Dubai: She’s a familiar face for many Indian expats from Kerala in the UAE… a friend from home who helps you connect with recipes that remind of family. A well-known Dubai-based Malayali food vlogger, Veena Jan of Veena’s Curryworld, is a story of quiet triumphs, resilience and life giving second chances.
If you ask her about success, she will let out a giggle and say: “I owe it all to my family.”
Little does she know that she inspires many. I believe I am a testament to that. As a college student, I used her recipes as a reference for my cooking experiments, especially because she guides you through each step, like a mother or an elder sister teaching you how to cook for the very first time. In fact, she often addresses the readers of her Instagram posts or views as “makkale” or children in Malayalam.
2.19 million subscribers and still counting
A mother of two, the 42-year-old YouTube vlogger calls her supporters her family.
Her recipes feature notable dishes from Kerala and Middle Eastern cuisines – all of which have found recognition, especially among working mums. Her videos are in Malayalam with in-line captions in English to reach both audience bases.
I also like her [Veena] style of talking, especially because it is quite catchy
“She [Veena] explains well and makes it easy for anyone who doesn’t know how to cook also. I also like her style of talking, especially because it is quite catchy,” said Mary Iype, a school nurse working in Dubai.
The first of many
It all started with the Thrissur meen curry (fish curry) in 2015 – a video she put up on YouTube for a lark. Ever since then, she never looked back. It’s been five years since she started, and what used to be a few hundred views, turned out to be a million and sometimes even more. Today she has 2.19 million subscribers.
It was after this milestone that she decided to take up vlogging as a full-time role: “Knowing how much people valued my work… especially since YouTube is not an interactive platform, people who are moved by you respond with comment and mails. Seeing how much of happiness I can add to the life of others was a revelation and inspiration for me to pursue this further.”
As of today, her highest grossing video is ‘How to make sambar’, with over 6.5 million views.
A taste of home
Veena Jan’s ultimate goal when she launched her YouTube channel wasn’t to just earn fame, but to cater to those away from their homes. She said: “People refer to these [recipes] for their daily cooking and as it turns out, many use it today to fill their loneliness while leading an expatriate life.”
She explains everything in steps, yes, but she also gives you alternatives to certain ingredients ... sometimes if I’ve run out of a spice or an herb, I can always find other ways to do so without compromising on flavour.
A sentiment echoed by one of her subscribers, Achila Varughese, who works in Dubai as a digital marketing executive. “I stay alone, so naturally I was inclined to cook and eat homemade food. Veena’s recipes resonated with me a lot, especially because she is a Malayali living in Dubai. She explains everything in steps, yes, but she also gives you alternatives to certain ingredients, and that’s something I am always grateful for because sometimes if I’ve run out of a spice or an herb, I can always find other ways to do so without compromising on flavour.”
I refer to her recipes every time I cook meat, especially because she makes the most complex things easy
“My mum and I have been following her for quite some time now. I refer to her recipes every time I cook meat, especially because she makes the most complex things easy,” said Karun Mathew, another ardent fan of Veena’s Curryworld.
Her viewers range from women aged between 18 to 45, newlyweds learning how to cook, grandmums who are living alone and bachelors learning how to cook. Veena Jan has also expanded her understanding of various cuisines further by trying out recipes from all over the world.
Small dreams, big achievements
Veena Jan’s life wasn’t always as joyous as it seems today. A victim of abuse because of dowry demands from her first husband, she fought social taboos to divorce him and forge a new life. She left with her young son and hope in her heart that there are good people everywhere.
Her hopes were realised when she met her now husband – Jan Joshi. He messaged her via a matrimonial site and the rest is history. Today, the couple share two children Avneeth, 16, and Aayush, 10 and are based in Dubai, where Joshi works with an airline.
He was the sole reason behind her starting Veena’s Curryworld, but she drew inspiration from Chef Sanjay Thumma, who is famed for his title ‘Vah re Vah’.
However, with every success comes criticism. “One of the challenges I’ve faced is abusive comments. People try to change you as per their preference, and I knew I needed to stand up for myself. Understanding my core audience and ignoring all of it [hate comments], helped me garner a distinct voice for myself. That was the most rewarding decision I took in my journey. It became an anchor… who I am and what I am today, is what I choose to listen to. It was slow, but it cemented the relationships with people I want in my life, and helped remove the noise,” she told the Gulf News Food team.
Today, she holds a Golden YouTube play button award – which one recieves after crossing a million YouTube subscribers – but it was the silver one after crossing 100,000 subscribers, which will always remain close to her heart: “I was in tears… so unexpected.”
A heart of gold? A will of iron
To be strong in a cruel world, is one of life’s greatest test. To emerge unaffected, is in the hands of the winner. And Veena Jan has won, fair and square, by claiming back a life she thought she would never have.
When asked about her aspirations, she said: “I don’t aspire anymore, which indirectly gives me a great sense of freedom from having to reach anywhere. I enjoy what I do, I work on my terms, and I take a break when I want. I’ve learnt to say ‘no’ when necessary, and I’ve built my stability enough to focus on things that I enjoy, my creative pursuits, etc… all of it according to my terms, what more could I ask for.”
There might be many who will continue to battle undercooked fish, burnt rotis, a bleeding finger and exhaustion while trying to get Veena’s recipe right for the first time. But here’s the thing, no matter how many lemons life throws at you, make your own recipe of lemonade. That’s what Veena did, and still continues to do….
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