Tracing the rising popularity of Indian cooking channels on Youtube in the time of Coronavirus outbreak
Cooking channels on Youtube are witnessing a massive surge in popularity as most people are turning to elaborate cooking during the lockdown
The first day of the lockdown, I found myself in a house with all kinds of grocery — rice, dal, chicken, vegetables, and no idea how to cook anything. And if posts on my social media timelines were anything to go by, a lot of my friends found themselves in pretty much the same boat.
A lot of calls back home, social media guidance, and of course, cooking channels on Youtube saw us through this phase. Everyone suddenly found themselves to be beginner-cooks, or at least, food bloggers. Instagram was full of people learning how to cook rice and daal, and baking banana bread. As comedian Anirban Dasgupta put it, in his tweet, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to learn cooking during quarantine.”
The people who really benefited from this were, of course, Youtube cooking channels.
Kabita Singh, of the massively popular Kabita’s Kitchen (with over 7 million YouTube subscribers), says she saw her viewership go up by about 3 times during the lockdown. Channels like Spice Eats and the Home Cooking Show agree, adding that they also got a lot of requests to make beginner-level recipes. “I posted recipes like how to cook dal rice, chole chawal, roti sabzi etc. Along with these recipes, I posted easier versions of snacks and sweets e.g. Instant Jalebi, instant potato chips etc,” says Kabita.
“Youngsters at home want variety,” says Hema Subramanian, of the Home Cooking Show “because they can’t go out to eat, they want to try variety at home. I think cooking has brought in a lot of joy during the lockdown because it’s a good way to connect and enjoy with your family.”
It hasn’t been completely easy for the creators though. Not a lot of them were technically prepared for this.
Chef Varun Inamdar, popularly known as The Bombay Chef, is a regular face on multiple Youtube channels and has featured in about 9 or 10 food shows. He speaks of dividing his day in a way to give about 8 hours to the videos and to channels, with his wife helping him with the photo shoots at home. “We don’t have a tripod, we don’t have a lapel mic, we don’t have lights at home. But, the audience, once they have trust in you, they don’t care how you look. Because they have an instilled faith that this guy’s recipe is going to be good.”
One thing all the creators keep in mind, and not just during the lockdown, is that the recipe has to be easy and basic.
Kabita’s Kitchen has always positioned itself as a channel for beginners and bachelors, featuring easy and instant recipes. Inamdar, too, makes his recipes simple, with easily-available ingredients. He adds that he has fans following his recipes as far off as Poland and even Latin America, and he has to make sure that the ingredients are available for them. His pav bhaji recipe for instance, doesn’t include pav bhaji masala. “I have people watching in Scandinavia and Poland. Where will they source pav bhaji masala from? You need to be empathetic when you’re cooking,” he says.
“Our channel’s motto is “We believe everyone can cook”, so our focus has always been to present simple cooking methods to demystify the varied Indian cuisine. Most of the recipes we present are collated from our family and friends and then curated so that even a novice can find it easy to cook. Since these are family recipes they definitely taste good and we present them in easy to follow steps,” says Nafisa of Spice Eats, a chartered accountant by profession, who runs the channel along with her IT professional husband, Shakeel.
Hema Subramanian adds that she definitely tries to make the recipes easy- with the ingredients easy to procure and the instructions easy to follow. “Even if it’s a complex recipe, I like to simplify the process. I like to create an interest where people want to come back to my recipes, and it has to be tasty as well,” she says, adding that her channels, in English, Tamil and Telugu, together have about 12 million people following them.
Inamdaar also talks about the global reach of the internet. Not only does he have fans all over the world, he gets sent recipes by 5 year olds who are inspired by his videos, as well as 60 year olds who have been inspired to start cooking channels, seeing him.
It hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies for the creators either. They’ve all gone on their own journeys and had their own learnings. “When you have an idea, just get started specially when that idea is driven by passion,” says Kabita, who adds that you don’t need an elaborate set up to get started, and that there will be ups and downs and you have to keep believing in yourself and reminding yourself that you started it for the passion. “Listen to your viewers and mix it with trends but also, think about what new thing you can do even if there isn't demand for that from the viewer and is still not in trend (i.e. create the trend),” she says.
Inamdar agrees and adds, “Never follow trends and fads, because principally they are short-lived. I have followed what I believe someone else would want to see,” he says, saying that he would never fall for the current trends of the internet like making Dalgona coffee for example. “The biggest learning is that the content has to be engaging and we have to be truthful to our viewers. We only post recipes that have been tried and tested by us and are easy to replicate. Also, the quality and brevity of the content is very critical to hold the attention span of the viewers,” says Nafisa.
Finally, if there was a tip they could give to everyone who has just discovered the joy (or the necessity) of cooking, what would it be? “Start with something simple, that you want to try,” says Hema Subramanian. “Don’t give up after trying one dish. Keep going at it.”
“Short answer, follow my channel,” laughs Kabita. “It has more than 850 super easy yet super delicious recipes. I think everything looks difficult when we start, one should simply get started and things would get easier as we go along.”
“Anytime you go through a recipe, think of the recipe like a baby. If I’m telling you to add chilli at a certain step, please do it,” concludes Inamdar.
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