The rise of YouTube and the availability of free/cheap data in even the most areas have now birthed a new phenomenon — that of the village cooking show.
Cooking shows in India have always had a booming audience — from the likes of Sanjeev Kapoor and Tarla Dalal in the last millennium to the MasterChef series these days — India’s fondness for culinary shows knows no bounds. Now, a new craze has taken over the culinary world and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi can claim to be behind the popularity of at least one of the pioneers.
The rise of YouTube and the availability of free/cheap data in even the most areas have now birthed a new phenomenon — that of the village cooking show. Among the latest entrants to this list is Village Cooking Channel, which recently hit pan-India popularity after it shared a video of Gandhi cooking mushroom biryani during his recent election campaign in Tamil Nadu. The channel, which is run by 75-year-old Periyathambi and his five grandchildren, also hit the landmark 1 crore subscribers recently.
Despite their glitz and glamour, the scripted shows often leave the audience unable to replicate the dishes made on the shows, mainly because of the unavailability or high cost of the ingredients used or the lack of appliances in an average Indian household. But these village cooking shows face no such problems. Their ingredients are local, their utensils are local, their appliance will mainly be an open fire in the middle of a field. Often, the recipes that they show are typical of that area and probably go back hundreds of years. Add to that the simplistic and often rustic tone of the cooking and there is the perfect recipe for success.
Village Cooking Channel is not the first to achieve pan-India fame, however. A few years ago, 106-year-old Karre Mastanamma from Andhra Pradesh found viral fame on YouTube after her channel went viral. Using traditional cooking methods and recipes passed on from generations before, she regaled her subscribers with sumptuous dishes rooted in the region.
Similarly, Village Cooking Channel also uses recipes and methods that go back in time — from octopus fry to lobster fry and mutton keema to even exotic winged termites. Speaking to IE Online, Murugesan, one of Periyathambi’s grandchildren, said that they wanted to retain the raw tone of the village cooking and use only those items found in the lakes and ponds of the village.
The simplicity of these village cooking shows has not only found an audience in India, with many locals who are settled elsewhere in the country finding an outlet for a taste of home, but also across the world as Villifood, which has over 1.5 crore subscribers, including from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Bangladesh and many other countries. The diversity of India and the myriad culinary delights that it presents also make these channels go viral. A Bengali sitting in New Delhi can easily replicate what Periyathambi is doing in his own backyard, while a Malayali abroad can follow a fish recipe from a Bengali YouTube channel to try and get a taste of home.
Restaurants and bars being closed on and off for well over a year following the outbreak of COVID-19 and families stuck at home due to lockdown restrictions have only added to the popularity of these channels. And with many keen to return to their culinary roots, this seems to be just the beginning of a new cultural phenomenon.