The enterprising Kalyan Karmakar (47) has done his sociology honours and is an MBA. He moved to Mumbai from Kolkata in 1997 and worked as a consumer insights specialist. Now, he has become an insight specialist in food. Interestingly, since October 2007, he has been blogging on food and has innovatively named his blog, FinelyChopped, which has over 48.6K followers on Instagram.
Who introduced you to blogging?
My wife, Kainaz.
What gave you the incentive to become a blogger?
When I began, it was simply because I loved writing and food and I wanted to share food stories. It was a passion and a creative outlet. There were no plans to achieve anything out of it barring a few moments of joy. I was in middle management by then in my career as a market researcher and was a bit tired of the routine. I was looking for a creative outlet.
What is your culinary expertise?
I am a self-taught cook. I began cooking after I got married. As newlyweds, it became difficult to manage rent and other expenses. My wife and I were broke, and eating out regularly or hiring a cook were neither practical nor possible. So, I began cooking at home. I would initially ask my grandmother for recipes, look up recipes on food sites and also flip through cookery books. With time, I deviated from conventional recipes and followed my instincts. I began to experiment.
How would you describe your blog?
My blog is a diary of my life and does not focus on a particular genre. It includes tales of travel in both India and abroad, tales of eating out in Mumbai, stories of home chefs and my own cooking adventures. I dabble in Bengali, Parsi, Thai, Chinese, Italian cooking, et al. I am the author of the book, The Travelling Belly, which is based on my food experiences while travelling across India.
How did you cope with the pandemic?
The pandemic meant less commissioned work, no opportunities for travel and consequently less opportunity for discoveries. I utilised the time to work on projects. In April last year, I started FoodocracyForHer, which is a weekly podcast featuring the work of women in the food sector. Earlier, I had started a podcast called #FoodocracyIndia where I would share stories of popular eateries from across India. I shared easy cooking recipes from our kitchen on both the blog and on my YouTube channel, Finely Chopped TV. I conducted workshops on brand building for home chefs and this culminated in the Home Cheffie Awards 2021.
What has been your most successful post?
My most successful blog post is about Robibarer Murgir Jhol (Sunday chicken curry). I think it tapped into people’s affinity for nostalgia. Plus, the recipe is simple, and chicken curry is a dish that people like to make across communities.
What entails your writing process, from concept to publishing?
My writing style is that of a columnist or a diarist. I write about things we cooked, something new that we tried, a trend that aroused my curiosity. The idea is to have a conversation with my readers through my writing.
Who is your target reader?
My key demographic is 25-34 followed by 35-44. My Instagram audience is 60:40 women is to men.
How do you attract new readers?
I show up at my desk and keep writing and I hope that brings in more people who can relate to my interest area which lies around day-to-day food. At times I write about issues facing us such as the pandemic and the new life it has created, shared memories from our past, stories of the food of different communities which shows the richness of our food ethos.
Tell us about Durga Pujo in Kolkata. How big a part food is of the festivities?
Food is a big part of Durga Pujo. Starting from the foler proshad (diced fruits) served to the devotees followed by a community lunch. On Ashtami, the community lunch or bhog in large pujas is served free to all and is usually vegetarian fare and consists of dishes such as khichuri, bhaaja, laabra, chaatni and mishti. A big draw is the food stalls, which spring up near the pandals. They serve jolkhabar (Snacks in Bengali).
Khichuri (Serves 2)
1. 1 teacup (Ek mutho/ fistful) rice. Washed and soaked for at least an hour. Bengalis prefer the short-grained Gobindo bhog for khichuri. I use the local ambe mor rice in Mumbai.
2. Half the amount of yellow moong dal as rice. For 1 cup of rice, use 1/2 cup of daal.
3. Water: Thrice the amount of rice and dal.
4. Condiments: 1 slit green chilli, 1 dry red chilli, 1 tej pata, 1 clove, cardamom and a ½ inch bit of cinnamon.
5. Flavour base: 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger, 1/2 a tomato, cubed, for tanginess.
6. Spices & seasoning: 1/2 a teaspoon each of red chilli powder, coriander and cumin powder, 2/3 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon garam masala powder and 2/3 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.
7. 1 teaspoon refined oil, 1 teaspoon ghee. Bengalis prefer ghee made with cow’s milk.
8. You can also add seasonal vegetables. Potatoes are a must.
Heat oil. Add chillies, garam masala and tej pata to the pan. Add ginger and tomato followed by all the vegetables. Add pre-roasted dal (Roasting: heating washed and drained dal on a hot pan on fire till the raw dal turns browns a bit). Add rice, spices and seasoning.
Add water and let it cook. This might take about 20 to 25 minutes. Cover the pan with a lid. Check and add water in between if it gets dry. A pressure cooker hastens the process. Once done, add the ghee on top and sprinkle some garam masala powder.