Ahmedabad as a city is constantly stuck between the battle for preserving a culture and building a new one. As a city it has leapfrogged through social stigma and continues its forward journey on a road where what’s next can only be expressed by getting there.
But there is one thing about the city that, though constantly changing, by and large remains its only identity. That is food.
The month of June 2016 saw Ahmedabad break the world record for the largest potluck party ever held. As a city, we came together to not only break the world record but pretty much smash it to pieces and make it all the more difficult for the next city to break. With 1854 people inside a single venue on the day of the event, our only concern was to not let the place overflow.
This event was historic not only because it broke a world record but also because it brought forth the indefatigable energy that one city’s passion for food and two people’s valour to showcase it in front of the world can do.
Two people, passionate about food, and armed only with the frustration of not having the right people to talk to about food and the infantry that social media was, decided to start a Facebook group in 2012 and called it Foodaholics in Ahmedabad.
Rohan Bhatt and Esha Shah, a couple more popularly known as the founders of Foodaholics in Ahmedabad, evince few signs of brilliance when you first meet them. It takes some meticulously prepared dishes and a generous sprinkle of love for you to understand how well they know their food. But this piece isn’t in adulation of how good they are.This is is in adulation of what they did.
Foodaholics in Ahmedabad is a frivolous name, if you ask me. I would’ve rejected it in the first go. But then so is Nike, and yet we choose to wear the swoosh at as many places on our body as we can. The point being, don’t judge it by its name, it gets better, much better.
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The group was created with one philosophy: to share, discuss, and grow together with our idea of food. It now has a 35,155 member community (as I type this) that discusses everything from the making of the perfect dal makhani all the way down to understanding the right ingredients for a heart-warming chocolate ganache.
“He (Sanjeev Kapoor) asked me, ‘So what does your group do?’ And I said, ‘Well sir, we discover, create, and celebrate food, both old and new,’ and I said that with significant pauses, taking time to enunciate the next word. It was Sanjeev Kapoor after all. And he replied, ‘Then continue doing that, na! Discover, create, celebrate.’ And since that day, it has become FiA’s (Foodaholics in Ahmedabad) staple. “Discover, Create, Celebrate!” that’s what Rohan had to say when asked what the central idea of FiA is. Though it has the word Ahmedabad in it, FiA has hardly ever stuck to talking about food just from Ahmedabad.
The city is too small, and the passion too vigorous to be contained by the name of the group.
In fact, world cuisine is often discussed more than local cuisines or food choices and the group has come around to being the soap box for some of the most prolific home chefs of the city.
The city had an existing food community, which was distributed, disconnected and unconcerned. There were new food places popping up all over the place, its dynamism in terms of both food diversity and the culture had been on the rise since decades now, but the one thing that it lacked was a serious recognition of putting a plate on a table.
That’s exactly what Foodaholics aimed at doing: recognising, celebrating and making the effort more valuable.
And it took them a fair while in doing that, but eventually, it all made sense.
“I had taken a friend to taste the Belgian chocolate at Thanco’s when I noticed a small fluorescent sticker that they had put up, that said, ‘Review us on Zomato and FiA.’ That was the day I got real feedback of the impact that we had generated.”
That’s what Esha had to say when asked about the one day when all the effort that went into creating a place free of internet vandals was well understood in intent and approach.
As you read this, you would still be able to meet a lot of people who do not believe that FiA is a not-for-profit group that has no plans of going commercial in the future. That the only driver behind such a fervent activity about food is passion, is, for some reason, a difficult idea to swallow without a splash of doubt.
Soon after its formation, FiA turned into a local sensation, and if you are to agree to what Rohan has to say, the people of the community form a much more crucial part of the experience of being in the city’s most active food discussion group, than the idea of the group itself.
Now that would be true for any community, from Facebook and YouTube themselves to your local debate club.
However, what makes FiA unique is their resilience to change. It was easy, and to an extent ethically acceptable, for them to give in to the pressure and attraction of becoming a media house that types for money. But the wonderful thing is that they never did, and going by what they say, they never will.
The world is full of people who set out to do something good.
The real question is, how long do they keep doing it? FiA has done it for four long years and if I am to believe the spark in Esha’s eyes when I ask her what the future of the group looks like, you can lean on a writer’s judgement to say that it only gets better.
In the middle of all the rush, we all take that small break. Stop by the side of the road and grab a sevpuri, drive a little more after that meeting for a samosa, stop by a place along the way to grab our favourite khakhras; as a city, we love our food in more ways than I can write about. And Foodaholics in Ahmedabad did nothing but give us a place where we can collectively realise this passion, forward it, and spread some love.
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