Chef Sanjay Thumma is my current favorite time suck.

It’s refreshing to watch someone demonstrate mouth-watering dishes with uninhibited joy, a matter-of-fact globalism and minimal make-up. It helps that I love so many cuisines in India, but what immediately appealed to me is his stance as a teacher. It’s a very different experience to learn about traditional foods from someone who assumes, from the beginning, that his audience is not comprised of outsiders. Like a student whose teacher sets high expectations, viewers and home cooks rise to the challenge.

His balance of expert advice with friendly reassurance is neither oversimplified nor condescending. He’s a professional who knows his stuff, yet he doesn’t gleam with that over-polished, over-packaged look of television. Each video, from 2 to 10 minutes, covers one specific dish — just enough for a mouth-watering work break if not dinner inspiration.

Don’t expect super-high production value. Two still cameras and a complete lack of location shots does not a sexy food show make. But what Thumma’s demos lack in glamour, he more than makes up with passionate enthusiasm (a taste of Hydrabadi mutton biryani literally brings him to tears), humor and generosity. Both veg and non-veg recipes appear in his demos, and he discusses the food of diverse communities across India.

Thumma seamlessly blends traditional techniques and modern adaptations. His simple yet brilliant two-step rice cooking for biryani ensures perfectly cooked basmati throughout the pot. His secret ingredient for butter chicken reveals the wonderful ways that food crisscrosses the oceans. Mentioning Indian restaurant cooks in the U.S. and England, Thumma holds up a bottle of “tomato ketchup” and squirts some into his sauce to finish it with just the right texture and tangy flavor.

While cooks already familiar with basic Indian spices will have a headstart, the demonstrations are geared to beginners, whether you’re mixing your first raita, simmering a batch of comforting chana masala, making your own herb-infused paneer or–for the ambitious–rolling and stretching roomali roti to serve with kebabs.

There are many, many cooks demonstrating recipes on YouTube. I’m looking forward to watching the better ones emerge as new stars of the wide, wild culinary world.

Indian Food on YouTube: The Vah Reh Vah Chef 29 December,2007Thy Tran

  • Anonymous

    vahchef is indeed the best! His approach is refreshing and has inspired me to learn to cook Indian food. I didn’t think it could be done since though I love Indian food I knew nothing about cooking it … his videos make it a joy.

    Some dishes are harder and require more skill, but there is a range and he typically mentions it if it is too much for a beginner to attempt. Highly recommended!

  • Drew

    i am not indian, but my wife and I are addicted to Indian food. Vahchef is by far the greatest resource on learning to cook Indian food…his butter chicken recipe is unreal! Vahchef is my hero!

  • Vahchef is the best of all that I have seen. He details his cooking in such a way that is tempting and inspiring and above all his skill is unbeatable. His smile said it all for his love of food and he shares it with his viewers, he wants us to benefit and to appreciate cooking. His website is the best so far. His videos is a joy to watch over and over again. I am addicted to his website.

  • sudha

    really sanjay thank you very much…
    you are my guru, your demonstration is very nice like my mouth-watering.. ho nice,
    i successed in my party in australia with your recipe,
    thank you,


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website,, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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