Interview with food and travel writer Raul Dias

The complete inspiration story on writer Raul Dias can be found here. Given a word limit, I’m always wanting to say more about the Goans I write about. So here goes the complete interview with Raul.

Raul Dias in South Africa

What are you currently working on?
A whole host of very interesting things! But among the most recent, like today, I have just finished writing a travel piece on Laos for a health magazine with a food angle talking about how different yet similar the cuisine is from Thai–a perfect oxymoron if there ever was one. I also just sent in a piece for a men’s magazine on how Abu Dhabi is in the midst of an organic food revolution with the establishment of an organic farm in the middle of the desert and many organic shops opening up there plus a lot of the big starred hotels too are going the organic way.

I like to finish all my pending assignments before I embark on new ones, so I did these before I leave for Bhutan on a travel assignment early tomorrow morning.

Take us through your initial years when you began your career. Don’t forget to mention your fulltime journalism days.
I actually am a trained Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) lawyer and I went to Liverpool, UK for my masters (LLM). It was while studying there at the University of Liverpool that I started writing for a local newspaper and discovered that writing gave me more creative satisfaction than drawing up contracts! Armed with my degree (I stood second in my batch), I came back home to Mumbai and surprised my family and friends when I told them that I was putting law in the ‘deep freezer’ for a while, while I flirted with writing—a love affair I still haven’t and won’t ever give up.

Within a few days of coming back home in 2005, I joined The Times of India, Mumbai as an entertainment correspondent with the very popular Bombay Times where I later went on to become the Fashion, Food and travel Editor over the three years that I was with them.

After that, it was another two years with Man’s World (MW) magazine, Mumbai as the assistant editor, where again I was incharge of the style and grooming sections. My editor-in-chief was also very kind enough to let me write for whomsoever I wished to freelance for and so I started writing food and travel pieces and restaurant reviews for scores of other publications (see attached profile document for a few names) on a part time basis besides doing my day job at MW.

I then went on, in 2011, to take over the role of the launch editor of the Chennai-based wedding magazine Wedding Vows which was quite a departure from my travel and food writing oeuvres, but it was a challenge that I was up for as I love to take a break from convention every now and then and do different stuff. There too, I continued my freelance writing as I never believed in the whole spiel that as an editor one must do just that—edit—and not write. I love writing and will never let anything come in the way of it. The magazine shifted base to Delhi, a city I wasn’t prepared to move to, so in June 2012 I resigned from my post as editor and have been freelancing full time since then and am back to being based in Mumbai.

Did you want to be a writer all along? Why did you choose to freelance?
Not at all. I wasn’t big on essay writing in school and college or had any inclination to be a writer at all. It just sort of happened organically after I penned a travel piece on Kenya for a newspaper in Liverpool who was looking for travel article submissions. They loved it and asked for more and that set the proverbial ball rolling.

I think I love to freelance because I am a very greedy person and want to write for as many publications as I can, be they Indian or International, print or online, big or small. And being at one magazine or newspaper doesn’t afford me the opportunities to up and leave on my many travels around the world at the drop of a hat. I am answerable to the ‘forces above’ (my publishers etc) as well as to my staff who need my direction to help put out the magazine or paper. Here, I am my own boss and can fix my own schedule around my trips.

What do you love most about writing? Why food and travel and How easy/ difficult to write about places and food?
What I love most is the fact that I can relive the tastes, sounds, sights every time I pen a travel or food piece. It’s like taking another trip while writing, long after I’ve come back or eaten a particular meal. It’s also about the people I meet and interact with on my travels. I am a total people’s person and love to meet interesting people from all walks of life and all over the world.

The three loves of my life, in no particular order are travel, food and writing and if I can combine the three and get paid well for it, that is the ultimate high for me! And this I get to do almost every day as I write a lot.

For me it is very easy to write about food and places as I am blessed with a photographic memory where I can recall even the smallest details of my trips of meals after years of travelling /eating.

What’s the challenge behind being a travel and food writing?
The biggest challenge for me about travel writing is the long spells away from home and missing out on important family functions like I recently missed out on my niece’s First Holy Communion that I felt terrible about.

As for food writing, the only challenge I foresee (and yet to encounter) is an expanding waistline. But my daily 7km runs coupled with my insanely good metabolism take care of that I suppose!

Where you complete your schooling and college from?
I did my schooling from Our Lady of Salvation High School in Dadar which is where I live in Mumbai and college was our ‘family tradition’ institution St Xavier’s where my dad and sister also went to.

Did you write during school/ college days as well?
As mentioned above, NOT AT ALL, apart from the curriculum required stuff!

Introduce us to Raul the Goan.
I love my rice, pork and my rest time is sacrosanct. Strangely, I am not too fond of fish thanks to an incident with a pin bone lodging itself in my throat as a kid, but I adore seafood like crabs, lobsters, shinaneos, prawns, teesrya etc. Also, I am not much of a drinker.

I love mandos that I try to sing and adore catching a good tiatr every now and then.

How often do you go to Goa?
At least once a year. Ironically, most of my trips to Goa for the last few times have been to review a hotel property and write about them.

What’s your take about the state? How would you describe Goa?
Goa has got too commercial for my liking. Gone are the days of blissful solitude on a beach or along the River Sal in Cavelossim. Every where there is an explosion of traders and assorted businesses. While I do get the need to encourage trade, it does seem a tad too much in Goa as compared to other tourist places in the country. Also, as a foodie I am rather sad to see the typical Goan food get eclipsed by all sorts of cuisine like Israeli, Russian and Greek and even those aren’t very authentically made!

Considering you’re a Goan, you must be stereotyped quite often. If yes, please share a couple of anecdotes with us.
It’s strange, but people refuse to believe that I am a Goan, so no prima facie stereotyping for me unfortunately. Though once they do get to know me, people often are surprised that I don’t drink feni, wear a floral Hawaiian print shirt or speak fluent Konkani (though I understand every word!). Speaking of which, whenever I am in Goa, I find people speaking about me in Konkani, thinking I am an outsider and when I reply back in my limited Konkani, they’re pretty shocked. I love seeing their reactions!

What would you be doing when you’re not writing?
I have been accused of being quite a boring person who loves to watch travel, wildlife and food shows on TV. I also love to cook and it is therapeutic for me to get into the kitchen and rustle up fancy French, Thai and Japanese dishes every now and then whenever I am home in between trips.

Where do you see yourself five years down the line?
I hope to launch my own food and travel magazine or least a website or app by then that is very egalitarian in its approach. A product that has something for every type (and budget) of traveller and foodie and not just filled with pricey resorts and restaurant recommendations. I also want to add to my current tally of 39 countries travelled to and make it an even 50!

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