It was Sharminara Haque’s little sister who suggested she make a TikTok profile in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic took over daily life. “I was like, ‘How embarrassing,’” Haque says, feeling too old for the Gen Z-dominated app. Soon after, however, she began to find cooking and sharing her recipes a welcome distraction.
Still suffering from postpartum depression since she’d given birth in August 2019, Haque found her time in the kitchen therapeutic — a place where she could mentally and emotionally recalibrate. “I just feel like I have to be so calm and serene when I’m cooking,” says Haque, who posted her first video as @sharmineats in April 2020. “That’s when my food comes out the best.”
When Haque’s early content started gaining traction — including videos of South Asian classics like steaming pots of beef khichuri, mukhi (taro root) and fish curry, and lotha (vine or stem) curry with shrimp and jackfruit seeds — she realized how many people were encountering South Asian, and particularly Bangladeshi cuisine, for the first time through her profile.
“There were so many people commenting like, ‘What cuisine is that?,’ or ‘That’s so different!’” Their reactions encouraged her to continue exposing a broader audience to Bangladeshi cooking, distinctive in its use of whole spices and punchy contrasts in flavor.
In just under two years, Haque has amassed more than more than 116,000 TikTok followers, who have come to know her signature South Asian dishes, such as her recipe for pan-fried chicken curry, which has been viewed more than 13,000 times, as well as dishes that span beyond Bangladeshi cuisine. Whether through making her own recipes, taste tests, mukbangs (live-streamed feasts named after the Korean words for “eating” and “broadcast”), or vendor tours, Haque infuses her videos with candid, unfiltered humor.
“My soul left my body,” is how she captions a mouth-puckering bite of pomegranate seeds dressed in tajin and chamoy, in a recent video. This range and tone reflect Haque’s open-minded approach to food, a result of her international upbringing as well as a fervor for trying new cuisines.
Born in the United States, Haque spent part of her childhood in Beanibazar, Bangladesh, after a months-long family vacation became a two-year sojourn. They lived in a village surrounded by “cows and chickens, and if you wanted to shop you had to drive two or three hours into the city,” says. “The street food is amazing.” In observance of Eid, the Muslim celebration that marks the end of a month of fasting during Ramadan, chefs would gather to slaughter livestock and distribute the meat.
“At our house, outside, under the trees, they’d gather big pots and make a fire to cook,” says Haque.
The scene was crucial to igniting her interest in cooking.
When her family returned to Hamtramck, the then 8-year-old Haque realized she’d forgotten most of her English. She became reacquainted with the language by watching Food Network in a kind of two-fold education, since every episode of Chopped, Giada at Home, and Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives also added to her growing understanding of cooking. Still, it was hard for Haque to put into practice what she’d learned on TV. With 22 family members under the same roof, their ever-crowded kitchen remained the domain of her mother, grandmother, and extended family.
After years of being a spectator, both of Food Network and her family’s cooking, Haque finally convinced her father to help her cook for the first time in 2010. Haque’s father, who has owned and operated Star of India in Ferndale since 2014, immigrated from Bangladesh to the United States in the 1990s at 16, and spent much of his early career working in Italian restaurants. He taught 13-year-old Haque his favorite lasagna recipe, reinvented with a South Asian twist by adding red chili, turmeric, cayenne, curry powder, and cumin to ground beef browned in olive oil, stirring in tangy marinara sauce as the mixture grew fragrant. “The tomato just goes so well with the spices,” Haque explains with characteristic effusiveness.
From there, Haque would develop her own recipes with her family as eager taste testers, their roles gradually reversing as Haque spent more time than they did in the kitchen. And while her father’s cooking continues to influence Haque’s own — her channel features traditional Italian dishes, as well as recipes for beef masala spaghetti, beef curry pasta, and butter chicken pizza — she does not aspire to follow in his footsteps by cooking in a restaurant kitchen, although she did work in Star of India’s kitchen for a few days when she was 17.
“I did not enjoy it at all,” she says. “There’s just too many people in the kitchen and I need my own space. I know a lot of women who like cooking alone in the kitchen. They don’t even want the help of their spouse — that’s me. If my husband or my kid walks in while I’m cooking I’m like, ‘Get out.’ I just want to cook.”
Now with TikTok, Haque enjoys the best of both worlds: a kitchen of her own as well as a space to share her food with tens of thousands of others.
Sharing food with an ever-expanding audience has helped Haque realize the potential of her platform. Since starting her channel, her goals have expanded from raising the profile of Bangladeshi food to using the content as a vehicle to spread awareness about various social issues. While Haque might dedicate a whole video to dissecting a particular issue, she more often springboards from a mukbang in which she’s devouring buffalo wings drenched in mango habanero hot sauce and creamy ranch, to considering the normalization of fatphobia; or from preparing raw meat to confronting misconceptions about communities of color and food hygiene. It seems a natural step for someone who has always maintained a sincere spontaneity in front of the camera.
Haque also has her sights on using her platform to earn an income. She was recently contacted by a cookware brand to create content, is hoping to collaborate with other companies, and is considering catering as another source of revenue.
Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that instead of Food Network, Haque spends more time these days watching fellow TikTok chefs.
“I just really appreciate their rawness and honesty,” she says.