With Swaadhistam, Sowjanya Narsipuram Revives Forgotten Dishes
Image Credit: Swaadhistam's Sowjanya Narsipuram

ARMED with just an iPhone and a voiceover, food enthusiast Sowjanya Narsipuram is resurrecting dishes from south Indian homes, one Instagram post at a time. The 29-year-old started her Instagram channel, Swaadhistam (which means ‘handmade with love’ in Telugu), in 2020, which really took off last year and garnered a lot of appreciation for her thoughtfully crafted recipes on social media.

“Not only cuisine, I’m attracted to all things traditional,” shares the food enthusiast and adds, “I think Indian culture is very logical and rooted in nature. And since our country is so vast, each region has tweaked its food according to the availability of local resources and the environment."

It was after reading Dr Poorna Chandu’s Aahara Vedam (Food Veda), which traces the culinary history of Telugu people across history, that Sowjanya was inspired to recreate old and lost cooking techniques and recipes through her online endeavours. Presented in an effective and engaging manner, her videos break down recipes that are no longer popular (owing to laborious preparation methods) or have simply been forgotten over time.

Take the example of her nimma karam (lemon pickle), a simple and easy to make recipe that went viral and saw a lot of viewer engagement. Made from lemon, chilli powder, fenugreek, mustard, salt, and green chillies, similar pickles are extremely common in any part of India, but call it timing or the fact that social media ensured she struck a chord with people, this recipe became one of Sowjanya’s most popular videos.

All her videos are usually under a minute and contain food-based facts. She explains, “It adds to the viewer's interest, and since I love research, I enjoy doing it. I read that sailors used to be affected by scurvy on long voyages due to the lack of Vitamin C and found that it could be remedied by lemon. I mentioned this fact in the video of nimma karam and felt that a lot of my audience connected with such facts.”

Sowjanya finds recipes in unexpected places. While family, friends, and followers do help her with her quest, her motherlode is usually the vegetable mandis of Hyderabad. She recalls, “I once went to the market and found a lady purchasing ripened palm fruit. When I asked her about what she planned to make with it, she reeled off a list of dishes, from taati gaarelu (sweet dumplings) to rotis. I was astonished and learned how so many dishes are extremely hyperlocal but are slowly vanishing as people are not documenting them.”

Her inspirations are many and varied. She once travelled to Kerala and had the most amazing kadala curry (chickpea) at a roadside shack and recreated it to great effect. Or when her friend’s mother taught her to make the siyaku podi (a powder from a leafy green found in the Godavari region of Andhra Pradesh), which is served in the region as the first course in a meal as it is believed to increase appetite. She is slowly but surely chronicling the vast variety of regional foods that not many are aware of.


A firm believer in simple foods, Sowjanya connects with the audience through her fuss-free recipes like banana kheer (made from coconut milk; traditional recipes did not combine milk and fruits, to avoid digestion issues) and kobbari annam (coconut rice).

Not all recipes are easy, though. Wanting to recreate Kumbakonam kadappa, a side dish made for idli and dosa in Tamil Nadu, she researched extensively for the original recipe and recreated it on her channel. In the plethora of recipes search engines throw up, finding authentic versions can be daunting. 

Along with heritage recipes, Sowjanya is a firm proponent of traditional cooking methods as well. Eating with one’s hand to engage the five senses; cooking in clay, steel, or stone; not reheating food; and using a mortar and pestle for grinding are some of the recommendations she follows. To ensure her research relies on the most authentic sources, she also began to learn Sanskrit, and her goal is to be proficient enough to read old treatises like Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita so that she can decipher the wealth of the past herself.

Any particular dish that she is longing to try? She answers, “My grandmother used to make this dish called Lakshmi chaaru during my childhood. It was such a wonderful process — she used to rub turmeric on the clay pot before embarking on the preparation and even apply vermillion to the pot just as one would to a photo of a deity. I tried it once, but it didn’t work out, making me apprehensive to try again.” Lakshmi chaaru is a time-honoured dish from the Godavari region where rice water (water used to clean rice) is fermented in a pot for seven or nine days and then cooked with vegetables. Rich in nutrition, it is a summer dish that is probiotic and extremely delicious.

As a yoga instructor and a food enthusiast, Sowjanya’s immediate plans are clear: To make Swaadhistam a healthy lifestyle platform and start a small traditional eatery where she can serve homemade food to people. With her single-minded dedication and focus, the day does not seem too far. And given her flair for cooking, we cannot wait to sample what she comes up with!

Follow Sowjanya's food adventures on Instagram.