I know a little about food portals Bawarchi was one of our bouquet of IndiaWorld portals. It was among our top accessed sites. Since then, Bawarchi has morphed into Sify Food. The anchor in Bawarchi was and continues to be Sarojs Cookbook one new recipe daily, based on a weekly theme. I take Sarojs Cookbook as an example here because I think it is one of the finest and largest collections of Indian vegetarian food on the Net.
Since Bawarchis launch in 1997, Sarojs Cookbook has grown to encompass more than 1,000 recipes. A sample recipe page looks like this for Daal Baati one of my favourite Rajasthani meals. So, there are basically three ways to navigate this vast repository of recipes: the category-based classification, search, and alphabetically by name.
Theres a lot more content on Sify Food now (some of which were also there in the original Bawarchi): many more recipes from multiple sources, columns on health and nutrition, tips, glossary, festival-specific information, and an interactive section. Sify Food continues to be freely accessible.
Two other popular Indian food websites are those by Tarla Dalal and Sanjeev Kapoor. Both have equally elaborate collections, but much of the site needs subscription. In both cases, the annual charge is Rs 1,000 for those in India. One of the interesting features on the Tarla Dalal site is the ability to personalise ones cookbook from the online collection.
On the international front, one of the most popular food sites is Epicurious. The top-level classifications include: Recipes, Features, Cooking, Drinking, Restaurants and Shop. Its Advanced Recipe Search feature allows a search based on ingredients. Recipes also have reviews and ratings by readers. From a 2002 PC Magazine Review: Think of Epicurious as an all-you-can-eat buffet that allows doggie bags. Its seemingly endless array of culinary information includes interviews with star chefs, slide shows of favorite dishes, book excerpts and reviews, culinary travel guides, comprehensive coverage of beers and liquors, buyers’ guides, newsletters, glossaries, discussion forums, an enormous shopping area, TV and magazine tie-ins, and over 13,000 recipes. Whether you’re looking for video instruction in omelet-rolling techniques or an authoritative discussion of glassware, Epicurious has what you need.
As I browsed through these sites, I was duly impressed. Their depth and breadth is much greater than the Indian food portals. But I could not help but think that these are, much like their Indian counterparts, still built for the first generation of the Internet. The question I am thinking is: how would we redo these sites (or create new ones) keeping in mind the next Internet? Maybe these sites are more than good enough having created strong brands amongst their users. Or maybe, there is potential for a disruptive innovator. I will keep my focus on the Indian food space, since I know it better and also am a direct consumer (as are probably most of us). So, put the thinking caps on: how do we build the Next Great Indian Food Portal?
A note: even as we think about Food, the ideas we will discuss are applicable to most portals. I chose Food because of my Bawarchi-legacy, and we all fall in one or both categories: cooks or eaters. So, there is an experience we can relate it almost daily.
Tomorrow: A Wishlist