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Sun, 21 Oct 2018

Northeast Today

Rendezvous with an Avant-Garde Foodie

Rendezvous with an Avant-Garde Foodie
February 09
15:41 2018

January Edition, Special Story, Chirasmrita Devi

You’re sitting down at the table of your favorite restaurant, the food is about to be served. The waiter arrives around your table, places each dish down one by one. As you reach out to grab your favorite dish, one of your numbers yells at you to stop and says- “Wait! Let me take some pictures. Got to post on Guwahati Foodie” If this has ever happened to you or you have seen this happening around you then voila! You have spotted a Guwahati Foodie follower.

When this engineer from Assam started a community on social media, he couldn’t have imagined the precedent he was setting. What started with a few members has now grown up to be one of the biggest and most popular online communities of the Northeast with more than 69000 members. Sisir Kumar left his job at IIT Guwahati to pursue his dream to promote the exotic and traditional cuisines of the Northeast through the platform of his online community ‘Guwahati Foodie’. Northeast Today explores his journey, his achievements and the changes he has brought about among the food community of the Northeast.

Busting the Myths

Often, food habits like eating hornets’ larvae, pork, beef or being heavy on meat, various types of leaves and herbs and local drinks are considered ‘disgusting’ and offensive by the ‘mainstream’ India. Sisir with his community is contributing in dispelling these kinds of stereotypes and misconceptions related to northeast and its food culture.

“A particular group of people may not like a particular food item, but that doesn’t mean that it should be disrespected”, says the 28-year-old Sisir.

According to the admin, making people aware and familiarising them about different North-eastern cuisines is the main motto behind creating the group. As per the growth and popularity of the group in the present time, the goal can be seen fully served.

It will be a mistake to go by the name ‘Guwahati’ Foodie, because there are active members not only from Guwahati or the Northeast, but from all across the nation and some even abroad.

Food is Clickable!

There was a time when taking pictures of food or being clicked while eating during wedding or parties was considered a matter of embarrassment. However, with the booming of social media and Smartphone, the concept of Foodography (taking photographs of food) has become a fad now. When it comes to food these days, the camera does eat it first. Eventually, this fad has become a ‘pre-meal ritual’ in the city for a lot of foodies, thanks to Guwahati Foodie!

Foodie

Bringing Foodies Closer to Eateries

According to Sisir, the community also acts a platform for the resolution of conflicts and misunderstanding between the eateries and the guests. For the eateries, the owners can see what the customers like or dislike depending on the posts of the members and the customers, also, can ask for suggestions and queries.

The Community:

Sisir’s brainchild began around 2010 with a handful of members. The first thing that catches your attention about this community is definitely the red and white logo, an overnight creation, designed by by Neeraj Phukan and Jonak Prakash.

Gradually the group started gaining fame with more and more people joining in from different parts of the country. The community became not only a platform for just sharing pictures of what one eats or cooks but an enlightening arena where foodies and restaurant owners could exchange recipes, ideas and pieces of information and have conversations pertaining to food.

In a row, the group has organized three annual meet-ups, the first being held on May 2015 when the group had 3500 members and the latest being held on the month of December 2017. The group has also been organizing various cooking workshops and other events by themselves and in collaboration with other companies.

Foodography

The Face behind Guwahati Foodie:

Sisir is possibly the best-connected man to food in the region. Apart from being an engineer, blogger and a dedicated admin, there are many other facets of this 28-year-old foodie ready to be unfolded during the following interview.

What brings you back to northeast after staying outside for so many years?

Long time back I had read somewhere that all animals, no matter if they are large or tiny, will always try to return to the place they were born. It somehow seems to be the best answer to this question. There is no better place than home.

And given the person I actually am, even if I hadn’t belonged to this beautiful place, I would have at least visited it just to explore its beauty and vibrant culture. I mean I don’t know any other place with such diversity in such a small place.

From being an engineer to a foodie- Why this shift and how has it been so far?

The ‘shift’ from an engineer to a foodie has been fun. Life as a foodie is so much more exciting than that of an engineer. At least I do not have any fixed working hours anymore and deadlines are much more flexible now. Having said that, I would like to point out that both things happened simultaneously, i.e. I was still a foodie when I was an engineer and I believe that I still am.

We have come to know that you travel a lot. How important is the journey, the process of getting to a destination, when you are trying new foods?

Yes, I am an avid traveller, so I believe that this question can be answered in the same words as I would reply when someone asks me about my travel exploits-“The journey is always more important than the destination”. Trying a new dish is always an exciting experience, but far more valuable is always the story behind it.

What have been the most difficult/challenging parts of your journey so far?

The most difficult part of the journey was definitely to leave an existing job or leaving the prospects of the software industry for something that has never been done before. At that point there were hardly any groups to discuss food in this region; leave alone a community with such a large membership, so there was no proper guidance available about how to maintain the community.

Another very important issue I face all the time is to explain my mother what I actually do. Explaining my idea to people who are not connected to the online world has been one of my greatest problems.

Foodie Story

Managing an online community has its own share of challenges. How do you tackle those issues?

The core values of the group include that food of any form has to be respected. It is alright for people to not like something, even be offended by it. But that does not give anyone the right to abuse anyone else for their choices. Maintaining this very idea of equality has been a very hard challenge during the journey. Such issues are taken very seriously and any such activity leads to an immediate ban from the community.

As the size of the community grows by leaps and bounds, so does the number of ideas and opinions making it very hard for me to maintain a balance between what the people want and what actually happens. At such times, I prefer to go take a deep breath and think what would I have done if the same problem would have happened during the initial days of the group, and act accordingly.

Another problem is that with the growth of the number of such communities, somehow the initial idea of popularizing authentic northeastern food to more people, sometimes, gets sidelined by personal egos. This is one of the most commonly occurring problems inside this community as well. I tend to ignore this problem until any rule of the group has been broken, and in such an incident, necessary steps are taken.

The concept of food blogging, food communities, being a foodie are quite in vogue, your take on this.

I think that in the last few years this whole ‘food – foodie – food blogger’ concept has somehow become a global phenomenon and Northeast is no exception. During my college days, there were just a few pages that were active about Northeastern cuisines. But today there are, literally, uncountable number of groups, pages and people who are working in the same field. Somehow people have associated this sector to glamour, thus creating a whole lot of digital content.

Unfortunately, in this race towards more fame a lot of fake and wrong information has also been populated. I feel that everyone has the right to favour his or her personal favourites, but in doing so one should not create a false image so as to misguide others.

Let’s all present this part of the nation in the best possible light, but at the same time stay connected to where we belong. Eat out, but don’t forget your roots.

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