Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hot off the ... blog

All this is stuff that has been published over the past two years. This particular article may be of special interest to food bloggers.

To an unacquainted foodie, they are a delicious discovery. Just a click, and any number of virtual kitchens waltz onto your screen in the form of food blogs set up by the gourmets and gourmands of the world.

They seem to have a voracious appetite for food and more — memories of Mom's scrumptious food, the generations-old coffee filter, the champagne flutes at a friend's wedding, the whys and hows of a sinking cake or a collapsing soufflé, that rare vegetable at the store, kitchen gardens and potted herbs (with pets, crafts and other hobbies straying in), links to various sources that mention food, news and views on food, and sometimes non-food issues small and big.

Food blogs have been around for a few years but seem to have become popular in 2005. Most bloggers one spoke to had started in the past year. Says Visakhapatnam-based Sailaja of, who moved from a blog to her own Web site this year: "Initially I wanted to start a Web site on Andhra cuisine, home remedies and Ayurvedic cooking, as I couldn't find good sites on them." She realised that blogs, though more restrictive in form and features, would help her test the waters — discover what readers want, and also give her time to improve on the skills needed for a good Web site, be it technical, writing, photography or marketing. "A recipe with images and interactivity is far superior to just putting up a database of recipes," says Sailaja, a mother of one, who is on a long break from work.

Culinary chronicles

For most, food blogs are a serendipitous find. New York-based Paz, of the blog `The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz', thought hers would be the first food blog ever when she started last August, but "discovered there were thousands!" More a person who enjoyed eating out, she suddenly developed an interest in cooking and decided that a blog to document her successes and failures would be good. A research scholar in molecular biology, Nupur of `One Hot Stove' stumbled on to food blogs when she was trawling the Net for recipes and food writing. Bhaswati Ghosh, a Delhi-based writer whose book Making Out in America is due to be published later this year, runs a blog called (Lima) `Beans and Delhi Cha(a)t'. It's unusual in that it's a joint venture with a friend in Peru, Cesar, whom she met in an online writing community. "It was a spur-of-the-moment, whimsical decision, mainly for the two of us to get our writing juices flowing," she says, describing the blog as a "random chronicle of our adventures and exploits in the kitchen."

Life's undergone quite an exciting transformation for these bloggers. Blogging about food seems to gloriously sate an instinctive hunger for friendship and appreciation. Says California-based homemaker Vineela Krishna of Vineela's Cuisine, "It gives me some identity. I can share my recipes with the world and I'm learning a lot."

Mae, based in Jersey, Channel Islands (the UK), signed up for a blog without really knowing or researching them. "It was really strange when I had my first couple of comments. I thought the only people that can see my blog were friends that I gave out the address to! I was shocked and at the same time flattered that others were interested. This was when I started to get hooked." Now she has her own Web site called Riceandnoodles.

For many, as seen in the Indian food blog community, it's remembrances of things past, and pride in one's culture as well. Says Sailaja, "There are some moments when you feel so good to hear that a recipe or image has brought back memories of home and how nostalgic they felt, especially from Indians living abroad."

For Nupur, her greatest blog moment was when an American woman who had adopted a child from Maharashtra mailed to say Nupur's Marathi recipes were helping her to take her daughter closer to her roots.

Bonding over blogging

An interesting facet to Indian food blogs is the `H4 syndrome,' according to an Indian food blogger. Is this a way for immigrants to the US on `dependant'-status visas to keep themselves occupied, as they cannot work or study fulltime? "If so, then that is something very positive. Because even if the women are physically alone at home, they are connecting with one another through very strong bonding agents — culture and food," she says.

S. Indira, who now lives in the US, says, "Food blogging has made me more aware of how good and healthy our traditional Indian food really is." Her blog was nominated last year for food blog awards and she decided she would strike out on her own when she found there was very little pictorial information of Indian ingredients.

Another activity among bloggers is participation in `events' and `memes.' A blogger hosts an `event' that focuses on a particular theme and publishes the entries received on her blog. It's not a contest (though one can rate the entries) and results in a multitude of recipes, traditional and new-fangled, that at the very least are feast for the eyes. They could range from ingredients to courses (entrees, desserts) to meals (breakfast, snacks and so on). In May, for instance, mangoes were the flavour of the month on `Mahanandi' while lentils of all shapes and sizes dotted `Sailusfood' in June.

Memes are little exercises in which bloggers get to know each other a little better — some popular memes were `Ten things I miss of Mom's cooking' and `Confessions in groups of five' where participants disclosed five popular items that housed themselves in their freezers, closets, cars and purses.

How much does it cost to have a blog? Not much. Most blogs are free, so it's just the cost of the food and maybe the digital camera most of them seem to prefer. If it's a Web site, the domain costs and server costs have to be paid.

According to Sailaja, one has to pay Rs 400-600 to own a domain name. A decent and reliable host for the site could cost anything between Rs 2,000 and Rs 5,000 per year. A good Web site designer too would cost that much. Mae, for whom her Web site is a happy combination of her twin passions — photography and food — says, "My playground now costs me just under {euro}80-90 a year." Vineela spends about $45 a month for the Internet connection but would go commercial if she got an opportunity. Indira's `Mahanandi' is currently commercial-free but if she finds anything appropriate, would like to add advertisements on the site, mainly to cover the domain costs.

More than a hobby

For many bloggers, their hobby boils over into a magnificent obsession. So much so that it takes a lot of discipline to tear oneself away from it. Says Paz, who is a legal writer-editor, "I spend too much time on my blog. When I first started, I used to blog almost every day; now, I blog at least twice a week." Says Sailaja, who initially spent 6-8 hours a day, "It takes a lot of patience and dedication. Now I spend three hours a day minimum when I post a recipe and the day I don't, I probably spend about an hour or two visiting other food blogs and leaving comments." Vineela spends up to six hours blogging and even wants to create online cookery videos in the future and is willing to invest in cookery classes to become an expert.

Given the mounting interest in food the world over and the ease that technology permits, there are heaps and loads of food blogs. For every taste and need, be it low-carb, gluten-free, kosher, vegan, cheap gourmet, organic, what have you. English-as-a-foreign-language is no deterrent! They are not all just recipes and pictures but records of adventures in the kitchen, critiques of restaurants, chefs and of food critics themselves! There are Web sites to teach you food photography for your blog, a site that keeps watch of all the food blogs by the hour, a forum to share knowledge about technical issues. And there are some bloggers who have quit regular jobs to indulge in this full time and even bagged book deals! Statistics are not easily available but a very rough estimation, going by a Web site that watches these blogs, puts it at 1,000. And these are only the English ones, mostly.

Copyright and ethical issues do cause some heartburn but most often, it's the sheer fun of indulging in all things food, and combining that with whipping up your own creative, culinary-literary enterprise in the vast cosmos of the World Wide Web, that makes it worth it.


Blogger bee said...

what a great post, sra.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

You have said it all in there!

10:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home