Storytelling has been at the heart of human culture for over 27,000 years, in fact since the first cave paintings were discovered. Transcending cultures and time, humans world over have passed on rituals, secrets, trades, skills and stories from one generation to the next. However, in this current climate where technology has changed the way we communicate, how powerful is storytelling today?
In the depths of Soho, storytelling has found a place within the recently opened restaurant, Darjeeling Express, an Indian restaurant where you’ll find no trained chefs, but self-taught women, all with skills passed down from their grandmothers. Asma Khan, founder of Darjeeling Express, didn’t even know how to boil an egg when she moved from Kolkata to the UK in 1991. But after learning her family recipes, passed down through four generations, she put them to use and used her story to start a food business.
After reading endless rave reviews online I found myself booking a table at Darjeeling Express, eager to devour the most talked about dishes in 2017. Between mouthfuls of samosas and grated beetroot raita, my waiter told stories that transported me onto the culinary worlds of Kolkata with occasional trips to Hyderabad and Darjeeling. Be it carrot halwa or the succulent goat curry – every dish had a story attached to it. Even the interior has pictures of her 1920s-style family home inviting you to learn about Khan’s Indian heritage.
In the kitchens, you’ll find all of Khan’s staff are Indian housewives and daughters, employed through word of mouth from friends relaying the story of Darjeeling Express. The beauty of storytelling here, is that it isn’t exclusive. For their launch party, the ladies fed 300 vulnerable local people, sharing their story with everyone rather than restaurant critics. This powerful way of storytelling has sent thousands of people flocking to the restaurant and countless reviews online. “Some people come for the food, some people come for the story,” says Khan.
“Some people come for the food, some people come for the story,” says Khan.
So back to the original question – has modern technology diluted the power of storytelling? Has the brevity of twitter and the shortness of our attention spans eroded our ability to share and tell stories?
Absolutely not. In this digital age, the art of storytelling is still very much alive and well. The internet in itself is the biggest ever imaginable storytelling portal and has acted as a powerful portal for brands, bloggers, and people to share their stories. Bite-sized food videos have taken over the internet with BuzzFeed’s food brand “Tasty” regularly clocking up 1.8 billion views monthly on its Facebook videos – that’s 23% of the world’s population exposed to different ways of cooking from different cultures. As with Tasty, storytelling still shapes everything we do, which is why it is at the heart of every business, brand, country and culture.
We all still feel a compelling need to watch stories, to tell stories… to discuss moments which connect us. It means the need for good stories will never change, the need for people to gather and exchange stories is at the essence of our beings. As we evolve, the stories will evolve and manifest themselves in new and exciting ways, and Darjeeling Express is just about the most perfect illustration of how to tell a story.