Eating The Alphabet In India With Beryl Shereshewsky


noun [ U ]   humorous

UK  /ˈduːm.skrəʊ.lɪŋ/ US  /ˈduːm.skroʊ.lɪŋ/

the activity of spending a lot of time looking at your phone or computer and reading bad or negative news stories.

Even if this word is new to you, we’re guessing that the experience isn’t. Most people spend hours of their day tuned into social media, flicking through photos, stories, reels, videos – anything that the algorithms can throw our way. But with all that content and access to everything in the world and beyond, how many of us actually feel…connected. In our modern screen-topia, it takes something truly unique to make people come together. For video producer, writer and content creator, Beryl Shereshewsky, the key to that connection has always been food, even though it took her a while to find the space that was right for her. 

She started her career in 2012 as a business production assistant but slowly found herself gravitating towards the video production side of the media outlets she belonged to. Even when she was in Brand Marketing – and hating every minute of it – food was in the back of her mind. “I was always kinda interested in food but I didn’t have any experience in video beyond what people around me were doing.” It was the early days of YouTube, content creators weren’t even a blip on the radar yet and brands rarely did any major video content. 

So when she was approached by Great Big Story – a micro-documentary platform by CNN – she leapt at the opportunity, becoming one of their first employees. Over the next five years she worked her way up to Series Developer and then realised that most of her stories ended up being food stories because to her, food was the perfect medium from which to explore cultures. “I thought, here’s this one medium where race and religion and things don’t matter, because we can all appreciate good food,” she says. 

Qubani Ka Meetha
Image Credit: Bliss Is My Food

The ones you’d expect really! But Q for Qubani Ka Meetha was especially hard. There was only one place in Delhi that had it and of course, when we called they said they weren’t making it and I literally begged him to do it. 

Another hard one was X because there was one restaurant in Delhi that made Xacuti and they said they weren’t making it because it takes six days to get the spices ready. I found a woman through a Facebook group who said she could make it but then she couldn’t and we ended up going to the Goan state building canteen and asking them to make it and there were all these guards yelling at me to put my phone away. It was…an experience. 

What were some of the most unexpected reactions you got to your videos?

The best example was O for Old monk rum. I knew that I wanted to talk about the culture of alcohol and ferment in India that was heavily erased during colonisation. Even at my old job, it was something I wanted to do but it didn’t get approved because my bosses at the time didn’t think it was ‘interesting enough’. So I thought it was my chance to talk about it, through old monk rum. And I was so surprised, I didn’t expect it to be so popular, it had over a million views almost overnight, that wasn’t really a point of nostalgia for me. I mean my father-in-law only has old Monk or whiskey in the house but since I was never a college student in India, I had never really thought about it like that.

Which letter was the most historically important to you?

I think P for Parle G surprised me, I didn’t know that the guy who made it did it as a clap back to the British, and I think that this kind of story is something that can really easily be lost because the product is so ubiquitous in the country. It’s the same way in New York City when you talk about immigrant cuisine, there are certain items which you feel have always been there but then actually, it hasn’t and there was a reason for it coming into creation. 

And it wasn’t as popular but I also loved Chicken Manchurian and learning about Nelson Wang and the Hakka-speaking Chinese in India. Through that, I learnt about so many other Desi-Indian Chinese dishes and most Americans do not know about Indo-Chinese food, which is so sad because it's 1000 times better than American Chinese food.

Why are you a food content creator, why did you make this your space? 

I think that there are two types of people in the food space. There are the people who are there to teach you how to make food – the chefs of the world. For them, the food is about the food itself, the cooking and preparing side. For me, I think about food less as ‘the food’ but more about the story. Even on my YouTube channel, I cook dishes but I’m not really teaching you how to make anything, I’m teaching you a way to connect with someone who looks or sounds different from you and realise that you have something in common with them. 

That commonality can be something as simple as ‘I like mangoes’. I may be a Jewish woman from New York and you can have an Indian woman with a very different upbringing, but you put us down at a table with some mangoes and suddenly we’ll both be talking about how much we love mangoes. So from there, you can find more common ground and things that bond you. And sometimes I think people don’t give enough credit to how food can bond people. Put a group of strangers down at a dinner table and by the end of the meal, I guarantee people will be in the conversation as opposed to maybe just sitting people in a circle and telling them to start talking. 

Where does filmmaking fit into the equation?

Food just has this great way of equalising people. Through all my years in filmmaking, I realise that there’s a story you want to tell and for me, the story that I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell it was that we have more in common than what divides us, and that food was the way to create that community. Over the years being part of those conversations and hearing those memories has changed the way I see the world and how I see people. I actually think that I like people more now than I ever did, and that’s because of food. 

When people talk about the dishes that they love, it always has a connection to culture, family, friends or memories that bring joy and to me, that’s a bigger draw to me to want to try something over ‘oh yeah, that tastes really good’. I want to feel their emotions, and experience that too. 

What is your path forward in food, and what do you hope to achieve?

I think one of the things that I always felt was missing in food content is the voices of people from those cultures. Sometimes in food shows and chef shows, it’s like the culture has been removed and people focus on the differences and that stuff is ‘weird’ and it’s so isolating and not part of the vocabulary I like to use. 

So the way I developed my shows was in a way that people got to introduce their culture to everybody and also I’ve felt that in doing that, it’s made people more interested in exploring things from that culture because it's almost like an invitation from that person to try these dishes. 

There’s something really nice about handing people the baton to talk about the things that matter to them and people appreciate it the internet and social media are such great places to do that. Though that’s not how this series worked since there are only 60 seconds and it's hard to include all of those things, which is why I tried to focus on the history rather than things that were personal to me. It’s just about sharing space. 

Beryl is already hard at work on her next project, replicating the alphabet format in New York City, and meanwhile continues to connect with people around the world to share their favourite dishes, recipes and snippets of culture on her YouTube channel. Through her lens she’s opening up channels of communication where people of all backgrounds can come together and just rejoice in the joy of food.