How a Falls Church Couple Became Kerala Food Influencers

Yogesh Sivakumar began posting Kerala dishes and gained nearly 100,000 followers in three months

Yogesh Sivakumar and Sreeparvathi Yogesh. Photograph courtesy of Jaggu's Cafe.

Yogesh Sivakumar, a software engineer who lives in Falls Church, gets desperate DMs all the time on his Instagram account, @jaggus_cafe, which boasts more than 300,000 followers.

US-based Malayalis—Malayalam speakers from India’s Kerala state—see Sivakumar’s cooking reels (coconut-enriched curries, masala-fried fish) but are disappointed to learn that Jaggu’s Cafe is just a polished cooking channel, not a restaurant open to the public.

Things sometimes get serious. “ ‘Please adopt me—I can do all your dishes and kitchen cleaning, just give me food three times a day,’ ” Sivakumar quotes one commenter as saying.

He doesn’t blame them. If you grew up with the cuisine of Kerala, nothing else quite does the trick—and his is visibly the real thing. “If you know the taste already, you can feel it,” Sivakumar says.

He and his wife, Sreeparvathi Yogesh—also a software engineer—met and married in India before settling in the US. His interest in cooking started in 2015 while he was living in Albuquerque on a business visa. Neither of them had ever really cooked before—back home, that role was largely left to mothers—but it was impossible to find even an approximation of Keralite food in New Mexico.

Kerala lunch bowl with fried fish, mango pickle, and much more.
Kerala lunch bowl with fried fish, mango pickle, and much more. Photographs courtesy of Jaggu’s Cafe.

The hilly coastal region’s cuisine is based heavily on Indian Ocean fish, coconut products, and spices (varieties of black pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom are all native to Kerala). Malayalis are also famous throughout India—and sometimes disparaged by religious hardliners—for eating all kinds of meat, including beef. Beef varattiyathu is one of Sivakumar’s few dishes that may actually be easier to shop for in Virginia than in India.

At first, Sivakumar posted elaborate recipe videos on YouTube but didn’t get many views. Then he turned to Instagram. “One day, I took a small, casual video of one of our lunches and posted it there,” he says. “And it got 30,000 or 40,000 views.”

Within three months, the newly christened Jaggu’s Cafe jumped from 500 followers to 100,000. Though his narration is mainly for Malayalis, his cooking—curry leaves flash-frying beside chunks of fish, coconut milk being spooned over steamed rice puttu—can be understood by anyone. He buys some ingredients, such as ivy gourd and fresh cassava, frozen from Indian and Asian stores in Northern Virginia.

For now, Jaggu’s Cafe will remain a weekend hobby for Sivakumar and Yogesh (who cooks some of the channel’s vegetarian dishes). They have day jobs and a seven-month-old. But he still hopes to open a Kerala-style restaurant in the Washington area someday and to transform his Instagram following into a customer base. “Social media plays a very important role, because if you present something really good, whether it tastes good or bad is the second thing,” Sivakumar says. “When you see it, you’ll crave it.”

This article appears in the June 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

Ike Allen
Assistant Editor