What is common between Diva Maharashtra Cha, Bhagat Tara Chand, BadeMiyan, Sardar Pav Bhaji, Amar Juice Centre and Smoke House Deli? You will say all these are few of the top restaurants and eating out options in Mumbai. But, there is something more to it as well. 🙂 All these places have been reviewed and tasted by our interviewee today. 🙂 If someone asks you ‘Mumbai ka Foodie kaun?’, his name would be right on the top. Presenting to you a yummylicious interview with Gaurav Jain, the foodie behind ‘Eating Out in Bombay‘. Is your stomach and your mind ready for this? Let’s go.
Q: When and why did you start blogging?
Back in 2005, I was busy writing my film (Ashoka the Hero, which released in 2011) and to take breaks I would write about other things that I found interesting. I used to dine out quite often and found myself paying for some really expensive but mediocre meals. There was no uniform guide (like a Zagat) that I could depend on back in those days, and the rate at which new restaurants opened, guides could not keep up. So, I started blogging about my restaurant experiences but I stopped after a post or two, thinking it was self indulgent and no one would care. My wife (who I was then dating) thought it was a good thing to do and therefore it continued.
Q: What topics do you generally blog about?
My blog is mostly about food and travel and that’s what I stick to, however I have written about the film/ media & animation space for the Wall Street Journal and others, as that is what I am involved in professionally.
Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing an entry? What do you do then?
Once in a while I do get stuck, especially when it’s not strictly food related. What works for me is just leaving it alone for a day or two (or more depending on schedule) and coming back to it with a fresh take.
Q: How many restaurants have you reviewed till now? Over so many years of reviewing restaurants, what changes have you observed in service, food & innovation of Mumbai restaurants? Out of all this, what appeals to you the most?
I think I must have reviewed upto 300-400 restaurants, if not more. The dining scene in Bombay is ever changing, the cuisine has become more and more varied and the people are willing to try out newer things. There are more options today than there were even five years ago.
Service though is still stagnant, you have good experiences, especially at restaurants in hotel properties because there is a strong overall focus on good service. Most stand alones though still have a long long way to go. Despite the prices going up alarmingly, there isn’t a corresponding increase in the customer experience.
However, the greatest thing about dining in Bombay is that, there is something for everyone, no matter where they are from and no matter what they can afford. Even someone wanting to spend 100 rupees on a meal can get some mind numbingly good food.
Q: What are the things that you love about Mumbai? Like many of us, Mumbai too goes through hardships everyday. What things would you like to do for a better Mumbai?
I love that it is a city that’s always moving forward, like other great cities it does not get caught up in its past no matter how glorious or difficult it may have been. The city progresses forward and always has. While we cannot individually do anything to improve its infrastructure, we can certainly as citizens show a greater civic sense when it comes to how we treat fellow citizens, whether it is while driving or while using public transport and when interacting with neighbors. Little manners will go a long way.
Q: Which one do you like more – local joints or hotels? Authentic food or an Exquisite menu? Star Chefs or local Rasoiyas? Unglamorous setup or a themed restaurant? Which ones do you visit more and why?
When I started out there was certainly a greater reliance on the more expensive and nouveau menus, however as time has gone by, the focus has shifted to experiencing newer things and seeking out places known for doing good food, the focus on cuisine has altogether disappeared. Price & ambiance too have taken a backseat, to just pure and simple gastronomy.
Q: When did you setup Illusion Interactive? Tell us something about Ashoka the Hero, India’s first animated superhero, that you created in this company. How was the experience, and what were the difficulties that you faced, if any?
Illusion Interactive was set up around 2005. Our aim was to pick up enough experience to eventually go ahead and do a feature. Ashoka the Hero was the result, it was one crazy ride, we learned a great deal about content, marketing and a great deal about ourselves.
The difficulties pretty much never ended, it was an uphill ride from day one, getting support for a small, niche project was incredibly hard. Budgets were always tight which meant we had to cut out a great deal of things we wanted to do and compromise on some portions due to lack of time.
However, in all honesty, we met some great people along the way who were really very supportive, because it was a small niche project. And despite the lack of sleep and grey hair, it wouldn’t change the experience because now we are working on a sequel and doing it on our terms without compromises.
Q: In 5 years I see the animation industry creating content for the indigenous market with less reliance on outsourcing. You said this in 2009. Do you feel the industry is on its way to achieving what you imagined it to be? According to you, what things need to be undertaken, in order to create effects that are believable? From recent Bollywood movies, which one do you feel has done the best VFX work?
Since 2009, a great many indigenous series have been launched including ours and (the sequel to Ashoka has just finished pre-production this past week) the amount of local content on Indian television is only going to increase.
However, the local studios have missed the boat yet again, with many still trading content creation for outsourcing. In fact, a great many studios have disappeared and the number goes ever smaller.
VFX is a space I admire greatly and I think there is still opportunity in that arena. To improve quality we must have strong technical directors, people who have worked in studios abroad – importing this talent will help improve local production quality greatly.
It is difficult to pick a good vfx project. A great many, really great vfx shots make things better without tipping their hand. I would pick any medium budget movie with even a 100 shots, which you can’t tell were worked on, in post to an FX heavy film with 1000 shots.
Q: Name 3 things that you absolutely love to eat and your favorite cuisines and restaurants of Mumbai. What are your interests apart from food? Share with us your hobbies.
I absolutely love Lebanese food and can have it any time, Thai Pavilion serves the best thai food anywhere in the world, and I love a plain simple Gujju thali. Other than food, my interest is mostly driven around stories, whether they be on television, film or books, I am a story junkie and keep looking for content to devour, things like Rome, The Wire on tv or books of any kind.
Q: Have you set any criteria or rules, on basis of which you rate the food and service of a restaurant? Share some do’s and dont’s that you think every restaurant should keep in mind to keep their customers happy.
I developed a little formula of my own and rate it out of 10. The break down is 1-3 (bad), 4-7(average), 8 is reserved for good meals and 9 for the best ever. Same goes for service. I rate the two separately and don’t penalise service or food if the other is bad.
Restaurants know food and service are core of their offerings, yet many times they lack consistency, this is what sets apart a good restaurant from a great one. Many a times I have had a good meal and then a mediocre one in the same restaurant within weeks of each other. A one off bad day is acceptable of course, however some places just hit the mark time and again, and that is what all restaurants should aspire to – good food, good service consistently.
Q: Michelin despite being a tyre company has started an appreciative Star Chef Rating System. Do you feel India, being a land of different rich cuisines, should have an internal system, where we can also rate chefs and restaurants?
I think rating guides, stars, etc. can be very inconsistent (there is the word again) and they rarely are able to make real time adjustments to their ratings. Michelin guides specifically are inherently European and to appeal to them one must have a European technique and presentation.
A unified central system is always good however nothing can beat a blogger. You not only get glorious pictures, meticulously detailed reviews but most of them are unbiased as folks pay for their own food and don’t have to compromise on their views. The best part is you get them in real time, unlike a guide.
So I personally think the present system works. I’ll take a blogger over a guide book any day.
Q: Have you ever tried food of the tiffin service of Mumbai? Do you feel there is a talent that is untapped and yet to be recognized in Mumbai? Can there be a platform where this talent, of tiffin service people, housewives, rasoiyas, etc., can come together, and a large crowd can cater to their service?
Since I was born and brought up in Bombay, I have never really been able to try a tiffin service (mom & wife would be fairly offended I am sure). However, I do look into menus of tiffin services for fun and some of them sound fantastic. I think there is certainly an opportunity there, while some of them have websites, perhaps a simple, but dedicated matching service tagged by price, cuisine and delivery area might serve as a unified platform to push what is certainly a throw back to the old khanvals.
Q: Do you promote your blog? What promotional techniques work best for you and why?
I dont really promote my blog, fortunately people seem to find it on their own. The underlying reason for the blog is just fun. Promoting it would be a lot of work (like promoting the movie) so I just let it be.
Q: How important is it for the blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?
Like all media, the audience is of paramount importance. But since the blog is not a commercial venture, there is no pressure to plan posts or focus on a commercial angle. However, I absolutely answer every comment, query or question that comes to me. I also get suggestions for posts, restaurants which keep things interesting.
Q: What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of blogging?
Foremost is the freedom it gives you, you can play journalist, analyst, editor, all at the same time if you want. There is no pressure to write specifically for someone, yet if you focus you can turn into a stellar career. Unlike traditional media, you get feedback in real time and it’s easier to update or move with the information/ audience as a blogger. Since, blogging platforms have a fairly low barrier of entry and lower costs allow anyone to start blogging. It also allows for more honesty in the information.
Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.
The content on Indian blogs is terrific, but certain type of content is still absent. Most Indian blogs can be divided into mostly two kinds, one would be your personal blogs like that of Sidin Vadukut which I find hilarious. There are also some great industry specific blogs such as Medianama, WAT Blog, VCCircle, which I read on a daily basis. What we seriously lack is strong, incisive and I cannot say this enough – unbiased, political, economical and social commentary.
Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?
I would say don’t think too hard about it when you get going. Just do it and stick to it for some time, write about what you know and what interests you. You will find your voice and then your audience.
Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?
It’s not difficult to garner revenue by running ads or selling ad space (banners) on your blog, some businesses have crept up that offer money for writing product/ service specific posts as well. One can also insert ads in posts, between posts, there really is no limit to it. It’s really about how intrusion free you wish the reading experience to be and how you reconcile paid posts with your readership.
Personally, I don’t do paid posts and have 2 or 3 small ads which are fairly unobtrusive and pay about $100 per year (which maybe covers 1% of what I spend). I do, however, get opportunities to write for other publications, blogs, aggreagators which I pick up if it pays all right.
Q: According to you, what is the future of Blogging?
The future of blogging is actually shaping up in real time. Bloggers get featured more and more in traditional media, they are heard and respected which gives their content and the medium greater credibility. Eventually, I see bloggers and blogging will eventually become indistinguishable from mainline media, yet somehow be able to retain its indie cred.
Q: Let’s conclude off with a few favorites.
Movie: Lawrence of Arabia
TV Show: Seinfeld
Book: American Psycho
Time of Day: Morning
Your Zodiac Sign: Libra
So where is the dinner going to be today? The mention of Sardar Pav Bhaji and others can tempt the strongest of minds which are in the dieting mode. 🙂 Gaurav, it was a pleasure interviewing you and our team looks forward to join you on your next visit to an awesome eatery. Till then Samosa, we mean sayonara!