Square Meals | Verve Magazine
India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Wine & Dine
March 31, 2020

Square Meals

Text by Ranjabati Das

Three Instagrammers describe the backstory behind one of their favourite food posts as Verve asks them about what it takes to get a like-worthy shot


What about this dish struck a chord?
I remember that day very well; it was in March 2019, and I had gone to see a friend who had just moved to Tunis. She absolutely insisted I visit the restaurant Dar Essafa, a typical canteen made up of several floors and hidden in the medina. We ordered lots of starters to share along with the traditional Tunisian dish pictured here, mosli, which means ‘roast’ in Arabic. It is a roast lamb that has been simmered for a long time with turmeric, onion, pepper, and tomato. It is served with melting potatoes in a terracotta amphora. It is well-spiced and delicious, and the serving is generous!

The best meal you had in Tunisia?
The fricassee sandwich, without a doubt. It’s the emblem of Tunisian street food. It’s a small tuna sandwich — fried doughnut-like bread topped with tuna, egg, potato and olives, served with spicy harissa sauce. Sometimes you can add a little lemon. I love it! People eat it on every street corner there.

Tell us about some favourite destinations/cuisines.
Mexico City, although I didn’t have the time to discover everything it has to offer because I was there for only a few hours, during a stopover. But I still had four meals in seven hours! I also really enjoyed Rajasthani fare in India, my favourite cuisine — because of my origins, I’m sure.

Do you actively look to try unfamiliar things when abroad?
I make a list of the specialities of the country I am travelling to beforehand. I have a golden rule: never refuse anything.

What do you ensure you take back home after visiting certain places?
If there’s one thing I never forget, it’s the fabulous cookies from Levain Bakery in New York. They are quite rich and evoke childhood memories. Otherwise, I like to bring back spices such as turmeric and Darjeeling tea from India, kampot pepper from Cambodia, pasta from Italy, olive oil from Greece…. My cupboards are overflowing with products from my travels; they are my postcards in a way.

An Indian dish that you love.
It’s not a very original choice, but my favourite dish is lamb curry, especially the one my mother makes. It’s so good that I have eaten it 15 days in a row. I can never find a lamb curry as good as the ones in India. I also like dal for times when I don’t feel like eating meat.

What makes for an Insta-worthy plate?
Junk food, like a burger or, conversely, something 100 per cent plant-based. In general, the dish has to be very tasty and colourful. And it has to have that little twist. Recently, I posted a picture of a Japanese tonkatsu sandwich, where the pork had been replaced by celery. The picture was a hit!

Do you photograph meals frequently when you eat out and do you post them after?
Yes, it’s part of my job. I’m a journalist specialising in gastronomy and lifestyle, so I often share my experiences, especially on social networking sites.

How has the relationship between food and social media altered your experience of eating out?
I often take a picture of the table or my dish before starting. But I don’t like to keep the people I eat with waiting, so I sometimes go to eat alone so that I can take my pictures quietly.

Have you ever eaten something just to get a shot?
It’s happened, but I felt ridiculous! In general, I never choose where I’m going to eat based on how photogenic the dishes are, I go more by instinct.

(Answers translated from French by Anandita Bhalerao)


What about this particular dish struck a chord?
My friends and I spent a day island-hopping, snorkelling and swimming that morning. We rented a simple fishing boat at the harbour in Coron, in the Palawan province of the Philippines, and picked up supplies on the boatmen’s recommendation — fish, shrimps, crabs, rice, some veggies and fruits. Around midday, we reached this beautiful, secluded island. Anchoring not far from the shoreline, the boatmen fired up a grill at the back of the boat for our lunch. There was nothing fancy about this meal, it was just fresh grilled seafood served with rice, veggies and a soy-ginger dipping sauce. It was full of flavour and took less than 10 minutes to prepare, but it left a lasting impression!

The best meal you had in the Philippines?
It was at this hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant, Dali Dali, that we’d chanced upon on our first night in Coron. We’d come back after the day of island-hopping and were craving something hot, spicy and comforting. We struck gold with this place — we ate there every single night, and it was always the same order: kimchi ramen, fried tofu, bibimbap, fried beef and soup!

Tell us about a few memorable discoveries?
I don’t enjoy falafel, but all the locals recommended Hashem’s in Amman, Jordan. It was a crispy, light falafel served with the best chilli sauce I’ve ever had! Secondly, tagines in Marrakesh. I had no idea there were so many types. Dondurma in Turkey is lusciously rich, velvety, creamy and has a slight sticky quality to it (thanks to the salep derived from orchid bulbs). The world’s most famous chocolate cake, the sachertorte, lives up to the hype, thankfully, because I stood in line for one-and-a-half hours in 4 degrees Celsius to try it! I had the one at Café Sacher Wien, an iconic, old Viennese cafe in the heart of the city. Other favourites include Hungarian goulash served in a bread bowl; Vietnamese coffee which uses condensed milk; and Ethiopian injera served with a variety of meats and veggies and enjoyed as a communal experience.

Do you actively look to try unfamiliar things when abroad?
Absolutely! Food is as much a cultural discovery and experience as visiting a monument or bazaar. I always try to eat local when I’m travelling — I love street food and markets, but I also splurge on meals every once in a while.

What are some of the new items that have entered your kitchen?
My travel shopping is always food-related! I brought back sumac, cardamom coffee and rose tea from Jordan; mint tea and hazelnuts from Morocco; spicy Hungarian sausage and paprika from Budapest; dried shitake, rice noodles and fish flakes from Hong Kong; kopi luwak (civet coffee) and sambal from Bali; and olive oil from Croatia.

What makes for an Insta-worthy plate?
The story behind it, of course — for example, the caretaker at my riad in Marrakesh made an amazing kefta tagine for my last meal in Morocco. Pristine locations coupled with simple-yet-delicious fare (like the grilled seafood in the photo), a must-eat dish or something I’ve made could also merit a post. I remember helping our guide prepare a five-course lunch from scratch, mid-hike, in the middle of the forest in Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve.

How has the relationship between food and social media altered your experience of eating out?
I love photographing food; whether I’ll end up posting it or not is another story. It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed doing — to capture the location, moment or story behind the meal. I do relish the brag value a droolworthy food shot brings with it, but I’m also quite conscious of ‘doing it for the ’gram’ and the unnecessary wastage involved! Sometimes, content creators feel the pressure to order a wide selection just so that they get the perfect shot.


What about this dish struck a chord?
This photo was taken in Bali. I was on a backpacking trip exploring the food and coffee scene in Indonesia with my friend, and these were the vegan hot cakes with vegan strawberry coco custard at Coffee Cartel Bali, a cafe that’s quite Insta-famous for its visually appealing vegan lattes and the use of natural colours. While I do not lead a vegan way of life, I certainly love exploring flavours and textures that are out of the box. And Bali is full of places that give you such an experience. For example, Coffee Cartel Bali uses beetroot powder in their Red Latte. The creativity in the choice of flavours and textures easily make it one of their bestsellers. A friend living in Bali recommended this place to me and I wasn’t disappointed.

Tell us about a few memorable discoveries?
A particular form of smoked cheese called oscypek is made out of sheep’s milk in the mountainous regions of Poland. You only get it in the resort town of Zakopane. The rest of the country tries to make its own version of the same, but the taste of the milk used to make authentic oscypek is very different.

What are some of the new items that have entered your kitchen?
Various versions of flavoured horseradish from Germany, particularly the ones flavoured with apples. I ensured that I got a few jars back home from my travels — these needed to be consumed within three months — to pair with my toast and sausages during breakfast.

The most distinct dish you have come across.
I visited an eatery in Poznan, Poland, and tried a soup called czernina or czarnina, which is made using duck blood and clear broth. While it may sound quite gross or challenging for one to try, the food consumed during my travels is largely influenced by local flavours that I may not find elsewhere.

An item that is a must-try.
Butterfly pea flower tea from Thailand and Vietnam. It is a caffeine-free herbal tea which gets its distinctive tint from the deep blue colour of the petals that makes the plant a popular choice for many dishes. An interesting dessert I made using these a while ago was a blue cheesecake tart with fresh blueberries.

What makes for an Insta-worthy shot?
A well-composed Insta meal would require the presence of visually appealing fresh food in crockery that is not jarring; a beverage to pair with the dish/es; a human element such as well-manicured hands either pouring a sauce or digging into the plate to add life and drama to the shot; and, most importantly, good lighting.

How has the relationship between food and social media altered your experience of eating out?
Having maintained a food Instagram account for five years now, I feel that my selection of a cafe or a restaurant relies majorly on the presence of good lighting and visually appealing food. I also need to make the image apt for my feed and convey a certain narrative. If it’s a newly launched place, I would be sure to grab some pictures. These are the major criteria for the selection of restaurants — not just for me, but for the majority of food influencers I know.

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