Based in Bhubaneswar, Alka Jena, an Assistant Director(Planning), works with Government of Odisha. She is an online food blogger, food stylist and photographer by passion whose relatively simple, quick to follow and authentic Odia recipes encourages the native traditions and culture across the country. The lack of Odia food essence online has motivated her to come with her own food blog, Culinary Xpress where she shares her passion for Odia food, and newly found hobby photography.
She has also been featured among the Top 25 Indian Chef Bloggers and Top 100 Indian Food Blogs and Websites With Indian Recipes.
We interviewed Alka Jena of Culinary Xpress, and understood her pivotal role in rejuvenating and keeping alive the lost and forgotten traditions.
Food binds a family together. A family that eats together stays together.
Can you tell our readers about yourself?
I work full-time with Govt of Odisha as an Assistant Director (Planning). Besides this, I am a Food Blogger, Food Stylist, and Photographer based at Bhubaneswar. I share my passion for home-cooked food, which is relatively quick, simple to follow through my Blog Culinary Xpress.
Growing up in Bhubaneswar amidst the lap of nature and abundantly available homegrown products, I learned cooking by watching my mother making simple everyday meals. Back in 2014, after my son finished his class 12th and decided to go abroad for higher studies, I decided to digitally document my home-cooked recipes for my son to browse and cook. All this made me realize the lack of Odia food’s essential presence on the internet and the story behind our cuisine and culture. Thus, I began my journey in Food Blogging, to documenting our home-cooked food, especially Odia cuisine. In this way, these documented recipes can play a pivotal role in rejuvenating and keeping alive a lost and soon forgotten tradition.
Blogging has given me an opportunity to try various modern recipes and cook our treasured traditional ones, which I would not have attempted due to the complexity of these recipes.
Passion for cooking has also sharpened my other interest that is Photography. I love taking pictures of my creations almost as much as I love making it. Food styling and photography have helped me in expressing myself through my culinary creativity. Food photography, which was a passion then, has turned into a profession now for me.
What makes Odisha cuisines different from the rest of the country?
The cooking techniques in Odia cuisine makes it different from other cuisines of India. Most of the Odia foods are generally boiled or steamed and then cooked because boiled food does not absorb much oil. Thus, they are making it easy to digest and nonacidic, which does not irritate the digestive tract.
Would you like to share some of the signature dishes of Odisha? What is your favorite?
Dalma, Pakhala, Badi Chura, Ambula Paga, Besara, Mahura, Poda Pitha, Chenapoda, Macha Haldipani, Torani Kanji, Enduri Pitha, Rasagola, Bela Pana, Palau Ladoo, Habisa Dalma. To choose one is very difficult; however, I love Habisa Dalma and Chenapoda a lot.
Your Blog gives a sense of authenticity and feels premium. How do you do it?
I firmly believe We Eat with Our Eyes First. So, I ensure to shoot my food most naturally and exotically besides paying equal attention to the recipes I create for the Blog. I always make sure my viewers and followers enjoy relishing their eyes first and enjoy it when they make it for their own. All the recipes in the Blog are cooked, tested, standardized, and styled by me before publishing in the Blog.
Do brands associate with you on Instagram?
Yes, most of the brands I work with connect with me on Instagram.
Do you see a future for youths trying to create a career on Instagram through blogging?
Yes, Of course, Instagram is a wonderful medium to showcase what you are good at. I try to create organic and meaningful content for my viewers. Instagram Blogging is known as Micro Blogging, where you have a limit for expressing yourselves. I strongly feel one should have a permanent web address for your talent and use Instagram to monetize those contents because there is no scope of search buttons on Instagram where you can search a particular post, and to showcase your work to clients; you need a portfolio.
Making a Career through Instagram Blogging requires hard work, meticulous planning, organic content, connecting with viewers, and perseverance. But like any other job, this requires an ample amount of time and commitment from you. If you have all these, the sky’s the limit for you.
INTERVIEWED BY TUSHANT BARANWAL AND YOGITA MALHOTRA