Have you ever appreciated something, realizing you could never do that yourself even if you tried hard? No matter how much I love to write, I know I could never be a food blog writer. If I try hard, I “might” possibly succeed at romantic fiction, maybe articles like “100 things not to do when you are young and stupid”, or an article or two sometimes about a book I read or a movie I watched that no one else cared about, but never a food blog. I look at amazing food blogs I follow and go wow. I have a fair amount of childhood memories of flipping through the Bengali magazine “Sananda” (Aparna Sen was the editor then), getting straight to the “Rannabanna” section (the food section), which would keep me busy drooling for a while. However, the concept of publishing something you cook for others to see was not an option then. Now it is. Many of my friends successfully maintain food blogs and Facebook pages. It is a treat to go through them and drool. However, I cannot imagine myself having one. The reason? I’ll give you five, and let me know if they don’t seem good enough. I’ll then give you 50 more!
1. Lack of food vocabulary
I might have learnt 20,000 words when I was preparing for the GRE, but when it comes to food vocabulary, I find myself having the vocabulary of a 5 year old. I don’t even understand half the technical terms, that are not really culinary jargon but regular words. Simmer. Season. Croquettes. Couscous. Tortillas. Quesadillas. I don’t even recognize half the vegetables. Chives? Zucchini? Shallots? I could imagine myself confused in a grocery store looking for these vegetables for hours. I recognize what I grew up eating- potatoes (yeah Bengali people eat a lot of them), onions, spinach, and so on. It took me ages to find out that brinjal is eggplant and lady’s finger is okra. Then, I look at phrases and sentences and wonder if I could ever come up with words like these. “Remove with a slotted spoon.” Who the hell knew what a slotted spoon was? “Mix in a non-reactive mixing bowl.” I could never come up with the non-reactive word unless I took a course in culinary classes. “To a pot of water add the bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and peppercorn and bring to a rolling boil.” What exactly is a rolling boil? “Add a drizzle of oil or ghee. Add a lime wedge.” I like the words drizzle (and not “put”) and lime wedge (instead of “cut a piece of lime”).
2. I don’t know the art of culinary foreplay
I like most food blogs, not only because they put up extremely tempting pictures of good food (that I assume tastes as good as it looks), but also because food bloggers weave a story plot around why they cooked what they did. Who cares about how you make fried fish or baked chicken, you can find the recipe from any number of sources. What makes it interesting are the stories writers weave around their culinary experiences. Stories about how the in-laws were arriving and one had to impress them with their culinary exploits. Stories about how the rainy, romantic weather prompted someone to make hilsa curry. Stories about how there was chicken in the freezer and zucchini in the vegetable tray and you could either go to bed on an empty stomach or make zucchini chicken. If I wrote a food blog, my posts would look like the salt analysis tests you did in chemistry lab years ago. Take salt. Add hydrochloric acid. Check for effervescence. Look for a precipitate. Discard solution. Add more sulphuric acid till you felt nauseated with the smell of rotten eggs that could also be coming from the lunch box of your lab partner and not necessarily out of your test tube. Similarly, take fish. Cut with knife. Fry with oil. Use Burnol if you burn yourself while frying. If it turns out to be too salty, feed it to the neighbors. You see, I fail to weave stories around what I cook, mostly because most of my culinary expeditions are borne out of hunger pangs, and not out of fantasies of food associations and fancy food related stories. I am just too straight to the point. I don’t know the art of culinary foreplay.
3. Culinguistically challenged: Unimaginativeness in coming up with food names
I am extremely unimaginative when it comes to thinking of names of dishes. Who knew a little alcohol mixed to lassi makes it a fanciful “lassi with a kick”? Or a lot of green vegetables added to kababs could make it hariyali kabab. I always wondered if chicken do pyaaza is made of 2 onions. Is “murg-e-bahar” called so because it is made of chicken and all the vegetables that were threatening to become bio-weapons in the fridge? “Kadhai chicken” is made in a kadhai, I get it, but so is every other kind of dish I cook. I have never cooked a “kadhai-less kofta” or “bin kadhai ke aloo”. My culinary expert friends would die of shame if I told them I thought shiitake mushrooms are pronounced shit-take mushrooms. I would be very uncomfortable sitting in French or Italian restaurants because I have no clue what they would serve me with promises of making me some “Petite sautee de courgettes a la Grecque” or “ Poco rosso di zucchini con limone et olio della Toscana”. Even if they gave me their simpler English version of “Caramelized zucchini medallions in a light citrus reduction”, it is far more complicated for me to decipher the contents compared to something like, say macher jhol, kosha mangsho, or shorshe chingri (shrimp cooked in mustard sauce). I like to keep names simple, and take them at face value. I can’t imagine getting lost in between the rezalas and the marsalas (which sound like bad words or “gaali”s anyway, no matter how good they taste). Sure, I can try coming up with fancy names if you insist, but I don’t think you are going to appreciate them. Trust me, nothing is going to whet you appetite if I called Maggi “White flour curlers”.
4. "Present”ation: I have no future in it
When I see food pictures, I don’t just see the food. I marvel at how well food bloggers excel at “food modeling”. It seems it is not enough to place a dish of steaming hot pasta and take a picture. It is as bad as taking pictures of someone in their home clothes. You need to make them wear better clothes, take them to a scenic location, and then take pictures. Similarly the plate of steaming hot pasta should be accompanied by a flower pot whose flowers should be out of focus in the picture, but still visible enough. The bowl of fish curry should have to green chillies criss-crossed on it as garnishing. The chicken curry should be accompanied by the open pages of a food book again out of focus so that no one knows if you were reading about eggplants and cooking chicken. You need to use props- a recipe book, a glass of wine, a flower vase, a coffee mug, something to make your food look pretty. And just like you cannot make someone model for you wearing the same clothes everyday, you cannot use the same bowl, plate, or cutlery to take pictures of everything you cook. A deep-yellow curry should have a lighter plate in the background. A black bowl will background well against the white raita. Most of the food I cook looks yellow anyway, either because I put too much turmeric, or because my home has yellow lighting and I don’t know how to use my camera well. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t tried. I once made an omelet, put some tomato ketchup on it, and posted the pic on this blog when someone commented, “Hey it seems your omelet is wearing a red bandaid”. It cracked me up, but it told me a lot about my presentation skills. I figured if someone wanted to make an omelet, they could go to “n” number of great food blogs out there. They don’t need to come to sunshine blog.
5. If I cook and garnish and present and take pics and write blogs, when do I get to eat?
This is singlehandedly the most important reason why I could never write a food blog. I am just too busy waiting to hungrily pounce on the food, starting the process when I start cooking, munching on stuff, taking a ladle full of steaming soup even before it is done, picking up that piece of chicken straight from the cooking vessel and ending up with blisters on my tongue. Once my food is cooked and ready on the plate, chances are less that I will decorate it with flowers and fancy props to take pictures. Chances are more that I will pounce on it and finish every bit of it, licking my fingers, licking the bowl, and not stopping till I sensed that loud burp knocking the walls of my food pipe.