Many culinary enthusiasts may be familiar with ‘Kanchhi Kitchen’, a YouTube channel dedicated to traditional village cooking.
The channel has over 281,000 subscribers and more than 48m views. But oddly enough, its creators, Kanchhi Maiya Bhandari and her son Prakash, never set out with the intention of creating content for the masses.
It all started when one day Prakash, a tour guide by profession, decided to film his mother going about her daily life at their village home in Sangkosh of Dhading district. He was without a job because of the pandemic at the time, so he decided to utilize his free time taking pictures and videos of village life, featuring his mother.
One of the earliest videos the mother-son duo made, remembers Kanchhi Maiya, was of her preparing a fish curry in her kitchen.
“I only agreed to make the video at my son’s insistence,” says Kanchhi Maiya, a self-described shy person. Her timid nature can be seen in her videos, where she rarely speaks.
Dressed in traditional Nepali attire of ‘Gunyu Cholo’, the 50-year-old is seen cooking various Nepali dishes on a traditional firewood stove in her kitchen and sometimes outdoors. But there are no voice-overs, no explaining of the recipe, no addressing the invisible audience.
The crackling and hissing of burning firewood, the hissing and sizzling sound of ingredients hitting the boiling oil, and the weirdly pleasing noise of people eating give the videos ASMR and mukbang vibe.
Kanchhi Maiya is doubtless a talented cook. She can rustle up anything from simple root vegetable and green leaf curry to more complex whole chicken roast and mutton ribs, all of which look mouth-wateringly delicious.
Some of these videos are particularly endearing because they promote the communal bond and culture of the village, as they show cooking occasions during picnics and weddings and pujas.
“I was motivated to make more of such videos after the picnic video became popular,” says Kanchhi Maiya.
The 17 minute-long video with over one million views shows Kanchhi Maiya gathering fallen twigs and branches in a forest to make fire to cook a delicious meal served on traditional leaf plates for fellow picnickers.
Most of the dishes she prepares on her videos are her own ideas, which she learned to cook in the village. But of late, she says, she also makes non-Nepali dishes like pizza and grilled chicken.
“My son suggests them after watching other cooking shows and I use my experience and skills to make them,” she says.
Whatever Kanchhi Maiya cooks, she gives them her own touch and finesse. She feels her YouTube cooking journey has been both a teaching and learning experience.
For most part of her life, Kanchhi Maiya says, she spent her life in the kitchen cooking for her family. In the past, cooking was like an everyday chore for her, but now she finds it liberating and empowering.
“I had never expected all of this,” she says “I feel very blessed and lucky.”
Buoyed by the love and support from her viewers, Kanchhi Maiya plans to start a homestay in her village one day. “It is a request made by many of my viewers and I intend to fulfill that request,” she says.
It is not lost on her that her success at this stage of life is due to those millions of viewers who watch her videos regularly.
“A simple gesture of support and guidance can turn a person’s life around,” says Kanchhi Maiya.
“I have learned a lot from this journey and I wish many more women get the same level of support in their lives.”