Senior journalist and columnist Swati Sucharita is a former food critic for the Times of India, and is now an avid food blogger. She talks with You & I about the ins and outs of being food journalist, and offers her take on the Hyderabad food scene.
How did you develop such a keen interest in food?
I have to thank my homemaker mother for an early orientation towards good food. She used to put wholesome, tasty and nutritious meals on the table thrice a day. She would also try out new recipes, thanks to the cookery sessions at the IAS Officers’ Wives Association, which had members from different regions of India.
And how did you begin to learn the culinary arts?
I learnt most of my cooking post-marriage, checking on recipes over the phone with my mother, from cookbooks and cookery shows. The basics of cooking – like brewing a good cup of Darjeeling tea, khichdi or a nice fluffy cheese omelette – I learnt from my elder sister, who is a fabulous cook. But the nitty-gritty of how to run a kitchen (not an easy job!) came to me gradually over the years.
Your blog, Eatopian Chronicles, is a directory for food connoisseurs. How do you come up with fresh topics for every piece?
I have been lucky to be an intrinsic part of Hyderabad’s F&B industry, thanks to my four-year stint as food critic for the Times of India, when I had a weekly restaurant review column. I have also been a foodie as long as I can remember, trying out new eateries and pubs. I get invited to far too many hotel food promotions than I can handle, so I pick and choose only those which are really offbeat – like, say, a Himachali pop-up, now that’s rare for Hyderabad, isn’t it? It is always a pleasure to interact with chefs from different corners of the world; there is always so much to learn and know.
What are some of the current trends in the city’s food industry?
Hyderabad is fast moving from being a biryani-obsessed city to being increasingly accepting of other global cuisines, like Italian, Continental, Tex-Mex, Lebanese, and pan-Asian. A new and welcome trend is the numerous start up apps for food cooked by home chefs, and home delivery options like Swiggy, a blessing for those who don’t have the time to cook, like bachelors, techies, etc.
Also, standalone restaurants are increasingly popular, thanks to their fabulous ambience and international standards of good food and service. As a result, five-star hotels have found themselves dumbing down prices to accommodate both old patrons and new clients. Either way, it is a win-win situation for consumers.
What is your favourite cuisine?
My favourite cuisine is pan-Asian. Within the genre, I love Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese the most.
Any favourite eatery that you’ll keep going back to?
In Hyderabad, my favourite dining places are Syn at Taj Deccan; Oriental Bar & Kitchen at the Park Hyatt; and Mekong at Marigold for pan-Asian food. Olive Bistro, SodaBottleOpenerWalla, United Kitchens of India (for its varied regional menu choices), Tuscany (the Italian speciality restaurant of Trident Hyderabad) are others. Since I adore Andhra/Telangana food, Spicy Venue, Rayalaseema Ruchulu and Ulavacharu are go-to places too. I love the food at Simply South and Dakshin (ITC Kakatiya) as well.
Would you call yourself a connoisseur of food or a culinarian?
Connoisseur is a huge word. I would like to call myself a follower of good (and healthy) food. About being a culinarian, I am trying. I can cook perfect North Indian and Bengali/Odia food, and am pretty good with Thai recipes. I am not much into baking (yet) but I do toss up the occasional pastas and noodles.
You curated an Odia food festival recently at a star hotel. Could you tell us more about the experience?
Odia food has much to be celebrated: it’s healthy, flavourful, and makes abundant use of vegetables, fish and meat. Its desserts, especially those made of ‘Chenna’ or cottage cheese – like Chenna Poda and Rasgullas, Rasaballi, etc. –are amazingly simple and delectable.
However, Odia cuisine is not yet as popular as its Bengali counterpart. So, when chef Mandaar Sukhthankar came up with the idea of hosting an Odia food festival, I jumped at it. We had a mutual acquaintance – chef Bibhu Bhatta, who is on the faculty of IIHM, Bhubaneswar – and it was just a matter of time before we got cracking. It was a great learning experience for me; I especially learned to respect the amount and quality of work that chefs (especially those at large, five-star hotel kitchens) put out in a day.
From being a full-fledged journalist with a leading daily and a woman’s magazine to a blogger, what are your thoughts on the different media?
I guess as journalists, we are constantly upgrading and altering our forms of self-expression. And given the times we live in, online platforms like social media and one’s own organic, personal blog are fabulous ways to communicate. Print media has its own strengths – there’s no denying that. It has been, still is and always will remain. But yes, digital media is a huge part of the present and will pave the future too in a big way.
What made you shift to this form of journalism?
Times and needs change, and you adapt to those changing needs. I have adapted to online platforms, as interaction is more like the here-and-now. And there is nothing more gratifying than knowing you have communicated effectively with your readers or followers. But I also do freelance for other publications including newspapers and magazines.
What are your other interests?
I have an interest in arts and culture, so I attend many art shows, music and dance programs. I believe engaging in creative pursuits pushes the frontiers of your mind. I also read a lot, watch films and love trying out new recipes. Languages is another area of interest, and I have done a level one in French at the Alliance Francaise in Ahmedabad, where I was based earlier. There is a bucket list of interests and learning to play the piano is topmost. -- as told to Niharika