga / when will the show start ?’ “

That is the dichotomy of India, and shows like Serendipity help bridge that gap, the sorrows and strife of the street food vendors, and the tribals of sunderbans and so many others were identified and these stories shared in heartachingly beautiful artistic mediums.

Because while Indians are forgetting the arts, the arts are not forgetting India and it’s Indians.

As a food and travel blogger, I decided to celebrate the city I live in from a travellers perspective this year and here are a few more blogs about the Goan state of mind.

read about the International film festival, and how you can make the best of your time at the IFFI HERE
wanted to eat a typical fish thali in Goa and what to know more ? read HERE
Been inquisitive about the double decker buses which have been started lately by the tourism deprtment ? read about the Hop on Hop off bus services HERE
Ever wondered why the Goan houses are so colourful on the outside? it's because the church wanted everyone to colour their homes so that the church stood out in all it's pristine whiteness, read more about the secrets of Goan homes HERE

sikki grass art at serendipity art festival 

shadows and paper lantern filigree at Serendipity art festival

ecofriendly wool at the Serendipity art festival

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

4 tips on enhancing your food pictures using food captions

A picture is worth a thousand words, whether that adage is true or not, let’s face it, it is far easier to take a picture than write a thousand words on the same. Less time consuming, and more attractive, food photography has become the prime way people consume food, apart from actually eating it. In fact many prefer just to gaze longingly at molten cheese oozing out of humongous burgers, or chocolate sauce drippings over decadent oreo shake creations, than actually eating the cholesterol bombs.

But, pictures of food are like the pretty runway models; after a while, you crave to know more. You want to know what sauce is giving the pork spare ribs that cherry red glistening; you want to know if it’s a smoky sauce redolent with African spices, or a caramelised fruity reduction of pomegranates. The food writing, or the food caption to these pictures provides the soul, to the pretty faced picture.

No matter how glorious the picture, the ultimate gratification shall come through the written word. Or the spoken word in the form of video, but they shall be words, that help you savour the food.

I see a lot of pictures on Instagram with captions such as “so good.” “ Yum, who wants some?” or some with just the caption “THIS” . These insta accounts have thousands of followers, and I am not saying all of them, but a large number of them have a limited vocabulary. Not that I am judging, I dig those pictures too. They are the bomb.
But, this blog project #indianfoodwriting is not about hash-tagging your way to food writing fame. It is about the truest form of love for food. It is called “let’s write about food “ for a reason.
Now I ask you, if you were food, and someone proclaimed their undying love for you. Would you want a heartfelt love-letter, or would you be content with #bae #mylove.
My love for food is as deep as my love for writing, or the love of words. I love the way ‘Pavlova’ sounds. The delicate, almost whisp of the v consonant, or the lyrical quality of the rise and fall of the syllables, as they are spoken add to the actual experience of having the meringue and fruit dessert. Try it. Now try saying ‘croissant’ and tell me you don’t feel distinctly aristrocratic. Now try a few Indian names. Rustic; Makki di roti. Lush; Shorba. Try saying  Kishmish or pulav.
Food photography has enhanced food, as well as food writing. Do not consider it a competition, consider both alies, both fans and followers of the same ‘mehbooba’ ; food.
Food writing, can enhance your picture, breathe life into them, imbibe soul. Some pictures tell a story, the reason why that dish, or even the plate it is plated in is special.
A picture of apples, next to a sunny window.  The food writing maybe about the first sunny day, after many days of cold winter rains, a sign of hope and cheer. Or it could be about the whimsical fairy tale, Snow White and how  just looking at the single perfectly rosy red skin, makes you feel as if you were Snow White herself. You don’t care, that the shiny skin is most probably wax, maybe if like the various youtube videos, you actually scratched the skin, you might see the white waxy residue peepling away. But, do you reach for the butter knife? No, you know that the shine might very well be wax, but the ruby red has you enthralled. You are hypnotised, just like Snow White, maybe she knew the apple was poisoned, but she was unable to resist the temptation, the scarlet calling.

The picture is the wand, but how you write is the weaving of the magic. Be a magician.
There are food photography classes and even food styling classes. And in this blog post  we are going to take all the tips and tricks taught at the food photography and food styling classes and apply it to writing.

1.       Create a mood: Both food photography and food styling try to build a certain mood with the use of lighting and props. A dim, dark, moody lighting, or a bright, fresh sunlit photograph of the same food object reveal different moods. A dark chocolate cake rests next to a tall glass of wine, a few suggestive strawberries, and a single red rose, all lit up in candle light hues, makes for a romantic setting. Let the words that accompany them then, also reflect the same mood.  Look for @shivesh17 on instagram for more

2.       Use of props: The use of brassware crockery, antique forks and spoons you sourced from the flea market, your kids toys, or even your mom’s sari used as a backdrop. Props are often used to either make a picture pop, or to tell a story, or set the scene. Make your props the story while writing the captions. So the picture of your son’s tiffin, with his toys can actually be about parenthood, and how motherhood made you the home chef you never knew you could be. Tell stories, not necessarily just of the food, but why it is special to you. The love for apples, and your honeymoon in Shimla. Look for @masterchefmom aka Uma Raghuraman on instagram for more.

3.       Choose a focal point: The rule of thirds, was one of the toughest lessons for me. I always put my object of interest right front and centre. If you do not know the rule of thirds, then here is what it is. Take any picture, or painting. Now divided it such that two lines run top to bottom and two from side to side, dividing the whole picture into 9 equal parts. Somewhere at the intersection of these four lines, are four points where your focal point lies. Your writing too should have a focus, an end goal. What are you trying to say? Do you want to say it was a delicious meal, or do you want to celebrate the oranges in the picture. Loved the rossettes on the cake? Or the crispness of the waffles. Having a focal point also helps start conversations around the same. Look for my own instagram @thefoodietrails

4.       Inspire: You would not think it at first but food pictures can inspire. Inspire fitness, with pictures of smoothies and salads, food photographs taken at spas, and detox clinics. But apart from eating healthy, food pictures can inspire to buy local produce, when we showcase our Indian ingredients, and the local farmers. A lot of western food writers, and even food shows showcase the local farmer, they film them growing their veggies and fishing, and even cattle farming. But in India we rarely know where our food came from except the local bhaji wali. Time to bring Indian farmers and local small fisherfolk in your area into focus. These people don’t have Public relation teams, or marketing, but dignity of labour is an important aspect not dealt with in India. Focusing on the people that bring us the food, builds a healthy social environment. Food photography and food writing can help build tourism, help humane killing of animals for food, help sustainable food production, build food communities, help children eat cleaner. Take your pick of the inspiring story you want to tell. If you doubt your power to make a change, then remember you have already been given the power, you are an influencer. Which indirectly means you are influential.

Ok . That was too much Gyaan for one post , but if you made it through; thankyou for your patience. Go out and be influential and not just an Influencer. Write, and know that your words can bring change. I hope mine are , that’s why I decided to celebrate food writing especially Indian food writing on my blog for the month of December . #blogchatterprojects 
Read previous posts on why I started this project HERE.
How to develop your writing Voice HERE.
4 tips on how to write about food tastings HERE.

Also happy to give a shout out to fellow food blogger Shivesh who is also sharing his food blogging tips and has a very cool one related to Instagram and pictures HERE

Friday, December 15, 2017

The 11:11 brunch at Kenilworth , Goa

Much has been said about the 11 th hour: Like most of  us leave things to be done , up until the 11th hour, be it office work, school homeworks, or even holiday packing . taking their cue from the bewitching hour, Kenilworth decided to celebrate the 11. 11 food counters, 11 bespoke cocktails and mocktails, 11 children's activities and play , and it all starts at 11:11 in the morning on a Sunday!

So husband, mom, kid in tow, three generations decided to check out the sunday brunch at Kenilworth, and gave it a 10/10.

Bombay street food, to chaat counter, and a Thai cuisine counter, and Italian pasta, a carving kiosk with a dressed snapper and a lamb, cheese platters, live grills, and all of this in a very unhurried atmosphere interspersed with archery , cycling, life size chess board, drawing and craft for kids, and back for more desserts. 

Things I loved about the Brunch 
1. Sprawling spread which ranges from Indian to foreign cuisine. 
2. Plenty of breakfast to lunch options like Dosas, eggs, Pao and bun options which seemlessly move on to snacks and grills and more substantial lunch courses.
3. Option to take breaks during the meal and to partake in the activities.
4. All the activities such as archery, cycling, foozball are inclusive of the brunch .
5. The sprawling grounds have gorgeous landscaping such as sprawling grounds, and coconut groves, a swimming pool and even a fantastic chess board, super place for fancy family pictures ( we got quite a few for our Fb and Insta profiles.
6. Endless dessert options from chocolate fountains to Jalebi Rabri. 
7. Live counters which allow for personalisation such as the cooking of your grilled meats, or preparing the spicyness of your pani puri.

I have previously written on how I brunch with my baby and tips on how to enjoy a Brunch with small children , read about it 

a table creaking with food

a salad bar any health foodie would love

from soft to aged cheeses

pasta anyone.

a baked snapper was the highlight of the meal at kenilworth Goa

roast lamb with char grilled oranges.

a Goan counter  complete with sannas, pao, poi, and chorizo

11 cocktails and mocktails as promised

fresh grills 

paint and draw while grasnny looks on

to play chess with these guys , is like playing with royalty

a childrens play area near the pool

i havent seen water slides like this in a pool before, except at water parks

thanks for stopping by ! hope you enjoyed our foodie trails 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

How to write food blogs with universal appeal #indianfoodwriting

So you attended the opening of a great new restaurant in Hyderabad, and wrote about it; why should someone in Ahmedabad care? Learn how to write food posts with universal appeal in this post which is part of my "let's write about food" project. #indianfoodwriting

The Indian food scene is taking the world by storm, but Indian food writing, not so much. If we want the world to sit up and take notice of Indian cuisine, we need to tell great food stories, we need to be convinced of our spices, and of our heritage, we need to bring home the comforting aromas of ghee roasted cashews over brilliantly vermillion winter carrots, we need to make our readers experience the joys of communal eating at a Durga puja Pandal ,with the Goddess Durga’s protima in the background , and the rustling of Indian silks and gentle clinking of the white and red ‘shakha paula’ bangles as the hands reach forward for a morsel of Bhog-er khichuri.

In this post we will deal with food tastings, that many food bloggers attend and are invited to. Do you want to eat exotic meals at fine dining restaurants, and write about them 
convincingly? Have you been invited to such events in the past, but were unsure of how to write impactfully , and with a universal appeal ? then read on.

Indian blogging is, more and more becoming all about reporting – I went here, I ate this. Partly because of the boom in the Indian food PR business, PR agencies bring together large number of ‘food bloggers’ to an event and the sole intention being to ‘get the word out’. And while I have nothing against PR agencies, they are afterall doing their job, I do feel it would be harmful for the food blog as such.
Say, you visited a newly opened restaurant in Hyderabad, and wrote about the 15 dishes you ate “ I had A dish it was nice, B dish was fantastic, C dish was rubbery and lacked seasoning….” This is what I mean by reporting. You are not a reporter! You are a blogger! What this does is that it restricts your blog to those who live in Hyderabad, and who wish to visit that restaurant. If you want to reach a wider audience beyond your city, and have relatability to the post beyond the first month of the restaurants opening , you could start with my tips.

1.       Don’t write about every dish you had : It’s exhausting! The restaurant gives you a sampler of their menu, because they don’t know your palate, but you don’t need to write about EVERY DISH you had. write about the ones that made you stop and revel in their complexity of flavour, or the precision of their preparation. Write about the green salad if it made you sit up and take notice, or even the paan [alate cleanser at the end of the meal.

2.       Speak of universal themes through the food: The joys of being able to source Bengali food in the midst of Hyderabad, being reminded of home, or unexpected flavours which remind you of a cherished holiday memory. Triggered food memories are what will help you connect with your readers , and make your writing uniquely yours, just like your food experiences are uniquely yours. Some themes you can use are love, longing, loss, happiness, bereft, wonder, awe and shock. The more out there your feelings the more outstanding will be your writing.

3.       Be seasonal: A lot of restaurants have seasonal menus, which change evry season. Such blogs have the danger of being obsolete ones the weather changes and the dishes no more exoist on the menu. But if you make it about the season and less about the food, it remains a celebration of the season throughout the year. I remember I had to write an article for a five star resorts monsoon street food festival, and instead of concentrating on the panipuri and paapdi chaat ( tastes and flavours of which are already familiar to Indians) I wrote about the craving to eat street food during the rains, to park the car by a road side curb, and eat raosted corn on the cob with ‘nimbu and mirch’ while standing under an umbrella. The universal appeal had immediate recall for a lot of readers, and I got a lot of letters from readers after the article appeared in my weekly newspaper column. Try the same for a Christmas/thanksgiving/autumn tasting menu. And tag me with #indianfoodwriting

4.       Celebrate the people: the dal rice at home is special, because you know your mom made it, when the cook makes the same thing, we don’t seem to be as emotionally invested. When you celebrate the chefs, and the cooks at the restaurants, when you bring to fore their involvement and training and thought process, you humanise the food. The dum pukht Biryani did not magically appear on your plate, the mango lassi did not churn itself. When you celebrate the people, the food they cook or present automatically is appeals more, and so does your food writing.

Use these tips in your next food / restaurant review, and share it with me and your readers on social media with the tag #indianfoodwriting .
Stay tuned for more tips and exerciseson food writing and blogging this month as part of my #blogchatterprojects.
Read other posts on “ lets write about food” #indianfoodwriting  
and HERE

Liked this post ? leave a comment or better still share it with friends using #indianfoodwriting. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Find your unique food blogging voice , Let's write about food

Welcome to the second blog post on “let’s write about food”

What makes a food blogger successful?

Important characteristics of a food blogger
A passion for their defined niche
A unique voice in text and visuals
An ability to inspire through words and photos
A presence in social media
An active community on their blogs

Now we will be discussing defined niche a little later in the month, but first let’s talk about developing a unique voice . Whether you are a fashion blogger, or a food blogger, or even a video blogger (vlogger) almost every article EVER written on writing , says that you need to find your own unique voice.

So what is a unique voice and how does one find it?
Guess what, you already have a unique voice, it is the voice, or the way you speak to your friends and family.

Now imagine this, you had a fantastic meal in a restaurant, and came home and called your mom and started to describe the meal. You want her to experience it in every way possible, you use memories from the past (remember that time we went to the mithai shop in Jaipur), you try and describe what you felt on looking at the dish ( it looked like a lego tower, I was honestly scared to break it), you went on to describe how you felt .
So what did you just do ?

You involved the listener. You got them interested in your experience. You shared a part of your day , and it made the person in front feel special and involved, rather than just force your views on them. And you used your own unique words/phrases to make it interesting for your mom.

That’s your voice.
Think of writing your blog as if speaking to a close friend or family member. You will rarely tell them,” I went to a restaurant and the food was delicious, so yum. “ Your best friend will turn around and say ,” yeah, so what? You eat great food every day.” When we talk to our friends we make funny jokes, or link the experience with something in the past, and then the food experience is no more yours but a shared experience.
Here are a few tips for you :

Recipe writers :

1.       Begin by sharing why the recipe is special to you. Maybe your mother used to pack it in your tiffin. It may have a connect to working moms who are struggling to find simple, nutritious but fun tiffin ideas.

2.       Be honest: Tell them how you tried making the dish and failed five times. Tell them about the tiffin your mom used to pack and how you threw it out the bus window every day. And how much you hated it! But decided it need a revamp.

3.       Go beyond the food: link it to something universal, like keeping traditions alive (old family recipes), or willing to try something new (cooking a new cuisine is like an adventure in itself), or persevering to achieving something in life ( a failed recipe finally nailed).

For restaurant reviews :

1.       Triggered memories: More often than not, the dish you most liked at a place, has some unique connection from your childhood. The peas dish, which reminds you of sitting on your kitchen floor and removing peas from a pod, and eating half of them while peeling. Visit to the vegetable market, family holiday travels, eating the dish for the first time with your girlfriend.

Kalyan Karmarkar talks about food memories on his blog www.thefinelychopped.com . The blog post was an indepth insightful article on the origins of Mughlai paratha, but it began with a food memory about rolls.
I grew up on egg rolls from the parar roller dokan (street corner roll shop) in Kolkata’s suburb of Bansdroni. My mother used to give me Rs 1.50 everyday which went up to Rs 2.50 and then Rs 3 in my high school years. I am talking of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Every evening I would come back from school and then go to the roll shop clutching the change my mother had given me for my evening snack while she would still be at work at the college she taught in in faraway Howrah.

The story though has no bearing on the body of the article which is about a whole different food altogether, but it acts as a hook, a term used by writers which literally meanssomething used to ‘hook the reader.  Everyone at some point has received pocket money to spend on our favourite food snacks, either at the school canteen or the occasional street fare. Older readers especially working mothers may identify with leaving children to fend for their post school meal while they work. These food memories help readers connect with the author even though he maybe talking about a food that they have never tasted , seen or heard of.

2.       Be honest : What’s the difference between a food blogger and the food expert? While the food expert has indepth knowledge of a cuisine or a cooking, as a blogger you have a unique perspective. While an expert will list out the qualities of a good Negroni , a blogger will be honest to say they are having it for the first time and their initial reactions to the cocktail. People read you, because they want your perspective , your outlook. They don’t just want to know how the food was, but how You found it. (when I was first starting out blogging and I read this tip in the Dianne Jacob book, it was like a huge paradigm shift for me)
But here are lines from Kalyan's blog he talks about the changing food writing scene in “From restaurant critics to social media influencers; the changing world of restaurant reviewing in India.”
What the democratisation of media has done, however, is that it has created new influencers and it reflects the fact that not every reader is the same. That it is fine to have an opinion on food and share it. That there are no experts when it comes to food. There is no right way and no wrong way. That it is the love for food and passion for it that matters at the end, and having a distinctive and consistent voice. This has helped celebrate the world of food and has helped everyone grow in the process. 

3.       Write about something you hated: Let’s be honest, when we like a dish we are less verbal about it, “achcha tha, mazaa aya.” but when it was abad meal, we verbalise much more ,” it was so spicy it was as if my tongue was walking on hot coals , smoke was coming out of my ears… “some of India’s most famous food writers started out by writing tirades, rather than praises. Kalyan Karmarkar even named his blog “ The finely chopped “ may be to ‘cut to size’ below average food. His first post was about airlines food. This week write about the worst meal you have had , don’t name names if you don’t want to hurt sentiments, or getting black listed from food tastings, but as a unique food writing exercise.
Use the above tips on some of your food writings this week, and post the links of your posts in the comments section below.
Share this post, or your own blog posts with the hashtag #indianfoodwriting for others to read and learn.
This series of “let’s write about food” is part of my #blogchatterprojects .

Next post on the importance of food writing in todays world of pictures and instagrams. 

Read previous post on why I started this project HERE
Read about writing with a universal appeal HERE