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#3 | Varun - I order food online for my parents in Mysore from Bangalore
What's cooking - Qualitative study to understand food in urban households
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Food was a functional aspect of our lives a decade back. During my high school days, I would get to know my lunch only at the dining table and eating out was celebratory activity. I grew up in Erode, a small town in Tamilnadu. My dad would take us every Sunday to a fancy restaurant serving Naan and Paneer Butter Masala, which felt exotic. A decade later, our preferences have evolved. We have veg, non-veg, vegan, low-carb, keto and many other diets. Every family member could have a different preference. Food in the household gets more challenging as dietary preferences change.
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Today I’m narrating the story of Varun, whose family grapples with the modern food choices of family members.
About the research: 'What's Cooking?' is a user research series aimed at understanding how urban millennial households consume food. All the names and personally identifiable information are masked to honour the participants' privacy. I publish one story from this series every Thursday.
#3 | Varun
Varun has been living in Bangalore for almost 22 years. His parents still stay in Mysore, and Bangalore is like a second home to Varun. In Bangalore, he stays with his wife and his 13-year-old daughter in an individual villa within a private community. His wife works part-time from home & does volunteer work within the community. His wife takes primary care of the kitchen, and they have a cook who helps them to manage cooking at home.
Food preferences of the family.
Varun is on a keto low-carb diet, and his wife is a pure vegetarian. Their food preferences are on the two extremes of the spectrum they have managed to live with. On a regular day, Varun’s wife and their daughter mostly have south Indian cuisine, while Varun wants meat and eggs added to his meals. The cook comes at 7:30 AM to start cooking breakfast & lunch for them and leaves in the afternoon. She comes only once a day, so she doesn't prepare dinner but helps cut a few vegetables for dinner preparation.
There's no set routine for the menu for dinner, and it keeps changing according to their convenience. Usually, they end up having outside food 3-4 times a week for dinner.
Here’s a snapshot of their food preferences during weekdays.
My mom packs meat from Mysore for the week and sends it to Bangalore.
Dinner usually becomes difficult for Varun as the family can’t only cook dishes for different diet patterns.
Varun gets his meat prepared from his mom in Mysore and is sent to Bangalore, stocked up in his fridge for weeks to come.
Part of my morning meal is cooked by the cook, like my eggs. Only the dinner needs work. So what happens is typically my mom, or somebody cooks for me and I'll heat it and eat it or get it from outside. My wife does not prepare meat so I generally don't cook meat at home. Since we go to Mysore frequently, either my mom packs for the next two weeks and I freeze, heat and eat it or I get meat from outside.
Access to healthy foods on the food ordering apps has been a boon for Varun. He frequently orders from select restaurants like 'Lo', which specialises in low-carb cuisine.
There are disagreements once in a while when Varun pushes the family to shift towards healthy diet preferences, but he also realises everyone has their preferences. The family has learned to accommodate each other's food preferences and still enjoy their meals.
Wildlife photography, travel and idly!
Varun is also a wildlife photographer. He travels on the weekends to pursue his hobby on the city's outskirts. These travels are clubbed with his interest in exploring new food places. Most of his recommendations come from his fellow travellers.
But over the years most of the places that I found are from travellers. I’ll give you an example - if you ever go on Shimoga road, there is a town called Begur. I don’t know if you ever ate in a place called Preethi canteen, If you have not you should eat there. These are the places fellow travellers say hey when you are going to Bhadra for the wildlife thing stop over here, this place has amazing dosa’s, more than the Dosa, the Idly vada, dahi vada are amazing. You can say that is the best dosa, best Idly in the world but they make the best dahi vada in the world.
As the family loves travelling, they have most of their meals at weekends in restaurants outside. Exploring beautiful places, interacting with people and tasting traditional food is something they look forward to every weekend.
This was three weeks back, we went to Mangalore, a group of five families. We planned almost in June and these are the day I go off my diet because sometimes you just can't do it. We know what to eat when I’m travelling. I keep a list of places to eat at. So I keep a track of those things, it is something like a passion to discover new places or try out new things in the rural side. We do a lot of small stops, small places which have great idly and great dosa.
A decade-old love for organic vegetables and groceries
Varun orders most of their groceries online, and they rarely walk into a store to buy something. He orders from organic stores like Boomi farms and Kala farms. When they don’t get items here, they order from either Big Basket or Amazon.
Since the community is far from the heartland, the members procure organic food from nearby farms, and their contacts are widely shared in the WhatsApp groups. Before these online apps, Varun used to get organic products from Mysore to his Bangalore home. But now they have stopped doing these are they have access to online delivery apps like Bhoomi Farms and Kala Farms.
Community, potluck and WhatsApp groups
Varun lives in an active gated community far from the city's heart. They don't have access to restaurants that city dwellers enjoy. Hence the community plays a huge role in socialising with each other. Potlucks and cooking for others become a central theme for the community to connect. They have a WhatsApp group where home cooks post dishes that can be ordered. Varun prefers to order from the community when his wife is out of town.
The community potlucks usually happen during the weekends, when all the families come together and have food. He always looks forward to these potlucks, as it's a chance to catch up with his friends and reconnect with the community.
My daughter had a top 10 dosa place when she was 5.
Varun’s daughter has grown up eating idlis and dosas with him. She loves having this food with Varun, and she used to maintain a list of the best places to eat from a very young age. But due to social media, her preferences have changed as she started exploring other cuisines.
She ends up in Burma Burma (a Burmese cuisine restaurant) every other week when she goes to her dance classes. Varun sees a shift in preferences for his daughter because of the influence of social media. But he is happy that she still loves the south Indian food.
Varun believes that Bangalore has evolved concerning food culture in the past decade. He feels now more people are willing to explore different cuisines & a lot of fusion food joints have come into the picture.
I see a lot more people trying out new stuff. Initially my North Indian friends did not try out the dosa or idly and they wanted only their cuisine. But now I see people are open to a lot more cuisines and not just North Indian stuff. Big credit goes to places like Rameshwaram cafe, even though I’m not a big fan of it. But it helps, a lot of people who don’t eat out at Darshini's are now open to trying those idly’s. The big change that I see is that different kinds of cuisines are coming down to Bangalore and a lot of fusion food joints have come up and some good are here.
I order food for my parents in Mysore from Bangalore on apps.
Varun's parents don't prefer eating out due to health concerns and the inability to go out frequently. But sometimes they don't choose to cook and don't appreciate having help with cooking.
Recently, they have gotten accustomed to ordering food through delivery apps from select restaurants. But they only prefer ordering one or two dishes.
Though their parents are in Mysore, they request Vinay to order food or groceries from Bangalore, and he orders them on their behalf.
Varun takes their order from his parents' list of restaurants, places the order, pays online, and gets the order delivered to Mysore. This has been Varun and his parents' simple way of getting food delivered.
The sense of something coming home when they can’t go out I think helps them a lot. So with the lots of stuff, with my mom getting used to online booking of stuff with Bigbasket coming to smaller towns like Mysore. I think they sort of liked the idea of having food delivered, so the first thing they say is call up and say hey can you order this food. Actually the change is happening over the last year. Most of them after the Covid staterted because they can’t go at all, so they realized that they could get things at your home without actually stepping outside.
As these diet plans are becoming more personal, it’s interesting to see how households adapt to these changes in the long run. I believe many open ends are left to be solved in these situations in the coming years. The takeaway is that it’s possible to make it work even with the most contrasting diet preferences, as long as a family is willing to be flexible. The story of Varun and his family's food preferences is a beautiful example of how a diverse array of food preferences can be accommodated and enjoyed together.
What diet plans have you been experimenting with lately, and how does this affect how you prepare your food at home? Do let me know in the comments below.
Thanks to Rajesh Raghavan for co-writing this piece.
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