Last Wednesday, in the suave setting of North End Coffee Roasters inside Lakeshore Gulshan, SHOUT met with a few individuals from the budding Bangladeshi Instagram food blogging scene. At the scene, the idea that food blogging needs to be about pictures and stories of expensive food, was the first myth they wished to bust.
“We don't want to make it seem like we only eat at flashy places,” says Ifreet Taheea (@iffybiffys). “Food blogging only requires a passion for food. And it can be any type of food.”
Mithila Haque (@fooddiaries_mh) agreed, saying, “I'm a street food lover and you'll find a lot of that on my blogs.” Clearly, documenting food in pictures and captions only requires an admiration for the craft. Mithila discloses that her journey started simply as someone who loved eating and taking pictures of whatever she ate. Now she finds herself always carrying a diary, taking notes of any particular dish that strikes her fancy, for that all-important story.
Moushita Mahmud (@moretobrunch) reveals that she had anxiety, and starting her food blog and getting support on her posts helped her immensely.
Farhina Tahrim Hasan (@tahrimeats) relates how her inspiration came from watching the YouTube channel Tasty, and how she wanted to open such a channel herself. Lacking the means to do so, she decided food blogging would be the outlet to express her infatuation. “Just how I get excited to visit countries when I look at their food, I want people from other countries to visit our blogs and come to Bangladesh for food,” she expresses.
YouTube channels Tasty and Buzzfeed's “Worth It” seem to be a common source of encouragement. Texas-based Bangladeshi “foodstagrammer” Tasnim Haleem (@tasnimhaleem), Sarah Hussain (@zingyzest) from New Delhi and Bangkok-based Mark Wiens (@migrationology) are also listed as inspirations.
Mahbub Joy (@mahbubhjoy) mentions Kaniska Chakraborty (@kaniskac) as his muse, “The way he tells his story, and merges it with food is incredible. Someday, I hope I can write like that.”
Joy drives the point home by saying, “If a picture doesn't tell a story, what's the point?” Speaking of tips to take that perfect picture, Mithila states that the device really matters. Ifreet offers that since Instagram only displays a square thumbnail on profiles, it's best to fit your picture in a square. Joy mentions that he prefers an element of symmetry in his pictures, and capturing individual dishes rather than whole meals.
Our chat is unceremoniously interrupted as the orders arrive. Pictures are taken from all angles, and Joy decides to move to an entirely different table just to take the perfect snap. As a delicious caramel Cafe Frédo and white chocolate-dipped biscotti are tasted, it was clear that there is some merit to their recommendations after all, and that was perhaps the highlight of the evening.
The fact that food is the primary common ground here is indisputable. Regardless of whichever direction the conversation is pulled, it inevitably veers back towards food. When it comes to the current food scene of Dhaka, they concede that it has exploded in the last few years. However, they are disappointed that most new restaurants rely on the initial hype, but don't keep up on the quality and service, and thus are unable to sustain in the long run.
Furthermore, Joy states, “There should be an identity of Bangladeshi food. It's fading away in the fusion of Indian food.” Moushita adds that she would like to see more vegetarian and organic options available.
When asked about what restaurants could do to help them in their endeavours, they all agree that being open-minded is crucial. “They should acknowledge all criticism, and not just from people with thousands of followers,” says Moushita whose Instagram recently reached the 2000-followers milestone. She also states that if restaurants reached out to the food bloggers community, asking them to try their food and heeded the comments, it could benefit both the restaurant and the consumers.
“Unfortunately our brands want exposure more than actual opinions on their food,” says Ifreet, “This attitude leads to the commercialisation of reviews.” Mithila states with disappointment that she's often asked whether she was paid to give a positive review to a restaurant. She says since some people on certain Facebook groups have been known to sell reviews, it gives a bad name to all reviewers. This is one of the barriers that they are challenged with in their efforts to create a thriving food blogging community in Bangladesh. Others include backlash due to people assuming these “foodstagrammers” are only children who waste their parents' hard-earned money on food. However, Mithila argues, that's not what they are doing. “Nowadays young people are earning and that's why they are eating out more and following a passion,” she concludes.
The overwhelming emphasis throughout the entire conversation though, is on diversity. That's what sets this community apart from other groups. They accept that everyone has different perspectives and preferences and they are tolerant of this. As a matter of fact, Moushita and Joy often having opposing reviews of the same dishes is quite the inside gag.
The community at the moment is limited, and they pick their newcomers selectively, weeding out those with the intention of free food or underhanded monetisation. They want to hold quarterly meet-ups, such as the first one that was held at Tao Town a couple of weeks ago. This first meet-up, initiated by Ifreet and Moushita was where it all began. Since then, multitudes of new bloggers have sprung up, and many experienced food bloggers have contacted them.
“We've dipped our toes into something pretty big. We don't yet know where it could all possibly lead,” says Ifreet. They hope that it's towards something great.
Rabita Saleh is a perfectionist/workaholic. Email feedback to this generally boring person at firstname.lastname@example.org