Finding fellow gourmands, good restaurants and exotic dishes is becoming easier on the Internet, as foodie websites become must-have destinations for gourmets.
Recipes have long been available on the Internet at websites such as Allrecipes, but now new places are popping up showing people where and what to eat with rich descriptions and mouth-watering pictures of food.
Slashfood is one such destination, gathering anything and everything to do with food and eating. Recipes only appear on the site if they are unique or offer a twist on an existing dish.
Typical, recent postings at Slashfood reflect its eclectic culture: "A turkey that can go straight from the freezer to the oven", "Yup, it's another beef recall" and "A tale of two pastry blenders"
"Everyone is a critic," said Jane Goldman, Lifestyle Editor at CNET Networks Inc. "People photographing and talking about their food experiences is very different from the days when reviewers had the only say on food experiences."
CNET brought together Chow magazine, which Goldman had run, and the food-obsessed online forum Chowhounds into a single destination that offers recipes, restaurants, and tips such as "How to open a bottle of champagne".
The Chowhound message board also lives on at the site, retaining most of its word-of-mouth flavour as a place for people to find and share information on restaurants and eateries that haven't yet been discovered by mainstream reviewers.
"There was no medium that addressed the subject with energy, life and gusto," Goldman said. "Food was either a domestic chore or an elite epicurean hobby."
A good example of this shift in food culture can be found at "The Pioneer Woman's" Web site which has attracted a following with decadent, butter-laden American dishes such as "Beans and Cornbread", "Marlboro Man's Favorite Sandwich" and "Peach Crisp with Maple Cream Sauce. Brace Yourselves, People."
"I'm teaching people to embrace gravy and to embrace the pot roast," said Ree, who would not give her last name, but described herself as "food snob" from the city who married a cattle rancher and took to country cooking with religious gusto.
Ree's recipe postings aren't merely instructions and a list of ingredients. She uses carefully shot and edited photographs to guide readers through the steps of making a dish, featuring her star ingredient, butter.
"I live in the middle of nowhere and there's nothing to do but have babies and teach yourself Photoshop," Ree said. "A lot of my dishes are man-friendly and man-pleasing."
"The web has really democratised sophisticated food," said Tanya Steel, editor in chief of Epicurious, a website run by Conde Nast, which also publishes the authoritative food magazines Gourmet and Bon Appetit. The site attracts about 5 million users per month.
Epicurious, which began in 1995 as one of the first places on the web offering recipes, includes user-generated content but also provides more conventional reviews and news on top restaurants, as well as recipes, blogs and informative articles.
Turkey dishes currently top both the Chow and Epicurious Web sites ahead of the US Thanksgiving holiday, showing how the phenomenon is still very much US-focused. International sites are largely driven by bloggers, and most information on these websites is geared toward travellers seeking places to eat.
Taking audience participation a step further, Chow and Epicurious have also jumped onto the social networking bandwagon. While social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have dominated headlines, the niche Web sites are also tapping into the technology and tools to connect gourmands.
Both allow users to create pages to post their own recipes and collect and share information.
"I think the food space is the perfect area for social networking," said CNET's Goldman. Epicurious already runs an application on Facebook that connects fellow food lovers.
Another area where both see a trend is in web-based video. Epicurious is launching a feature next week for user-generated video content, where people can post food-related videos.
YouTube is already overflowing with user-submitted videos of cooking and eating, and Chow's Goldman works with video producers who create food-related videos in a studio kitchen at their offices in San Francisco.
"Food video is growing by leaps and bounds," Goldman said. "It's a great medium. The web is a great time waster."