Something Fishy About the Food Critic


Something Fishy About the Food Critic

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar

There is a new species in town and it is insidious. Its members come in varying shapes and sizes but besides a shared love of food, they have in common an even deeper devotion to spreading this love via social media. Oftentimes you find them perched on the bar chair next to you, phone-hand aimed at the heady beverage in front while the free hand does the real work – burrowing deep inside that vat of free buttered popcorn.

When they’re done there’s not a trace of grease, and 11 #foodporn portraits, which they then proceed to make even more Instagram-worthy, in their #ootd. Behold the new Indian food critic.

Restaurants want them; cafés covet them. I’ve seen perfectly steely managers unravelling at the sight of them, or even publicly cajoling them into a more promising return if they so happen to have left their establishment miffed. Hell hath no fury like a critic scorned.

In the time that I manage a profile photo upload (that gets all of four likes in due course), the critic has already reviewed seven different places on Potahto including the “hidden treasure” Keshav’s Korner, and Funky Monkey – even though Funky Monkey doesn’t open for the next eight months – and acquired 139 new followers.

You’re bound to run into Mr Proof-is-in-the-Proportions, whose size is directly proportional to his knowledge. He has invested time and girth in the learning process, and his culinary prowess now knows no bounds much like his waistband. He aimfully waddles from one restaurant opening to another as journalist/consultant/dubious food-community head. He never got his due working the backend, when he was not a face (or a bottomless pit) – just a torrent of puny phrases. He got with the social media boom, being savvier with his Android than with actual cuisine. That, and his old timey-ness, have rendered him the father figure of modern food critics.

Then there’s the inspired Expert-from-Borivali. She has a small but feisty following, and plenty of daily commute time for regular uploads. An ardent MasterChef Australia (but secretly also India) buff, and budding home chef, her favourite haunts are hyper local and plenty – and the list is ever growing thanks to all those review invites. You’ll probably catch her in an Ola Share to work and if she’s feeling chatty, she’ll tell you about her breakfast: “Glorious steamed semolina with julienned veggies, tangy lime juice, and finely chopped, fresh coriander” or upma.

There’s tHi$ gUY. Luckily his “eatz delishus fud on wknd” days are behind him, but not that far behind.

You can’t not run into Aunty Long-Time with her vast repository of recipes and regular food column. The nalli-quaffing sexagenarian is the authority on regional Indian cooking with many recipe books up her tussar sleeve. Sadly, people no longer read cookbooks. She gets all the respect but none of the popularity of snapback-sporting teenyboppers Instagramming their quinoa salads. She’d do it too, only she knows amaranth is far superior. Her following is made up mostly of former Sanjeev Kapoor fangirls who’re happy to finally be heard as Aunty takes queries – no you cannot replace the butter in butter chicken with olive oil – and other “serious” critics.

There’s tHi$ gUY. Luckily his “eatz delishus fud on wknd” days are behind him, but not that far behind. The Bangalore import now fancies himself some sort of microbrewery mafioso. He’s sanctimonious about the complex beverage that is beer and will tell you 15 ways NOT to drink it even if you so much as asked to borrow his pen. He continues to organise sudsy meet-ups that attract a few fellow metal heads. A typical introduction with him includes a list of Indian microbreweries in reverse order of their opening, heavy metal, Harley versus Bullet, foraging for hops, and why baseball hats are a classic look for hunky men.

Have you said hello to the SoBo ka Bobo, whose Instagram is lit like the Tuscan sun? He’d ask for Chianti to be decanted at Ashmit’s Snack Shack if he could, if he even ventured outside of SoBo that is, which he wouldn’t, and ever set foot in anything that has “shack” in its name. Unless it’s Goa. Bobo is a well-travelled pretty boy with blinders and very specific preferences, who equates quality with extortionate.

He’s often spotted in the company of New-Age Nigella, a model-turned-food reviewer who has declared war on fat shaming. She often uses semi-porno words such as “taste-gasm” and her Insta is full of pictures of her twisted in complex yoga poses and posts about vegan recipes. Someone get her a cooking-show already.

You might also run into mousy little me. I have a keen interest in food and writing but have next-to-zero social media savvy. So I am equal parts amused, bemused, and burnt. But I am always – always – watching.