On one of the morning talk shows last week, a woman was discussing a New Years resolution to streamline her online life. She lamented how it’d taken over her "real life," and had calculated how many hours she wastes on twitter and facebook alone. I'm sure we've all felt similarly at one time or another, although maybe you're still guilty of whiling away an hour online on the office clock and spending more time catching up with your Google Reader than your significant other. So this week I thought I'd put together a post for you highlighting a few food MVP's--online sites (many of which are local) where each moment you spend drooling, ogling, and researching will be time well spent. I promise.
Food by mail. Certainly something people are warming up to, but there's still some hesitation. With thoughts of honey-baked ham and bad coffeecakes, not everyone's jumping on the wagon. But there are some great sites out there, hand-selecting unique, small-batch products that you can't find at your corner grocery store. From small sites stocking heirloom beans (love them), to big-box stores with overnight shipping--you can get pretty much whatever your recipe calls for online these days. But local rock-star site, Foodzie and innovative Marx stand out for their diverse products and way in which they foster community by supporting small artisan vendors, blogging about their experiences, and hosting contests and giveaways.
I can't say enough about Foodzie. First, they're based right here in San Francisco, they're supporting small businesses from all over the country, and every time I sign on I find something cool I'd never heard about. If you're not familiar with the concept, essentially they're an online space, allowing small-time (or bigger-time) vendors to set up a shop. Then buyers purchase directly from these passionate food producers and growers. I've found a few favorite new products like handmade peanut butter cups from the small baking company, a little bit of sweet, and Sunchowder's Emporia unique hand-crafted jams (wrapped in beautiful papers). Their blog has dining recommendations, interviews and recipes, and there's a great "Discover" map that highlights artisan foods made in and around the Bay Area.
Before 2007, only high-end restaurateurs knew about Marx Foods as they were essentially a supplier of wholesale, boutique, high-end products. Today, their product line has expanded and is now available to home chefs who can search by categories or ingredients, season, organic/free range etc. Their mission is to find the finest and freshest products, stay on top of food trends, and connect the customer to the food source (by taking out the warehouse/middleman element). Their "Foodie FAQ" delves into such topics as the spiciness of ghost peppers and freezing live mussels. And they also have a blog where they feature contests and post relevant pieces like "How to Store Fresh Truffles" or great recipes (like this one for chile-coconut crusted shrimp).
I won't even touch on blogs or online food communities because we all have our favorites and really, that'd be an entirely different post. If you want to know what blogs I read and admire, here's my current link list. Moving away from blogs, there are a few sites that stand out in my mind for fresh local content and literary voice.
Life is good for Marcia Gagliardi these days. She's currently hitting up the food scene in India and has a book coming out this spring. While I rarely give out my email and subscribe to newsletters and the like, I look forward to every Tuesday afternoon when the "hopper" arrives in my in-box (online version available on her website). Marcia's voice is light-hearted and humorous. She's sometimes self-deprecating and never takes food too, too seriously. But she's definitely got the inside scoop on the San Francisco dining scene: restaurant closures, changes in ownership, great reviews, and upcoming events. Her rotating "Ten Places to Eat at Now" list contains a few of my very favorite spots, and she provides a great free service called "tip please" that allows you to enter a bit of information and receive a personalized restaurant recommendation (service temporarily on hold while Marcia travels). She's not paid by restaurants to write a review, she doesn't accept ads, and she doesn't believe in writing negative reviews. She's a genuine voice coming out of the San Francisco food scene.
With a tagline like: Read. Chew. Discuss, eGullet has got to be good. There are a few parts to the website. First, they have a popular forum, where folks post questions in topics ranging from the best canned tomato soups to where to get dinner in Morristown, New Jersey. But the reason I come to egullet is for The Daily Gullet, the literary journal of the eGullet Society. Here, food writers and editors post longer, more literary pieces such as "Why Jews Like Chinese Food" and "The Frying of Latke 49." They're not always recipe-driven like many food blog entries tend to be these days, and are always smartly written. In the online world of short snippets and photos, sometimes it's nice to curl up with the laptop and read an actual essay on food. You get that here.
If you’re a food blogger or a fan of "food porn," you already know Tastespotting and Food Gawker well. If these sites are new to you, the idea is simple: anyone can submit a photo and, if you meet the fairly rigid criteria (focus, composition, exposure and lighting), your picture could be chosen and posted for all to see. For bloggers, it's a great way to drive site traffic because viewers can click on your photo and be routed over to your blog or website for the recipe. For everyone, it’s a fun way to spend a few minutes, seeing what people are cooking and posting, and getting visual inspiration for future forays into the kitchen. If you're looking for a particular recipe or dish, you can search by category, popularity, and date to weed through the tempting photos and find what you're after.
I'll admit it. Some of the food blogs I admire and read the most are ones with exceptional photos--sure, people like to read about food, but people really like to look at food. And that, my friends, is where the genius of Foodspotting enters. Instead of reading restaurant reviews to determine where to find a spicy mole or an authentic macaron, you check out the pictures on your own and judge for yourself.
Foodspotting is a new site that's been getting quite a bit of buzz lately for it's relatively genius concept, user-generated content, and clean and use-to-use interface. It's a self-proclaimed "foodie-powered field guide." Essentially, the idea is that when it comes down to it, you don't always care what Michael Bauer said about your favorite restaurant and researching new spots can make eating a bit more scholarly than it needs to be. So not only do users post photos of their favorite dishes, but Foodspotting has built in an important social element to keep the site fresh, interesting--and even competitive. Here's the nitty gritty (in brief) on how it works. Check out their site if you'd like more detailed information.
- You see a picture and like it, you "Want" it. "Wants" are sightings you'd like to try.
- "Noms" are for foods you've tried and loved the best.
- Champions: people who have spotted food at more places than anyone else.
- Follow: a little like twitter, you can opt to follow places, dishes, and other Foodspotters you trust to stay in the know on the latest sightings.
I'm particularly excited about this site. It's social functionality makes sense--it's all geared towards helping you find dishes you want to try from all over, getting to know your local scene better, network with others who have similar food interests, and perhaps freshen up those camera skills. In terms of travel and restaurant recommendations, it's a new and entirely visual way to check out a city you're traveling to and discover what looks good there.
This past Friday, January 15th at 8 p.m., 7 x 7 magazine hosted what they're calling the Friday Flash Mob. They encouraged diners, chefs, wait staff, or anyone involved in a restaurant that evening to take a shot of what was going on. From the guys manning the line at Tacoliscious to Chris Cosentino enjoying a quiet moment, it's a look at the kitchens, chefs, and dishes that were happening at the same moment all over the city. I'm a sucker for this stuff. While it's obviously too late to submit a photo (unless you have one from Friday at 8 p.m.), the Flickr photo stream will be used to help build the magazine's popular February food issue.