Emily Shardlow talks to the Dubai-based food blogger Sally Prosser about the growing popularity of food websites
From the informative to the inane, the vicious to the virtuous, the quickly cobbled-together to the painstakingly styled, the internet is awash with food blogs. It seems that people like nothing more than sharing their recipes, restaurant experiences (some with more integrity than others), likes and dislikes, cooking experiences and food-related thoughts.
Perhaps because of the sheer number of blogs out there, when you stumble upon a gem - one that looks attractive, piques interest, has an informative yet interesting tone, provides recipes that work and does so in an articulate, interesting manner - it's all the more exciting. With My Custard Pie, the Dubai-based blogger Sally Prosser manages to do all that and more.
While the blog has been popular in the UAE for some time, it is now gathering international recognition. Earlier this month, My Custard Pie was included in a round-up of the 50 best food websites by The Independent UK newspaper, snagging the number 33 position, with the judging panel praising Prosser's insights into both expat life and the Dubai food scene.
Prosser, a self-taught cook who admits that she left home "barely able to boil an egg", is quite rightly thrilled about this turn of events. Inspired by existing food blogs, she launched My Custard Pie in early 2010 and soon felt "I had found my voice writing about something that I was so interested in". With visitors from all over the world and hundreds of followers (recognition from The Independent is sure to boost numbers further), it seems that others agree. She describes the blog as a "labour of love", and a time-consuming one at that.
"I try to post about twice a week and when you take into consideration the cooking, photography, writing, editing, publishing and publicising, each post probably takes at least four to five hours," she says.
The results of her endeavours speak for themselves. The blog is filled with evocative photographs, recipes, which are often documented in step-by-step form, and local food news. Prosser also makes eloquent observations about everyday life, either detailing her struggle to find fresh produce or to tempt her vegetarian daughter to try a new dish, for example.
"The blog reflects my life and how food plays a part in it as I discover new ingredients, recipes and eating experiences," she says.
The most exciting consequence of starting My Custard Pie is, she says, the relationships that have been forged with other food lovers, in the UAE and beyond. After making contact last September with a fellow local blogger, Arva Ahmed, of I Live in a Frying Pan, a few food bloggers started to get together in person.
Almost a year on and this group now boasts some 50 members who regularly meet up, support each other online and share information. Creating a sense of belonging from what can sometimes seem like an empty internet abyss is certainly an appealing prospect. For Prosser, this sense of community isn't just limited to the local. "I have 'met' food bloggers from all over the world - in fact I'm going to Food Blogger Connect in London this August," said Prosser.
For those who are interested in starting a food blog or have done so recently, Prosser says focus is key.
"Start with a clear direction of what you are trying to achieve, what you are blogging for and whether you have enough to blog about for many years to come," she says, adding, "don't imitate, stay true to your own perspective and voice and you've got to love what you do."
Another important element, she believes, is to interact with others doing the same thing.
"Visit other people's blogs and comment on things that interest you," says Prosser. "Get involved in the Twittersphere and seize every foodie opportunity. The great thing about this topic is it genuinely brings people together and there is always something new to discover."
The top five from the Independent’s 50 best food websites
Running with Tweezers
By day, Tami, the woman behind Running with Tweezers, works as a food stylist and it certainly shows here – her dishes are always beautifully presented. The simple, uncluttered appearance of the blog really allows the photographs to shine and with observations about life, healthy recipes and plenty of foodie musings, it’s a good place to while away time, while picking up a few tips on how to make your creations look just as stylish. Visit www.runningwithtweezers.com.
This website offers a wealth of constantly updated food-related information. Contributors seem well informed and the pages are filled with timely stories, restaurant recommendations, chef profiles and recipes (often accompanied by a video). There is also a lively discussion forum. Because of the sheer variety and volume of the posts, the site can seem a little overwhelming at first (it is also rather US-centric), but it’s worth checking out nonetheless. Visit www.chowhound.chow.com.
Curry aficionados are well catered for here. What started out as a small spice shop in Suffolk, England has become a popular online Asian deli, shipping products all over the world (including the UAE). The appeal of the much talked about Curry Packs is obvious; simply combine the spice mix (there are more than 30 different varieties) with water, bring to a simmer, add your chosen meat, fish and/or fresh vegetables and you’ve got yourself an authentic curry. The site also features plenty of recipes, tips and a glossary of ingredients. Visit www.spicebox.co.uk.
Food Insight is a website dedicated to providing its followers with detailed scientific information about food and nutrition, presented in an educational but accessible manner. The site offers food safety advice, provides tips for healthy eating and weight management, focuses on food allergies and explains new scientific findings or developments. Educational, informative and really rather helpful. Visit www.foodinsight.org.
My Tiny Plot
This is the perfect blog for those that dream of putting green fingers to work and growing their own, but are restricted by space issues and the heat of the UAE summer. My Tiny Plot is an online diary documenting the goings on in one woman’s vegetable patch; as well as providing plenty of photographs of the thriving allotment, there are lots of insider tips, tutorials and gardening-related anecdotes. Visit www.mytinyplot.co.uk.