Behind The Hero: Lylaa Shaikh, Food & Travel Blogger
After serving over 20,000 guests nationwide last year, yhangry recognised that behind every dinner party, every recipe, and every photo of a dish and chef is a compelling story waiting to be shared with the world.
We launched the Yhangry Foodie Hero Award, an award for food creators, chefs, cookbook authors, recipe developers and more to celebrate the local heroes who nourish us all and highlight the businesses and individuals who shape the industry.
Join Usman as he dives Behind the Hero and sits down with nominee Lylaa Shaikh, Food & Travel Blogger to hear her story, including some BTS of what being a creator is really like. We love that Lylaa is part of this food award.
Q: Can you tell us about how you got started in the content creation space?
A: Initially, my food blogging journey started as a little bit of a joke. I used to be the one who made fun of food bloggers when I saw them taking pictures of food!
I feel like I went on a real journey with the account though. Initially, I was focusing on the recipe element, cooking home recipes in Birmingham where I lived through the lockdown. I loved the creativity of being able to style the food using whatever I had on hand (scarves, a coffee table as a backdrop, spices, forks, spoons and anything around the house!)
After moving to London, I started getting offers to go to restaurants and began exploring the city’s diverse food scene, including underrated cuisines like Syrian, Palestinian and Afghan food which don’t really get the airtime on social media. Usually, it’s pasta and burgers!
My day job doesn’t really give me the creative outlet I seek so I love working on campaigns, editing reels, and searching for the perfect song to complement my video even if it means doing that at 4 am.
Q: What does the food industry mean to you?
A: To me, food is the key to everyone’s heart. It’s a great introductory midpoint, and people celebrate, commiserate, and do many dynamic and creative things around it.
Food is the go-to way to celebrate, the way we have first dates, the way we cheer ourselves up.
Q: What was your “holy Sh*t, this is kind of going somewhere” moment?
A: Actually my holy sh*t moment was when I got my first campaign to talk about British apples. I remember it so clearly thinking “wow someone wants to pay me to promote their brand!” At the time I charged £50 for 3 stories and I couldn’t believe it!
I remember telling my friends back home. At 100 followers, I used to joke about quitting my job and had someone tell me I’d never be able to make a living with it. £50 wasn’t quite a living but like it was an “I told you so” moment anyway!
Since then I’ve signed awesome deals with brands like Starbucks, Sainsbury’s, Google, Samsung etc. and have worked on incredible campaigns but my initial campaign for British Apples will always stick in my head!
Q: What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are now?
A: The hardest thing for me was speaking in my videos. When I first started doing voiceovers, people mocked my accent, and I didn’t expect people to point that out.
Lots of people said I fake my accent or sound like a wannabe.
The consensus from a lot of people was that because I didn’t have a British accent, I wasn’t entitled or shouldn’t be able to show the best of London restaurants unless I had a British accent.
I actually stopped doing voiceovers for a while from this. Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon. I know other South Asian influencers who don’t post about food for fear of ridicule.
Finally, I said fu*k it! This is who I am, this is my voice. My account is authentically me. I speak to my audience the way I do to my friends or family. This is my voice and it won’t be silenced!
I also get lots of fat-shaming comments and racial slurs. My philosophy here is to pin them, highlight them, and give back. If you’re on my page, I will stand up for myself.
I am authentically myself on my page and wouldn’t let anyone treat me like this in real life!
Q: Who are you inspired by?
A: I am inspired by Sorted Food, whom I used to follow during university and always thought, “WOW, I want a YouTube channel.”
I actually met them a few weeks ago, and I was so shy to say “Hi” but a friend took me. I had been following them for so long that it was a bigger moment for me than meeting Jamie Oliver whose event I actually met then at.
Q: What advice would you give to people who want to join the industry?
A: If you want to get started, do it because you enjoy it. Don’t do it for the wrong reasons, like getting free meals.
I see free meals as a perk of this, not the reason I got started. I actually take a lot of pride in investing in my page by going to restaurants and spending my own money. It also makes my voice authentic.
I’ve actually had an instance where a restaurant realised I was a blogger at the table and offered me a free meal, but I’m there to support restaurants and the industry.
Join this industry and share your voice if it’s what you enjoy. The growth will come as a byproduct.
Q: How does it feel to be nominated for Content Creator of the Year, and why do you want to win?
A: I am honoured to be nominated for the first time. I initially thought it was spam email, but after realising that it was real, it felt amazing. I am not power-hungry, but being nominated makes me feel grounded and motivates me to continue doing my best.
My Father-in-Law is a true hero. When I sent him a screenshot of being nominated he instantly shared it with everyone he knew!
Q: What’s your go-to comfort food?
A: Traditional haleem. I make the best haleem in London, nobody can match it and I always make it in my big 7-litre pot.
All my friends know I love to serve them haleem. My husband loves it and gets mad when I give it away to friends in takeaway containers.
It has to be served with naan (no rice) although I prefer it on its own, fried onions and LOTS of coriander.
Want to support Lylaa?
Help him become a Yhangry Foodie Hero, by voting now!
Check Lylaa out on Instagram: @saltandshaikh