Cooking has emerged as one of the favourite pastimes during this lockdown, at least on social media that is abuzz with posts of delicacies right from the kitchen. But how often have you come across posts, say on Instagram, that talk about cooking idly, sambar or rajma chawal?
Not a single one right?
Instead, ravioli with truffle butter, aglio e olio pasta, tom yum, Pad Thai and other names that you would have probably seen only George Calombaris cook on MasterChef, are flooding social media.
This seems like a trend where gourmet foods are making a debut in household kitchens, thanks to the lockdown.
In the absence of fine-dining restaurants, which were the primary means of indulging in gourmet dishes, food enthusiasts armed with YouTube recipe videos and ingredients available on Swiggy and Zomato markets, are busy recreating a similar experience at home.
“We make idly, dosa, sambar, chutney everyday. There is nothing new about it. But if I say I am making Thai green curry or pesto chicken, it is going to create curiosity among my followers, and they will revert with reactions, comments and even ask for recipes,” said Apoorva, a food enthusiast.
Gourmet food, simply put, is just fancy food. It is of high quality in terms of ingredients, flavour and presentation.
Before lockdown, not many were used to the idea of gourmet cooking because firstly, the older generation, i.e. our parents couldn’t care any less about food being gourmet or not as long as it would fill their tummies. In their defense, chapathi and paneer butter masala were gourmet enough.
Secondly, the ones who are greatly influenced by MasterChef Australia, USA, or Jamaica, are finding the time only now to experiment with these dishes.
We need to accept the fact that quite too many times we have watched these cooking shows and wondered where to buy those ingredients. Like those perfectly filled fishes when all that our mothers served for lunch was fried snapper with a hundred small bones in it. Not to leave out the Hoisin, Romesco, Tabasco, Worcestershire (hope I got this spelling right, chuckles) sauces.
In Chennai, some of these ingredients were available in select stores like Amma Naana, Brown Tree and Gormei Market, most of them clustered in the posh Adyar side. It was relatively inaccessible to many in other residential areas. But during the lockdown, when food delivery apps were permitted to deliver groceries, there was a rise in the availability of such gourmet ingredients on these apps.
“People are buying more types of gourmet cheese rather than the usual store-bought cheese slices and cubes. We are getting orders of feta, ricotta, gouda cheeses and different kinds of fish,” said Regi, manager of Fortune Gourmet. He added that they were only delivering to star hotels before the lockdown, and had started home delivery after those hotels were shut during lockdown.
Seoul Store, a Japanese and Korean grocery store in Chennai, said the lockdown has been both boon and bane for their business.
“Once we got the pass from the government, we established our products on Swiggy and Zomato. Since the customer feedback was great, we launched our own website. Pork sausages, Japanese pickles and our Asian sauces like Sriracha and Peri-Peri became an instant hit,” said Palani, CEO of Seoul Store. COVID-19, he said, has helped his business grow, more than affecting it.
Chaithra Reddy, 22, was elated to find fish sauce in one of the grocery stores that was delivering via Zomato. “I always wanted to make Vietnamese lemongrass chicken. I had seen the recipe on the ‘Tasty’ channel on YouTube, and could not stop thinking about it since. It required fish sauce which I couldn’t find in my area. But I finally made it during the lockdown,” she said, proudly.
It is almost relatable how these recipe videos can get you hooked to cooking. There are videos right from ‘how to cut onions’ to ‘how to make a Mezze platter’ on YouTube, to walk you through your gourmet cooking experiments.
A Google India report showed that overall recipe-related searches grew by 20 per cent on YouTube in the past few months.
But what has throttled this sudden craving for exotic cuisines? Is it just for social media validation? Or out of genuine interest in experimenting with different food cultures?
Food bloggers relate it to acquired taste. “Our tastes have become global. Our food culture has been exposed to global influences. Friday night dinners are not just at Indian restaurants anymore. We got accustomed to Italian, Mediterranean, Afghani, Lebanese, etc. So when you put us under a lockdown and say we can’t order food, also due to safety concerns, people will eventually try to recreate what they crave,” said Radhey Soundarya, a food blogger.
From posting reviews of dishes on her Instagram page ‘Sinful Eats’, Radhey now recreates some of those dishes according to her cravings.
But will this trend continue even in the post-lockdown period? It seems highly unlikely as people would get back to their daily work routines, and their favourite restaurants would reopen and home-cooked gourmet food will again take a backseat.