Time just gets more and more ridiculous as the years go by. Are we really in DECEMBER of 2015? I still don’t feel completely comfortable with 2015 yet, I’m not ready for 2016. It seems like that far off year where a lot of distant events were supposed to happen. Like the expiry dates for a lot of my groceries. Can I finish this jar of peanut butter? Pfft of course, it expires in 2016! That’s super far away!
And with the end of this crazy fast year comes a first for Nomsville. It’s very first birthday. And if I were completely honest, it still feels like I’ve just figured out how to use WordPress, and gotten comfortable with the idea that I own this little piece of the internet. My team of testers have only just gotten used to my ridiculous questions (“Okay I get that you like it, but WHY exactly? What makes this better than the other one you tried?” “Umm.. the taste?”). I feel like it was only yesterday that I was struggling with small, ridiculous things like editing text, to bigger, more confusing issues, like how do i make my site look less ugly without completely blowing up my html code. And I am still terrified every time I see an error screen, and it feels like this WILL be the end of my little virtual world.
But, in my one year of trying to bring an idea into the super massive world of food blogging, I have learnt a LOT. The curve has been as steep as that crazy waterslide at the Atlantis (except you know, trying to trudge up that monster). And I will try to articulate this jumble of learning so I can maybe share with you a little bit of insight into what I have learnt.
There really is no shortcut to success.
The world ain’t a fair place. Just like in the real world, there will be people in food media who work extremely hard but never go beyond a certain level of recognition. And there will be those that seem to be everywhere, having done little to merit it. There are a lot of factors that will determine your success. For some, it could be great contacts in the industry. For others, they might simply be in the right place at the right time. Some seem to gain quick success through micro blogging platforms where others spend hours managing a blog. But no matter what it looks like, behind every successful blogger is tons of hard work that we just don’t see. These guys make it look easy, it seems like all they do is get cool invites and spend all day eating. What we don’t see are the hours they spend learning skills like photography, social media management and the daunting task of running a website smoothly.
Integrity is the single most important thing for your personal brand
Since the UAE has become the culinary hub of the Middle East, food has become a national obsession. This has given rise to a LOT of restaurant review web bloggers, Instagrammers and Snapchatters. And this is how the journey goes, at least in the beginning. You start off with honest reviews and not-so-great pictures, but you secretly look at famous bloggers and their media invites with envy. You write post after post until one day, a stray invite makes it’s way into your inbox, and it is just THE best feeling. You feel like you’ve finally made it. You go for it and all the attention makes you feel like a celebrity. Then more invites follow. And sometimes the food is great, but sometimes it isn’t. Yet, you feel this obligation now, because you’ve eaten free food and been treated so well, to write glowing reviews. And while this might keep the invites coming, if you continue on this way, your followers will soon catch on. And once they do, you become THAT blogger. The one who sold out. And your words will lose credibility.
I have been an avid food blog reader for years, and I can tell you that those who blog honestly are the ones that are still standing today, and standing strong. One of the pioneers in the food media business, Foodiva runs her entire operation on the principle that no restaurant will be reviewed on an invite so that no possible bias can make it’s way into the review. Which makes me trust her completely. Similarly, Arva of ILiveInAFryingPan in no uncertain terms makes it clear that she will not review places based on an invite (there’s also the fact that she’d rather be eating parathas on a street in Deira than nibbling on little samplers in Palm Jumeirah). My go-to blogger for most restaurant recommendations, Geordie Armani, is one of the more straight talking bloggers out there, and I absolutely love her blog for it. And these people have been around from the time that food blogs were not even considered a speck on the PR radar. Which brings me to my next point…
Blogger Social Responsibility
Today, food bloggers in this country enjoy an elevated status. Ask a blogger from even a year ago, and they will tell you they were struggling to be noticed for their work, or to be taken seriously. Today they ARE the food media. They are considered to be significant influencers. How many times have we visited a place purely because of the social media hype? And it isn’t just about restaurants. How we buy our food, how we cook, and the places we dine at are all influenced by food bloggers/critics/reviewers on Zomato. Take the Farmers’ Markets for example. Bloggers like Sally of MyCustardPie have put these markets on the food map, and the blogging community as a whole has supported such initiatives. Clearly, bloggers in this country have the power to influence the conversation. Which means we need to be even more careful of what we are covering. Bad experiences need to be clarified with restaurants before launching a tirade on social media that could break an otherwise good enterprise, or taint a good establishment’s reputation. And important issues need to be brought to the forefront, such as addressing the issue of massive, unacceptable amounts of food waste, by leveraging our relationships with the food industry.
The importance of a blogger support group
The world of food blogging can be confusing, especially in the UAE where things are changing so rapidly for this segment. And in this confusion, having a group of people with experience, knowledge or even just a shared sense of trying to understand the environment is a resource that is more precious than a gold-plated cupcake from Bloomsbury’s. From sharing experiences, to always having a familiar face (or username) at events, to being able to ask stupid questions without being judged, having that support system is so incredibly important in keeping you afloat.
This country, at this time, is one of the best places to be for a foodie
In the last few months, I have spent considerable amounts
of time in three different continents. I have explored the markets, the street food and the high-end restaurants, and (maybe with the exception of Toronto), I have yet to find a city that offers
the kind of variety of cuisines with flavors that are so close to being truly authentic. In Dubai alone we have dedicated Asian, Indian, Pakistani, Russian, Greek, British, African and Iranian groceries, just to name a few. I won’t even TRY to list the countries represented in the dining out scene, but the fact that we now have multiple options for previously uncommon cuisines, like Peruvian and Vietnamese, and EVERY single food trend, from molecular gastronomy to melting chocolate spheres, Acai bowls and juice cleanses; our food industry is insane, overwhelming and exhilarating. You literally cannot ever stop discovering. The ‘to-eat’ list never ends, and it is a wonderful problem to have.
And if you still needed further proof, you know a city is great when Gordon Ramsay says so. “That’s the nice thing… you can push the boat out a bit more because the palates [in Dubai] are more educated. It’s a lot more difficult market than it was 10 years ago. Dubai has become a little mini epicentre, similar to Vegas or New York or Paris. It’s a foodie culture. The whole place has transformed – it’s buzzing.”
If you made it through that entire ramble, I’d love to hear your thoughts! How has your journey been as a foodie/food blogger/food blog reader in the UAE or elsewhere?