A minor history of food blogging

Super tasty kingfish sashimi at Chin Chin.

I just scrolled through my oldest blog entries, here on my website, to trace a little history of my food blogging adventures.

While I started my website, way back in January 2005, it was a static website, used to promote my writing (and a bit of my music). I kept a separate blog, on blogger.com, but I didn’t make any posts about restaurants. It was as much an experiment as anything else, with occasional musings on life, travels and writing.

Cucina Povera (Peasant Food) in Puglia, Italy.

I made a first posting about restaurants in Mexico City in August 2008, and after that there were occasional restaurant reviews and mentions from my travels. The food blogging really started in earnest in March 2011, on a trip to Paris, where I thought, having hit my 40s and in a loving and stable relationship, that my overseas travels should have a different focus than hitting the bars and nightclubs (which, ahem, was a theme for a decade or more). The focus of my trip was on eating at some really good restaurants, and I thought it would be fun to record the visits in photos and words. It was a way of sharing information with others, and also the type of information that I wanted to read when trying to find great restaurants.

A tasty appetizer at Mekong restaurant in Chippendale

That kicked things off and I started writing about meals in Sydney, as well as while on holidays. Two other things amped up the reviews. I changed my website to WordPress, which not only integrated the blog with my website, but it made the blog the main feature. I learned if anyone was to visit the website, I needed to do some regular writing. And why not about food?

I also discovered the website, eatability.com.au., which ran from 2003 until it was bought out in July 2012. While there were restaurant reviews on Tripadvisor.com and Yelp (which never had as big a presence in Australia as the USA), I liked this website, that focused soley on restaurants and cafes. I found it fun to read other people’s reviews and share my own opinions. I posted up many reviews there.

After Eatability got bought out, and went downhill, and I switched to Urban Spoon, which had the revelatory feature where I could add a widget to my blog reviews, and everything connected up nicely. Folks could find my reviews on their website and click through to my blog.

This corn at Kid Kyoto: divine!

Urban Spoon was bought out by Zomato in January 2015, and for a few years, I found this loads of fun. They gamefied reviews, where you earned points for the more you posted, to work your way up the rankings of top reviewers. I knew it was silly, but it gave me a mostly harmless dopamine hit to post regularly, and it encouraged me to get out and try more of Sydney’s amazing restaurants. I do admit that I got a little too caught up in it, sometimes just posting lame reviews (of say, just having a coffee) to count as a review.

It was also an interesting time to be a food blogger. I discovered that there were many food bloggers in Sydney. Zomato and Yelp hired ‘community liaison people’ and I got invited to some fun events and met other bloggers. I also started getting invited to restaurants for complimentary meals, in the hopes of a good review. And while I wasn’t blogging to get free food, I like free food.

But now, in 2020, especially after a three-month lockdown period from COVID where restaurants and cafes were shut down, the world of food blogging has become much quieter. The yearly Christmas parties organised for food bloggers went down in numbers from over a hundred to just a handful. Food instagrammers have arisen on mass, and most people find images of food more appealing than words. I have mixed feelings about this, as I’ve seen instagrammers who are much more interested in how food looks than how it tastes and their IG accounts seem to be a way to get followers rather than based on a real passion for food.

Monkfish medallions wrapped in bacon, New Year’s Day lunch at the Pavillon Henri IV, just outside Paris.

The free offers have dried up, which I think is a good thing: while I did try to repay the kindness (by going to the restaurants again, by posting positive reviews on different sites), I think there are probably only a handful of bloggers and instagrammers who would actually have some influence in terms of getting folks to go a restaurant or cafe.

And worst of all, Zomato, which made it so easy and appealing for me to be a food blogger, has updated their application, and it’s just not easy to use. Most of my reviews are not automatically linked and I have to go through a tedious process to get them posted. The rankings and points system don’t update properly. There are other problems too. It makes food blogging seem like a chore instead of a pleasure.

I also saw a note from Does My Bomb Look Big in This? who I consider Sydney’s finest food blogger (beautifully written blogs, details about the restaurant and owners which really honour their work, a passion for and understanding of good food) that reflected on not food blogging after 14 years of it during the lockdown. She’s now moving her reviews to Instagram (and maybe Facebook too). This has made me reflect also on my food blogging.

Octopus at Atoboy, NoMad, NYC. A great dish.

I do have an Instagram account, but it doesn’t really work for me. Perhaps my interests (cats, cooking, cocktails) are too diverse, but I don’t have many followers, which blunts the pleasure in sharing a food review, since I like the idea that there are people who will find it and find it useful! Similarly, while I have many friends on Facebook, most of them are not from Sydney, so I don’t like the idea of taking up Facebook Real Estate with restaurant reviews that aren’t useful for most people.

So, I guess I’ll still write reviews for restaurants that I really, really like, and the meals that I want to capture. But I think for now I’ll let go the more regular food blogging of restaurants and cafes, good, bad and mediocre. It is quite nice actually to eat meals and not think about taking photos of them or remembering exactly what I had. It’s basically what I do for wines in restaurants, even if I like them a lot, as I figure it’s often not easy for others to find them so why try to record them and my descriptive powers for wine are not that strong.

So, yes, enjoy the food and the moment for a while and not worry about recording the enjoyment: we’ll see if something new will emerge – or not.

Homemade mozzarella. Seriously. I made this. The next two times I tried to do it, I failed! Beginner’s luck, I guess.

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