F E A T U R E – F O O D B L O G G I N G
In this week’s episode of TDA’s Gluttony, a segment specifically dedicated to Bangladeshi food-blogging scene, we conversed with Fahrin Zannat Faiza, known for her vlogs in her Youtube channel Khudalagse, and discussed the Bangladeshi food-blogging scene and her experiences as one of the most prominent food-vloggers of Bangladesh.
TDA: When you first started food-blogging, did the restaurants welcome you with warm hospitality? Were they co-operative enough? Or was their approach different from how you are treated now?
Faiza: I started blogging back in 2019, so this story dates back to 2-3 years ago. People who manage restaurants now are mostly familiar with the concept of “food-blogging”, but back then, this wasn’t the case at all. So here’s what would happen — most of the time, we weren’t welcomed at all. We would never receive supportive treatment, like “Yes, you can do it here”.
We also had to deal with the copyright infringement issue due to the music playing in the background of the restaurants. So, we had to repeatedly request them to turn off the music for a certain amount of time. Evidently, sometimes they would also get irritated. Again, when some people saw us with a camera, they considered the possibility of us giving them a negative review and tarnishing their reputation, so we were often thrown out. That is why we would message or contact the particular restaurant’s Facebook page and ask them if we’d be allowed to vlog there before going at all. Many of them replied in the affirmative while some didn’t agree — which is pretty evident because every restaurant has its own privacy policies.
There were also cases when we had already started our review but were asked to leave halfway through it. We still have to face this problem sometimes. Recently, I have been on a trip to Chittagong and met with the same cold treatment. It’s as if the restaurant owners were very annoyed because they couldn’t understand why anyone would want to film while eating. They were also very adamant that they wouldn’t turn the music off.
TDA: How much time do you usually spend on making a video? From recording to editing and then uploading it, etc. — how much time and effort does it take you, generally, to make a satisfactory video?
Faiza: Now, the thing is, the day before making a video, I have a general idea of the content I want to produce. Let’s say, we go on a tour, and now it’s nice if everything is arranged beforehand.
Or suppose, I have another page, ‘Faiza’, wherein I put previously planned content. So, the planning process begins before the video even starts. A plus point is that I never have to follow a script strictly. My head starts spinning when I try to make a script. When I am just simply conversing with people, my words keep flowing, so I don’t need to spend time making scripts. But from planning content to creating it and then editing the content and uploading it, it takes me a minimum of 3 days for a single content.
TDA: What is your content strategy, and how do you decide what and when to post? After all, social media algorithms matter. How do you handle this?
Faiza: The thing is, people, like to watch different things at different times.
Suppose in the winter season, people like to see content about ‘pitha’. People enjoy the content that is trending currently. So if we plan content based on the trending topic, it will be the perfect step for us. Since, for my ‘Khudalagse’ channel, I have to make food-related content, I always try to focus on a new place and help people see new things to enjoy.
Suppose if I go into a five-star hotel today and I do a review on the expensive 5000-5500 BDT dinner menu or buffet there, people will watch this kind of content more. Because, even if people cannot afford to go there, at least they can watch and know about what a five-star hotel’s food menu is all about. People will watch my video in the expensive restaurant more than the video of eating a burger in a typical restaurant. Because, by the grace of the Almighty, the general populace of Bangladesh can eat a burger in a restaurant. When we were in college, we could eat too by saving money.
But people will enjoy watching me explore the menu of the 5-star restaurant because of their curious nature. I don’t have the ability to eat regularly in a 5-star hotel. So my planning goes like this: I keep one-hit content on my channel and some food reviews so that there is a blend of every kind of content. About the algorithm matter, we try to create hype before publishing our video to let people know in advance when we post our video, and there’s no strict rule or period within which I will post my content and get a good reach. There were times when we uploaded videos at 9 pm, and we still got over 1M+ views that night. There were times where we published our video at 11 am-12 pm, and our video didn’t get five lakhs views the whole day. So it always depends on the content.
If the video is about a viral issue, people will definitely watch it, regardless of the time you post it. But it’s essential to let people know that I am putting out a video at a certain time, and so people can start preparing themselves to watch it at that time. This is just monthly planning. Since I have to work with a lot of content, I never have the time to specifically write down that I’ll upload this content at this time. It just happens. Choosing when I will post my video depends on my editing. If my editing is complete, I decide to upload it the next day.
TDA: What are the common misconceptions that many people have about food-bloggers?
Faiza: People have many misconceptions regarding food-bloggers. Food-blogging is a very new concept in Bangladesh — many people wonder what it is exactly. Even I didn’t think a career could be based around it. My parents didn’t know about that either.
The first misconception people have is that food-bloggers review the food after taking some money from the restaurant, and no one does it for free. If I review the food positively, people are like, “How does this girl like this food?” And when I give the food a negative review, people are like, “This girl knows nothing about it.” No matter what I do, these misconceptions don’t go away. There are always people who will comment on my video that it’s a paid review.
When I started shooting travel videos, people would say, “You don’t know anything about this place,” if I disliked a certain place; or “How do you talk about this so familiarly?”
So, the misconceptions are — first of all, people think that food-bloggers are always paid and we don’t review anything until restaurants pay us. Second of all, if we don’t get paid money, we give the food a negative review, and if we are paid, we provide the food with a positive review. Another problem is many people wonder how I found the food so good and gave it a positive review.
Now, suppose I went to a restaurant and 2-3 people there recognised me. When the manager recognises me as Khudalagse, they realise that I’ve come to do a review. Then the effort they put into making my food is exponentially more compared to that of the other customers. So I feel like that is my fault. But I can’t do anything about it either. To avoid this, I try not to let the restaurant that I’m coming in advance. I feel like telling the managers would be the death of my content’s genuineness. And one of the biggest misconceptions is that I do not pay for the food I am eating with my own earnings — rather I eat at my father’s or husband’s expense. So this is it. None of these misconceptions is the truth. I never ate food outside the home at my fathers’ expenses and I still don’t eat outside at my husband’s expenses. I pay for my own food.
TDA: Have you ever faced gender-based discrimination as a female blogger? If yes, how did you deal with it?
Faiza: First of all, it was very troublesome at the beginning. I was always asked, being a woman, why would I step out of my home? According to my knowledge, I am the first female blogger in Bangladesh. Before me, I don’t think any woman stepped out of their home and went to a restaurant to review the food in front of Bangladeshi people.
It’s normal. If boys can go out to eat food, so can girls. This is a very trivial matter, but still, people literally couldn’t digest this fact. Amongst all this problem, I wear a hijab. So people had a superstition that if a girl wears a hijab, she should eat food made at home — why would she need to get out of her house to eat? This kind of atmosphere was always troublesome for me.
I grew up in a way that I didn’t care about what my relatives thought about me. I got scolded by mom on several occasions for this — why don’t you care for what other people have to say about you? So this particular habit of mine helped me a lot. Many people write many ridiculous statements in the comment section of my videos, but I don’t care about those. If I started to think about these ridiculous statements, I wouldn’t have been able to come this far.
TDA: Even though “food blogging” is not a prominent concept in Bangladesh right now, its hype is still gradually increasing. Many aspiring women want to take this road, but they get stuck to the wall you have just mentioned, and they hesitate a lot. So, do you have any advice for them?
Faiza: Yes. I also watch a lot of female bloggers among people I know. I have a connection with almost all the current female bloggers who have started on this path. Whenever I encounter them outside, they always ask me questions, and I answer their questions and provide them with small tips. Now, if anyone is reading this right now, I would like to say something to them.
Do your part. Believe that what you are doing is right. Confidence is very important. I won’t tell you to do something by mistake and raise your confidence because that won’t work. First of all, be honest. If you are honest with yourself, confidence will come by itself. When you try to dive into something without knowing anything about it, that is a problem. We are not food-critiques; we are food-bloggers — we are not that much different from ordinary people. We are just reviewing food in front of a camera, that’s all. If you don’t know about something, don’t go exploring that area and if you make a mistake, admit it. Your communication with the audience matters. If you create content with the mindset of getting viral within two months or leaving the scene otherwise, you will most probably fail. Nothing can happen in 2 months. I also had to work hard for one year. I had no shortcuts.
So you have to keep working until you get better. Food-blogging isn’t something very difficult. It isn’t something that you need to do with a lot of passion, but willpower is a must to achieve something. It’s not only about fame, it’s not only about money. You have to enjoy what you do. You have to enjoy your work, and you have to keep working. Fame, money, and happiness will come all together. This is true in any case.
TDA: Upon going to a restaurant to shoot a blog, were you ever pressured by a restaurant owner, demanding you to give a positive review?
Faiza: Oh my! There were some critical situations for this kind of attitude. They were like “You have to put out a good review — how much money do you need? Just tell us.”
Since I am a woman, and it’s very tough for a woman to do her work alone in Dhaka city, I was always in fear of what might happen to me because of my straight refusal to them. I always used to worry about these things but by the grace of the Almighty, something of that sorts has never happened to me.
Now we have to deal with different agencies for sponsors. If any of my sponsored videos gets negative comments and feedback, I have to face a lot of criticism for this. It seems like my honesty is going to be the reason for my downfall. Our contracts are signed like this: Sponsors handle the promotion of a particular thing, but my reviews will be handled only by me. Even after signing this contract, when they face negative reviews, this is where they start fussing that I need to delete that particular video. But I am strong in my position and I won’t do it. If need be, I can compensate for the loss monetarily but I can’t remove my review. So I always have to face situations like this.
TDA: Till now, we have had ample serious discussions. Let’s move towards lighter topics. If you are asked what your dream destination is, where would it be and what kind of food would you like to discover there?
Faiza: If it’s just to discover food, I don’t know. I mean there are lots of places. But I really like Arabian food. The way they cut the meat into chunks to make shawarma, is so satisfying to watch. And not only for food, but I have had a goal since childhood that no matter what I do, I want to go to Switzerland for once in my life. This has been one of my wishes from a very early age. And as for food, wherever I get Arabian food, anywhere I get Shawarma or roasted whole chicken. That is, the Middle East.
TDA: If you could eat one food every day for the rest of your life, what would that be?
Faiza: If you literally mean one food only, I would choose potato because if I am given potato, I can make french fries out of it one day, and mashed potatoes the other.
TDA: Have you ever had a complete cooking failure at home? A scenario wherein you wanted to cook something but it turned out to be a mess? Has it ever happened?
Faiza: Yes, definitely. Since I am a food blogger, I also need to do some cooking content occasionally. But, I am very bad at cooking. I only know how to eat. So this kind of incident has happened a lot. There are very few people in Bangladesh who can’t cook chicken fry. However, the chicken fries I make are a disaster. I have still not been able to learn how to properly make them.
TDA: As you have visited several restaurants and have tasted foods from several places as a food-blogger, has any particular food clicked to you as one of the best among anything you have ever eaten?
Faiza: No, nothing like this has happened to me yet. I don’t think I have ever had an experience like this where I thought a particular item was the best I’d ever eaten.
TDA: Do you have any memorable experiences as a food-blogger?
Faiza: My memorable experiences go like this:
One time when I was going inside a restaurant, I was standing outside the lift, wearing a mask. A person was talking to another person about me, “…Khudalagse has posted another review yesterday about this certain place…”
I was literally standing beside her. So when I got up in the lift and entered the restaurant and pulled my mask off, she saw me. At that moment, she basically screamed and ran towards me at the same time. An outsider feeling so glad to see me was something beautiful to experience.
Another time, my husband and I were on a rickshaw. Another rickshaw, carrying two other women, was passing by us. So, one of them was telling the other friend that Khudalagse apu wears the same kind of hijab after pointing towards me. Obviously, I was wearing a mask at that time. So I was staring at her, she was also staring back at me. When I removed my mask and flashed a smile at her, she jumped with joy and ran to where I was. Her joy was written on her face.
TDA: If you are asked to tell us about some items that you don’t like at all, what would they be?
Faiza: First of all, bitter gourd (korolla). I don’t like this at all. Second of all, radish (mula). Third of all, strawberry juice. I think many people like this drink but I am not a fan of it. I also don’t love eating dessert items. If I am ever told that I can skip the dessert on the menu, I can do that happily. Because I crave spicy foods, sweets are not really my cup of tea. I also don’t like to eat yoghurt.
TDA: Let’s ask you some rapid fire questions.
Cheez or Domino’s?
Best Restaurant for sushi?
Faiza: Kiyoshi at Gulshan
Restaurant that provides the best service?
Faiza: Despite getting well-treated for my job everywhere, I would specially like to mention Kiyoshi.
Five features of a good burger?
- A good bun
- Average quantity of sauce (not too much)
- Perfectly cooked meat
- No tomato slice
- Size of the burger
Bad service but good food, or good service with mediocre food?
Faiza: I am a die-hard foodie, so bad service but good food.
Soggy bun or overcooked patty?
Faiza: Overcooked patty. Because if the top and bottom cover is ruined, then what is the point of eating a burger at all?
Tea or coffee?
Tehari or Kacchi?
Mezban or Kalabhuna?
Lacchi or Borhani?
Burger or Pizza?
One food item you always end up ordering?
Faiza: Cream of mushroom soup
Faiza: Classic Bangali trio – Bhaat, chicken curry, shutki bhorta
Pocket friendly quality restaurants?
Faiza: Kacchi in Puran Dhaka, Dhaka Metro in Banani
Best restaurant(s) outside Dhaka?
Faiza: Casablanca in Cox’s Bazaar
Favourite recreation of foreign cuisine in Bangladesh?
Faiza: Kiyoshi’s sushi
Interviewed by: Fatin Hamama & Jannatun Nayeem Arnob
Written by: Jannatun Nayeem Arnob & Tasnia Shahrin