Twigs pop and crackle in the makeshift stove as Mubashir Saddique stokes them. Behind him, you can hear the gurgle of water pouring out from a tubewell, or the chugging of a tractor, or the songs of birds. You can almost smell the aroma, as onions begin to sizzle in hot oil, while Saddique crushes garlic and ginger in a wooden mortar with pestle. The onions let out a loud shhhrrr as the crushed paste is transferred to the oil.
Saddique, 33, is Pakistan’s very own Jamie Oliver – a salt-of-the-earth fellow who has become somewhat of a celebrity on YouTube, as his food channel, Village Food Secrets, gains a steady following.
Saddique used to work as a production manager in a football production factory in Sialkot, a town close to his village of Shahpur in the state of Punjab. Every day, he would get on his bike and travel for an hour and a half to cover the distance of 50 kilometres. He happily gave it up to focus on his new full-time job – creating what he calls “reality cooking shows”, giving out “centuries-old” family recipes.
When Saddique started in January 2017, money was not on his mind. He didn’t even know that he could earn from videos shot on cellphone.
“I want the world to know my family’s secret recipes,” he told Images on the phone from his village, where he lives with his family – a wife, three children, his parents and a younger brother (another works in South Korea).
His first video explained how to make mooli parathas. Since then he has put up 350 videos that show how to cook not only regional culinary delights but even burgers and pizzas (he baked the buns and pizza base in an earthen tandoor built from scratch). His seekh kabab recipe has so far been the biggest hit with 3.4 million views.
Unpretentious, wearing a clean shalwar kameez with his signature yellow flip-flops (these were replaced by a blue pair after the yellow ones broke), he admits he does not possess a “hi-fi kitchen or fancy equipment”. His knife skills too are no match for professional chefs. In an early video, he is seen using a wooden takhti, or tablet, instead of a cutting board. But this is why many of his channel’s over 500,000 subscribers find him “distinctly disarming”.
The videos aren’t performances for the viewer. You can see chickens being slaughtered and Saddique’s unmindfully using his hands to mix everything. Unlike television chefs who talk incessantly, Saddique works quietly with organic produce from his kitchen garden, against the beautiful backdrop of his village. Viewers say they love his YouTube videos for the “simplicity” of the “content”.
What he cooks is heartily eaten by the family. Every two weeks though, he cooks in large quantities and treats the less-privileged children from his village. In one video, he baked a huge bun with several regular-sized ones and put together “zinger” burgers that were then distributed among the patiently waiting children.
Saddique has come a long way since the first video he uploaded. “In that, I did not speak at all, it was a very basic video,” he said. Gradually, he started mentioning the ingredients he used and today, he says, he confidently talks to the viewers, but only when necessary. A one-man production team, Saddique shoots and edits his videos, though his wife (who never comes on screen since she observes strict purdah) often helps him in filming.
He has become more tech-savvy over time and has invested in a better microphone. His new equipment includes a drone “for aerial photography” and an electric rice cooker that were sent by his brother from South Korea, he said excitedly.
At the end of each show, his father, who he calls the “life” of his shows and who is also his chief food taster, looks into the camera and exclaims, “Zindabad puttar, maza aa gya (Long live son, loved it)”. Saddique says his viewers love this tagline, but insists he has never ever told his father what to say.
The five countries that he receives most views from are Pakistan, India, United Kingdom, United States and Saudi Arabia. In India and UK, he says, it is the Punjabi-speaking community that forms his viewer base. Whether on YouTube or on Instagram (338 followers) and Facebook (9,400 followers), he is inundated with messages of love and admiration. “They say the food, the landscape, my use of earthenware crockery, helps in reducing their yearning for home.”
This article first appeared on Images.