Essence of a good food story –

Restaurant News

A new South Asia-centred magazine hopes to make connections between grub, geography and geneology

In August 2019, Vidya Balachander wrote a piece on hing (asafoetida) for Whetstone magazine*s W Journal, which is dedicated to food origins and culture from around the world. As much as she despises using the word, the piece went ‘viral*. It generated a lot of curiosity and Whetstone media founder Stephen Satterfield thought it was time for a dedicated magazine that told stories from South Asia. Balachander was chosen to lead this vertical. They named it Rasa, a word whose meaning had relevance in more than one language. Rasa translates to ‘essence* in Tamil, ‘good taste* in Sinhalese and similar resonance in Indonesian Bahasa. “We wanted the name to resonate as an essence, quintessence and flavour,” says Balachander.

Edited excerpts from the interview.

Tell us about your early food influences.
My dad*s banking job meant I grew up all over India. During my early years at my maternal grandparents* home in Ratlam – a small town in Madhya Pradesh – I have memories of eating flavourful vegetarian meals. Our garden had jamun, mango, sitaphal and jackfruit trees and the spacious storeroom had glass barnis filled with pickles made by my grandmother and grandaunt.

Where did you develop your penchant for street food?
Similar to Indore, perhaps on a smaller scale, chaat in Ratlam is mouth-watering. The sight of freshly-fried hot kachoris with oil seeping into the newspaper was irresistible. My grandparents didn*t approve of it, which made it even more exciting to a child.

What food stories will Rasa tell?
It*s an evolving product. South Asia is a massive region. Whetstone magazine is preoccupied with the anthropology of food, how food relates to culture and community, and how it relates to everyday life and makes it livable. While I am always interested in ingredients and history and how they came to be part of our daily plates, for Rasa, I am looking for stories about food items that are a portal into a much wider narrative about how we move through the world.

For the young generation that loves avocado on toast, how would you offer food writing that makes them want to know their cultural food map?
While Rasa may seem to cater to an older, more intellectual audience, I look forward to the day when we can make content that taps into the curiosity of this generation. We do have young people pitching stories to us. For example, a 16-year-old, second-generation Pakistani girl living in the US wanted to write about her nearby grocery store. It made me happy to see the confidence of a younger person wanting to tell a personal story in our magazine, which is known to have readers that lean toward serious writing. Also, this puts our assumption about Gen Z to rest. While they may choose to consume content in a particular way, it is our responsibility that it reaches them through the medium of their choice. Gen Z questions so much more. They have a curiosity, which makes them an audience that is apt for Rasa.

Between appreciating clean food, tracing ingredients and food trends, how is a publication able to draw a balance?
It is important to have a connection to the food we eat – there should be some degree of traceability. However, as much as we want food justice, not everyone can access food in the same way. So, our discourse should not be exclusive in any way. It can*t only appeal to the person who has choices. Food beyond borders is something I believe in professionally, and it carries over to what I eat too.

Source: Thanks