Vikhroli Cucina

What it takes to be a good food writer and the nuances of good food writing

06 August 2018 , 0 comments / 0 likes
Are you an aspiring food writer or looking to hone your food chronicling skills? You probably know how difficult it is to tell a food story. After all, there’s more to food than recipes. The origin of the recipe or an ingredient and its relevance to a particular culture play an important role in storytelling.

And who better than veteran journalist Marryam H Reshii to talk about food writing? A well-known author and food critic, she has been writing about food for more than 20 years and has been a journalist for over 30 years. A food history buff, she is a freelance food writer and a food critic for the Times of India. In an engaging discussion with Vikram Doctor at Vikhroli Cucina’s Culinary Chroniclers Conclave, she spoke candidly and doled out expert tips on building a career in food writing.

Do your research
For any food writer worth their salt, research forms a very important part of the process. It is also important to find interesting trivia about the ingredients beyond its clichés. By examining ingredients and those who produce it, many fascinating stories can be told. While the internet is a boon for research, one should not depend solely on the internet for facts. Marryam said, “While it is ok to google where Croatia is located in Europe, it is not advisable to write about Croatian food only by using the internet. This leads to mistakes and inaccuracies being perpetuated.”

Take on the legwork
To write about a food ingredient, it is essential to know where they grow and how they grow. To know all about any ingredient, it makes sense to visit the plantations where they are grown and speak to the people cultivating the food. Marryam spoke about travelling and gave the example of Varanasi and said, “Every temple has its own sweet. Whether it is the makhan malai of a Krishna temple or the ladoo of a hanuman temple and the closer the sweet shop to the temple, the better the quality of sweets are. This information can’t be researched over the internet.”

Pay heed to words
It is also a good discipline to have a low word count. This ensures that the words convey precisely what needs to be said. It also ensures that the writer squeezes the most from each word and that every word counts. As a rule, to write a 500-word story, one must know at least 1500 words about the subject and at least 8000 words to write a 2000-word story. Marryam cited Twitter and said, “Earlier Twitter used to have a 140 character limit, and now that it has been increased to 280, people tend to go on and on.”

Keep the discipline
Making a career as a freelance food journalist is not a natural choice to make. Especially if working full-time. There is also the possibility of missing out on high profile events that someone associated with a known publication may get invited to. A freelance journalist never gets a day off, and the monetary benefits are not the same as someone who works at a publication. “The added competition makes it harder for a freelancer to take time off. But it’s not only about the money and it’s about having a space on a public platform,” she said.

Set your standards
It is also essential to have and maintain a high standard of writing. For a full-time writer in a publication, editors give feedback to improve articles. A freelance writer does not have that luxury. Marryam suggests that to maintain a high standard of writing, it is important to read books and write in such a way that it keeps up to those high standards. “I have a simple rule to writing,” she said. “If I have to give a story today, I make sure it was done yesterday. I sleep over it and look at it in the morning to check if it conveys what I want to say.”

In another engaging session at the Culinary Chroniclers Conclave, Vir Sanghvi spoke about the changing food scene, why a food critic matters and the importance of chronicling our culinary history. Do check it out!