Dig into an Instagram account called My Yellow Plate, and instant hunger is guaranteed. Even if your last meal was minutes ago.
Wonder why? Well… picture these.
*In the foreground is a yellow plate loaded with rajma-chawal. Raw, purple-rimmed onion rings sit on it. Far away, in Himachal’s postcard-pretty Kangra Valley, ant-sized parachutes float against the blue sky.
*Laping, a traditional cold-spicy Tibetan noodle dish, again in a yellow plate, is juxtaposed against a food stall in Delhi’s Majnu Ka Tila. The background is hazy but you can see the Tibetan stall owner, a woman in a pink kurta, dish out the next order.
*An Assamese thaali, transferred onto a yellow plate, at a dhaba in Nagaon bypass, looks straight out of a MasterChef kitchen—too manicured and pretty. In the centre of the plate sits a single fried puthi (a local fish) on top of plain white boiled rice. Circling it are tiny portions of some of Assam’s staple vegetarian dishes such as leseramah (black-eyed pea sabz) and titekerela (bitter gourd sabzi). A blob of mint chutney makes the dish extremely Instagram-friendly.
These 251 snapshots of dishes from across India all served on a yellow plate, and juxtaposed against lush green fields, snow-capped mountains, and even dingy khaugallis—are what have made My Yellow Plate hugely popular. To give you a sense, the barely 18-month-old account has over 20,000 followers.
Since December 2016, Himanshu Sehgal, an engineer, food blogger and freelance digital marketer, has abandoned all assignments to round up Indian street food on a yellow plate. “What started as a hobby project two years ago has now become a full-time obsession. There’s just no time for anything. Not even a girlfriend,” says Sehgal, laughing, on a phone call from Delhi.
Now, while he gets to sample all the food, one might wonder what’s in it for a regular traveller or foodie. Well, if you love street food then this account can be your ready-reckoner. Because, accompanying every photo is Sehgal’s take on the dish—good or bad. There are also tidbits about people who run these joints and information like the dish’s price.
Ten minutes into the conversation, few things become clear. Sehgal is self-motivated. His sense of humour eventually grows on you. And, other than food, he’s extremely passionate about documenting stories of the people behind it—simple dhabawalas, owners of nameless restaurants—who serve in offbeat, remote locations.
But, why a yellow plate?
“To be honest, as literal as it may sound, it all started with a random photo. I uploaded an image of rajma-chawal my mom happened to serve me on a yellow plate,” Sehgal says of how the project took its name. “It was a poor shot. Still, it got 15 likes on Instagram. I couldn’t figure out why. I guess Indians are so used to eating out of steel and aluminium thaalis, or white- and pastel-coloured crockery, that a yellow plate somehow clicked.”
This was in August 2015. Since then, other than chargers, headphones, a torch, his laptop, and a camera, you’ll always find a yellow plate in Sehgal’s backpack. Wherever he goes, he requests to be served on it. Not everybody agrees. But Sehgal has learnt to persist.
Then, he clicks, eats, uploads, and repeats. The process isn’t always as smooth though.
“This journey has taught me three things, to be shameless, patient and persistent,” he says. For instance, a plate of matar kulcha bought from a stall outside Delhi’s Red Fort couldn’t be framed with the fort in its backdrop, because that day it was closed to visitors. So, he kept pacing outside the entrance, matar kulcha in one hand, camera in another, in search of the perfect angle. An amused bystander then directed him to a broken wall through which he could jump in. But, as luck would have it, a police constable was guarding the spot. “I pleaded so earnestly that he eventually smiled and let me pass.”
The trick therefore, says Sehgal, is to never hurry. “Because there’s always an alternative, or a broken wall,” he says, laughing. This sense of humour also reflects in the photo captions. Sample this: ‘knock knock. Cone hain?’ is how he describes dal makhni inside a cone-shaped butter naan he recently tried at a Delhi restaurant.
Sehgal has so far covered Mumbai, Jaipur, Pushkar, Rishikesh, Agra, Tawang, Cherrapunjee and Bengaluru. Sponsors paid for some trips. Most were undertaken at his own expense. But now he wants to travel across all 29 Indian states. To fund his food and travel, he is currently raising funds through a crowdfunding campaign. So far he has only raised `1.68 lakh of the `5 lakh target. “Since I have this dream but no job, every penny counts,” Sehgal says.
If all goes well, the success of this campaign will end in a short film documenting Sehgal’s journey.
At home, his parents have just about somewhat come to terms with their son’s weird obsession. Relatives still don’t get it. Who will marry a guy who roams with a yellow plate, they taunt. Sehgal, though, has a solution. “My next project could be all about finding a wife, with a yellow glass.”
Humaira Ansari is a certified nihari-lover who travels with an open mind and lots of earbuds. She invests a lot of time and Wi-Fi in planning her itineraries. She loves neighbourhood walks, meals at a local’s home, and discovering a city's nightlife. She is former Senior Associate Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.