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Zaika India Ka: Vinod Dua’s iconic food show was a search for Indian flavours, culture & people

In the late 2000s, Dua's hugely popular programme 'Zaika India Ka' gave viewers a feel of street food first-hand — way before food blogging or vlogging took off in India.  

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New Delhi: “Namashkar….Tarah tarah ke zaikon ke Talash mein, iss waqt….”(Greetings… In search of various flavours, today we are in….) That’s how the late Vinod Dua’s iconic show ‘Zaika India ka’ was usually introduced, following a short musical introduction with percussion instruments playing softly in the background. 

In the late 2000s, Dua, who died on 4 December, started the hugely popular NDTV programme, Zaika India Ka, for which he criss-crossed cities, stopped by highway dhabas to give viewers a feel of the food first-hand — way before youngsters took over food blogging or vlogging in the country. 

The footprint of the show was large. Dua, as host of the show, travelled across Kashmir to Tamil Nadu; Gujarat to the Northeast, and also to San Francisco, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Manchester, Birmingham, and an endless list of national and international destinations in search for Indian flavours, cultures and people. 

Also read: ‘Hatim, a low-budget epic about an Arabian prince, gripped Indian viewers in the early 2000s

A food show for the average Indian

The format of the show was simple. It was a road journey across different cities, visiting famous heritage sites and tasting local food off the streets and in its popular restaurants. The viewer’s mouth watered whenever Dua tried a new dish.

“The way Vinod Dua spoke about ambience and food…his way of expression brought out the quality of everything. Even if you were not in Delhi, you could get the taste from where you were sitting,” Nini Mehta Tibb, a regular viewer of the show recollects. “You felt you are tasting it (food) with him. I don’t think today’s shows are able to match ‘Zaika India Ka’.

The show connected with the average Indian. Restaurants that are accessible to everyone, low-budget but sumptuous food is all that the average Indian wanted and Dua’s show delivered it. His style was conversational, he made it look like he was talking directly to his audience one-on-one, he was able to take everyone along. 

When asked how ‘Zaika India Ka’ came into being, Dua once said he was a “people’s person” and enjoyed staying among people and talking to them. He further said he was doing “what any visitor would do — visiting famous places, having local food and talking to people…it was my fun programme”.

You didn’t have to be an expert in food to enjoy the show because Dua didn’t act as one. He would narrate the story, the ingredients, and the flavour of delicacies that one could virtually taste. 

What also made the show unique was that viewers trusted the show because Dua was shown to put in a critical remark whenever needed. 

At ease with politics, haute cuisine, street food 

“Vinod Dua was already one of India’s most respected broadcasters when he started doing food on TV. The very fact that a person of his eminence bothered with food made people take the subject seriously and opened more doors for the rest of us.” Vir Sanghvi, noted food writer and senior journalist told ThePrint, ”He brought his usual brilliance to food being as much at ease with haute cuisine as he was with street food.” 

India has seen many social-media-age vloggers and television food critics but none have pulled in the audience like ‘Zaika India Ka’. 

Having covered politics for over three decades, Dua brought the same style and ease to the food show. In other words, the show had the ‘Vinod Dua touch’. Though he refused to call himself a food journalist or a food expert, he preferred the term ‘foodie’ for himself.

His shift from politics to food was not surprising — he believed, “food is politics”. Dua’s show was a benchmark for shows by ‘foodies’, yet no one has been able to do what he did, with ‘Zaika India Ka’.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

Also read: ‘Washing powder Nirma, washing powder Nirma’: A simple jingle that became earworm for millions


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