George Bernard Shaw once famously said: There is no sincerer love than the love for food.
Hyderabad man Mohammad Zubair Ali, it would seem, has applied the maxim to his life with utmost devotion.
Running the popular page Hyderabad Food Diaries on Facebook, Zubair is that Hyderabadi who doesn’t need an introduction to the food lovers in the city. A food reviewer and blogger, Zubair started reviewing food on social media three years ago, around the same time that he began his food blog.
Today, Zubair has two significant awards in his kitty - Best Food Blogger and Best Social Media Influencer in the state. The awards were given by the Telangana Artists Association, which is supported by the state government. Zubair also takes pride in being the only Hyderabadi to have been invited by Trevor James, the famous Cannadian food blogger who runs the YouTube channel, Food Rangers.
The young man has many gastronomical adventures to share, and most importantly, believes that food reviews should never be dishonest.
“This I say because food reviews are taken very seriously and as a food lover, I would never want others to have a bad food experience,” he laughs.
Zubair laid his hands on the culinary map of Hyderabad when food blogging and food videos on social media were still gaining traction. He'd always loved food but had never nurtured thoughts on documenting cuisines or writing about them.
“I was in the second year of my hotel management course when I discovered my penchant for different cuisines. I was working at Hotel Marriott as part of my internship and I saw how beautifully the chefs made exotic dishes with just a few vegetables. Thoughts wandered to all the different cuisines, home-made food and street food that were lying unexplored in my city. And I just wished I could go and try all of them,” Zubair recounts.
Soon after completing his course, he landed a job. But he quit after a while because all that Zubair wanted to do then was to explore food.
“I started travelling and reading about food as soon as I left my job. I was clueless about how to promote content on social media and wasn’t even sure if my idea of starting a blog would help me earn a living. It’s during this time that some of my friends, who were on a trip to Hyderabad, asked me on their fourth day in the city about the best biryani they can eat here. I was annoyed because this city is much more than just biryani. So instead of people calling up and asking for recommendations, I decided why not just put them all under a single-roof,” Zubair says.
Restaurants in Hyderabad await the spread of word through Zubair’s social media pages for customers to flock to their outlets. From food festivals, menu launches and new eateries, Zubair does it all. However, he hasn't gotten into doing cooking videos.
“Cooking is something I do not know. My mother doesn’t allow me to enter the kitchen. I am banned. But if need be, I can cook for survival,” Zubair laughs.
It wasn’t and still isn’t easy for Zubair to run his social media accounts. He posts content on his Instagram page every single day, because, “There is so much competition around me. I visit a restaurant almost every day to keep the page running. You decide to relax for one day and it’s very easy for your followers to start following another page. To stay relevant, you need to flood your social media pages with content for followers to not get distracted,” Zubair says.
Zubair doesn’t discriminate among food. From 5-star restaurants to street food, he reviews anything tasty available in the city. Typically, his posts are 1-2 minute videos on the taste of the food item, the ambience of the restaurant and then the price. He tastes a minimum of 4-5 dishes at a restaurant and doesn’t prefer fusion or experimental food.
“I usually take a night to decide on the content and most importantly, the right pictures to post. Taking great photographs of food is a hard-earned skill. After all, that’s why some people are lucky enough to get paid for it. Details like composition, lighting, and styling, will apply regardless of whether you are using a DSLR or a mobile phone,” says Zubair.
On Canadian food blogger Trevor James and his wife’s visit to the city last year, Zubair was their official guide who took the couple on a food hunt.
“Trevor roamed around the city for six days. I took him to Shah Ghouse, Pista House and the street food stalls along Charminar. Trevor was in awe of our cuisine and for me, it was a rare honour,” Zubair recalls.
One of Zubair’s most watched videos on Facebook is of Kharoof Mahshi, an oven-roasted whole lamb rubbed with seasonings inside and out, stuffed with rice and ground spices, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and a variety of spices. Costing Rs 8,000 per plate, Zubair calls it one of the most expensive items he has ever tasted till date.
“Though there are a large variety of non-vegetarian items available in the city, Hyderabad also has a sizeable variety when it comes to vegetarian food. Very recently I visited Masala Republic in Gachibowli. They had this dish called Boti Roti. I was surprised to see that they are serving meat in a pure vegetarian restaurant. When I enquired, the chef said that it's a mock meat (vegetarian food that tastes like meat) made from soy, textured vegetables and wheat gelatin. It absolutely tasted like mutton,” Zubair laughs.
We asked Zubair’s for some of his favourite food spots in the city and these are his recommendations:
1. Biryani at Meridian in Panjagutta
2. Pocket friendly place for college-going students: Iron Hill café in Hi-Tech city
3. For occasional dinners and fine dine: Aish Restaurant at Park Hyderabad
4. Street food: Undisputedly at Charminar