Kipp Burgoyne Photography
If anything is flourishing in self-isolation, it’s the relaxation and decompressing industrial complex, which is spitting out new brain-hushing techniques at intergalactic speeds. Some newly bendy people are trying out yoga apps or dusting off Headspace. Sourdough starter deserves its own section as a luxury product on The RealReal as others try their hand at laborious bread baking. And just when you thought you’d never have to hear about puzzles ever again, the childhood activity is back in full force But for hundreds of thousands of people on TikTok, nothing packs a Xanax-level punch like watching food find its made-in-heaven Tupperware match.
A TikTok account created by mother-daughter duo Roya and Gita Shariat is dedicated to Gita’s uncanny knack for eyeballing the right-size Tupperware. These extraordinarily popular videos share a straightforward concept: Gita pours, prods, or slides her Persian cuisine into an endless lineup of Tupperware containers that seem specially made for precisely however much food is left over. The experience of watching these videos is not unlike witnessing Usain Bolt run the 200 meters, Whitney Houston belt the National Anthem, or a member of Vanderpump Rules utterly humiliate themselves on national television. These are people with a special talent at the top of their powers. Roya and Gita’s videos now have over a million views combined plus a stream of comments dubbing mom the C.E.O. of spatial awareness.
The account’s magic began when Roya, the social impact manager at Glossier, headed home to D.C. for Persian New Year in late March. Because of the coronavirus shutdown, she couldn’t return to New York. “I’ve been home for five weeks now, but within the first couple days, I was watching my mom putting away food in Tupperware with a perfect fit every time,” Roya explains over the phone. “I always knew she had this skill but I was finally like, ‘I wish other people knew how amazing she was at this skill.’”
Up to this point, Roya mostly used TikTok as a spectator or to share videos with friends. But she realized she had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to document what was happening in her childhood home. “The first video was my mom putting an omelet into a small Tupperware, and it honestly wasn’t great,” Roya says. “But I knew I had to make more videos with my mom as the focus. It will remind me of the delicious food she makes or of this time we spent together, the hard work she puts into cooking and the amazing ability she has to fit everything.”
The videos are very low-lift, with Roya shooting them in real-time and editing in the app using native tools. She adds what she describes as “soothing elevator music” at the end and—presto—viral magic is made. All Roya’s videos are labeled, “My mom always finds the right size Tupperware” with an episode number. The format makes it easy for users to binge after stumbling across one of the viral videos.
It took four weeks for the videos to start racking up views. The most popular features Gita pouring Khorak-e Morgh (Chicken Stew) into a piece of black Tupperware right up to the point you’re worried it’s going to spill over. The video has almost a million views. “[Khorak-e Morgh is] a very common Persian dish, my grandmother’s favorite dish, but nothing that exciting,” says Roya. “For some reason that video skyrocketed the account’s views and following.” Roya didn’t have push notifications set on her phone, but opened the app blithely to find 700,000 views. “I was getting 99 new notifications a minute,” she says.
Gita, the star of the videos and a “unique angel,” according to her daughter, is a mother of three and teacher. Like most moms, she had no idea what TikTok was. “I’m not good at technology,” she explains. But for Mama Shariat, the point was to make her daughter laugh. “Now that she’s back in the house, I want to make her laugh and I want to have some silliness with everything going on in the world,” Gita says. “I want the house to be an escape that’s silly and funny, so I liked doing these videos.”
Now that Gita’s well versed in the app, she’s soaking in the newfound fame. “It’s nice that they are laughing and commenting something funny and not thinking about coronavirus for one second.” she adds. “I love to make people happy.”
At the end of each day, mother and daughter sit down to read the comments together. During the first night, Roya’s mom and dad were doubled over laughing. Now, Roya wants to read them hourly so her mom can enjoy the praise. Highlights from their greatest hit list include:
“I was genuinely sad and watching these made me forget where I was,” said user @ispaigebish
“Okay, but can I come over for dinner?” — @twizitidash
“I didn’t think the veggie and rice stew would fit but it did. Mind blown.” — @idenli_
“It’s a mom superpower!” — @kielynutton
Now, the pair is looking to take their success further. “Sixty seconds is not enough for the full range of Iranian cooking,” explains Roya. “I would love to expand to a cookbook with my mom, since a lot of the commenters have been asking for it.” The series has become a great place to spotlight Iranian food. “I’ve always felt like the kid in the classroom who brought the stinky lunch, so I was scared people would make fun of it,” Roya says. “But it’s so nice. All the comments are like, ‘This looks so delicious!’ and ‘Drop the recipe, please.’ It’s nice to have Iranian representation on TikTok.”
During the doom-and-gloom of coronavirus, in a very sweet corner of TikTok, a loving mom with the gift of spatial awareness just tries to make her daughter laugh as she perfectly packs up the food she cooked for her family. Your move, Glad.