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This ‘Digital Food Community’ Is Changing How Modern India Eats, One Bite At A Time


Twenty years ago, India only really knew Indian food – and by Indian food, each region’s cuisine was largely an island. Today, urbanites are expressing an interest in learning about foods that aren’t served at home – it’s a growing segment that one young company discovered, almost by accident – and they’ve dived in to be a large part of that change.

Food Talk India began as an invite-only Facebook group in mid-2013; about 50 people were on that list, all because they loved food and wanted an outlet to chat about what they were trying, and where to go eat in New Delhi. That number had grown to 18 thousand within six months.

Barely three years later the company has a pan-India social following of about 500 thousand people, has curated hundreds of food-related events around the country, and was the digital partner for the India release of the hugely popular Masterchef Australia Season 7. And they have their own app.

“Shows like Masterchef Australia have really given people a lot of exposure,” says Food Talk India co-founder Anjali Batra, “we also have a lot more disposable income.”

With that relatively recent disposable income has grown a new generation of Indians who have studied outside the country and returned, or simply had the opportunity to travel out of their comfort zones. They’ve all tried something new and want it made available to them at home.

According to the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), the domestic food service industry is expected to grow 11% within the five years ending 2018.

Twenty-six year old Batra’s entry into the Food Talk world was purely by accident. A marketing expert, she ran into now fellow co-founder, and creator of that original Facebook page, Shuchir Suri, at an event in late 2013. Realizing they had a shared interest in the food space, both teamed up to turn the product into a larger digital platform.

“We wanted to create a community space where people could come in and share their food experiences,” she says, “if you’re looking for recommendations and what to eat at restaurants – it’s all user-based, legitimate content.”

After seeing the shift toward members of the Food Talk platform virtually eating together online, Batra says the idea of bringing people together to physically meet and dine came up.

“We turned it into an event concept called ‘Dinner with Strangers,’” she says. “You may or may not know who you’ll be eating with, but food is a universal language.”

 The first event was capped at 50 people; over 75 signed up. They’ve since curated more frequent events such as blind tastings, wine events, and even something called ‘Disconnect’ in which attendees are not allowed to touch their mobile phones for 90 minutes.
Costs to attend are kept as low as possible; between $15 and $37 for a meal that usually includes alcohol by way of an event sponsor.

The recently launched app is a visual platform that allows people to log on and discover what dishes others have recommended at the restaurants they are eating at. It does not take on the job of reviewing restaurants, says Batra, explaining that it is quite different from the Zomato restaurant finder concept.

“We worked on the model to understand the industry and saw there was a huge gap in the space, when people are going out to eat, the question of what to eat kept coming up repetitively,” she says, “we wanted to create an easy, accessible product; no long reviews, no rambling – just dish oriented.”

Food Talk India aims to fine-tune their app into a product that provides users with dishes that are relevant to them, based on spending, history, and current location.

But despite the grandeur of the new food revolution in urban India, and slow introduction of dishes such as ‘ceviche’ into the foodie-lingo, Batra says Indian palates will always still love Indian flavors. “No matter how evolved our palate becomes, there will invariably be more Indian infusions – we like our spices,” she says.

Incoming restaurant chains often reflect the dominant Indian tastes;McDonalds India doesn’t have a beef burger in sight – the Indian menu is beefed up instead by India-specific items such as the Veg Maharaja Mac and the Chicken Maharaja Mac.

Recently raising $500 thousand in seed funding, Food Talk India plans to scale up further, bringing people beyond the top tier cities into the event-fun.

“Food is the easiest luxury for everyone,” says Batra, “we’ve captivated a very easy industry.”

-By Ambika Behal

Source: Forbes

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