Feb 8, 2015

Eat Something You've Never Heard Of, and Other Reasons to Become a Foodspotter - A Review

I've been a Foodspotter since 2010, but I was probably a Foodspotter way before that.

What's a Foodspotter? On the one hand, they take pictures of their food. They did this everywhere, without warning, and at any mealtime. They are amateur food photographers and food stylists, addicts, foodies, food-lovers, and adventurers. On the other hand, they are users of the social network Foodspotting, which also them to do all of the above and save their progress, sharing with their friends their finds and cravings.

I hadn't logged on to my Foodspotting account in a little over two years, but that didn't mean I had stopped taking pictures of my food. With my phone, with my Google Glass, and with my camera - I had a backlog of photos numbering in the hundreds. So, like an idiot, I started to accumulate them in a folder on my desktop. Why am I an idiot? Because it wasn't until weeks later (and many computer screen induced headaches to boot) I would realize I could never let this pile up again.

After starting this compilation, I decided to log into the site, just to see if I had notifications (I did, over 100 to be exact), but that wasn't what struck me. I saw a flag that said "Get the book!" My reaction: "FOODSPOTTING PUT OUT A BOOK?!" Yes, they did. And it's awesome and here's why.

The URL where I found out the info about The Foodspotting Field Guide presented a checklist of 75 food items the team at Foodspotting thinks you should try. I definitely knew a few off the list right away, but others got googled and wiki'd shortly thereafter. I bookmarked the page and then used it later to decide what kind of Japanese food to order for takeout.

Here's the issue with trying to save that list and work solely off a list of dishes: you don't know the pronunciation, the origin, what part of the meal it is (side, entree, dessert) and if it is sweet or savoury. And that's just a few things you'll need to know if you want to buy/try it. Trying to work off the list in one tab, Wikipedia in the other, and Seamless in the third was exhausting. After attempting this with two meals (Japanese okonomiyaki and Thai food), I caved and got the book for my Nook.

The only thing I miss about not having a physical copy is not being able to write my thoughts down right on the adjacent page (which means I will eventually buy a physical copy because I love to fill in forms - yes, I'm a nerd). BUT there is the joy of spotting an item from the list, then adding your thoughts and impressions to your spotting on the actual site/app. That's a true multi-platform experience.

The dishes they have in "The 75" range from street food to haute cuisine and are probably easily found in most major metropolitan foodie cities in the US: San Francisco, New York, Chicago, LA, Miami. But what I like about the list isn't the range, it's the descriptions. The book was written by spotters for spotters (or people who want to venture outside their comfort zone). Each page comes with a detailed yet brief description of why you should taste this/why it is worth your time and effort. I love that -- it's as if they are saying "we know what we're talking about, trust us this is going to be good." And most of the items I've tried from The 75 are pretty tasty.

What I didn't like about the list comes in two parts. Part one: the list dips it's toes into the world of the exotic -- alternative proteins, foreign origins, etc -- but not enough for my liking. An already seasoned foodie like myself now has a region or two to properly explore food-wise, but not enough weird or different ingredients. I wanted that and it didn't deliver. Part two: the list (and book itself) is pretty short. I get why -- it's pocket-sized, it's a brisk rundown, you can flip through it quickly. The reasons for brevity are obvious, but that doesn't mean I don't want more. My hope is that the book will have such success that they will be forced to make a sequel. 

If you're tired of eating the same thing and want to try something new, this book is for you. If you have a friend or loved one who simply loves to brag about what they ate this past weekend, this book is for them. If you're an avid Foodspotter, or Foursquarer, or Yelper, or OpenTabler -- this book is like one fantastic scavenger hunt and it's definitely for you. But, if you are someone who will criticize what others eat or cry "eww that's disgusting" or have said "I could never eat that/those" or make excuses why you won't try something new, this book is not for you. Move along. Nothing to see here.

I highly recommend The Foodspotting Field Guide and it has already affected my cuisine/mealtime choices for the better. Eat something new and expose yourself to new flavors. Travel the world without leaving your own city/town. Live a little -- you'll be glad you did.