Happy Friday! I don't know about y'all but my week has been rough :( so yesterday my co-worker and I got ourselves a little treat, and we got these matching fox slippers! Aren't they so adorable?!?
This week for Meet My Inspiration, I'm bringing you a blogger from the other side of the globe who blogs over at Omnivore’s Cookbook! Meet Maggie from Beijing, China. Her blog is all about Chinese and Asian cooking. Her latest post? Honey Lotus Root with Sticky Rice. You know it's authentic cooking just by the name of the dish which is exactly why I started following her. What makes her blog so great is that she does step-by-step instructions, and you know she's really into learning and knowing the ingredients just by reading her posts.
I "chatted" with her about blogging from China (yes, a place where we all "think" we know but also don't know much about. We might have heard about things happening in China from time to time but I don't think anyone can understand what the lifestyle is like unless you actually live there). What Maggie told me about their access to the Internet, and the Chinese domestic search engine is just fascinating. It's not just about not being able to search and read about certain things. It's the actual use of the World Wide Web compared to how the rest of the world uses the World Wide Web. And the food scene in Beijing? She talked a little about that too!
Anyway, I won't spoil what she had to say, you will find out more in the Q&A! I chose Maggie to be featured in the series is because I love her work and her originality when it comes to cooking and blogging.
Thanks, Maggie, for being my inspiration! And here's the behind the scenes...
1. What or who inspired you to start a food blog? The start of my blog was quite unexpected. The topic was randomly brought up by a close friend, when we were discussing the possibility of starting a business by ourselves. I had no idea about the blogging world at all and had never even read a blog before. My friend told me that people can actually get sponsored to blog about food and travel, which is something we could do too. I never thought too much on the money part, but found the idea quite fascinating. It all started when I googled “how to start a food blog” that same evening.
2. What was the first post/recipe that you published on Omnivore's Cookbook? (Try not to peek!) My first post was Tuna Pasta with Arrabiata Sauce and you can absolutely take a peek at it! I didn’t even get the name right! lol
If I ever post anything on photography, I will use that picture to demonstrate incorrect white balance.
3. If you have to pick 3 words to describe your blog, what would they be? Learning - refers to my writing style and I hope my readers can learn something from my posts. Personally, I’m serious about this and it is reflected in my writing. After blogging for a while, I gradually found the teaching style of writing suits me the best (and may well be the only style I can write in!). It also reflects my own experience. I’m learning along the way and will continue to do so, in order to provide more useful information to my readers.
Clean - refers to my blog design. Simple, modern and easy to navigate is my ultimate goal.
Inspiration - I’m not sure how many people are interested in Chinese food or ever intend to try out my recipes, but I do hope my posts will bring inspiration to all of my readers.
4. Your blog is just packed with recipes! Is there one kind of Chinese cuisine that you cook more often than others? And what is your favorite technique of cooking? In real life, I always choose to cook super simple dishes, for example, fried rice and pancakes. I really need things to be done in five minutes. By the way, I actually cook a lot of non-Chinese food too, like Japanese, Korean and Italian. Because it’s so easy to get Asian food in restaurants here, I cook more Western food when not developing recipes for the blog. I like cooking pasta, the creamy kind!
My favorite technique is stir-frying. I feel very comfortable with it and I usually don’t use a recipe when cooking. I just follow my gut.
5. You've grown up and lived in Beijing for most of your life. How has the food scene changed? What kind of cuisine are people mostly into these days other than Chinese? This is a huge topic and I could talk about it forever! Well, I will try to make my point quickly before I put you to sleep!
The food scene in Beijing has changed dramatically in the last 20 years (I think it’s even more than the word dramatic could describe). When I was a kid, I only knew about Chinese food with very limited variety. We had very few non-Chinese restaurants back then, and the only Western food I knew, besides fast food, was Russian (Russian food was the only non-Chinese type of restaurant in Beijing for a long time, before the American fast food chains). KFC opened its first branch in Beijing in 1987 and I heard that it already has more than 4500 stores in 2015. McDonalds was a very fancy thing when I was a kid and my friends considered my family rich when I had my 12th birthday there (I invited four friends and they got food and sodas for free!).
Nowadays, Chinese restaurants in Beijing continue to grow, with the variety increasing all the time. People are dining out constantly (by the way, people eat outside way more often than in the US or European countries, because the prices are not as high). You can find food coming from all over the world, such as Southeast Asia, Mexico, the Middle East, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and India (among them, there are quite a few very authentic ones owned by people from the respective countries of origin).
For the latter question, it’s a bit difficult to answer. If I had to choose, I’d say it’s Korean and Japanese. Here you can get so much authentic Korean and Japanese food at a very reasonable price. Plus, people here are more used to those flavors. Western food in general is getting popular, but the most recognized ones are still the fast food chains. Compared to big cities like Tokyo, New York, and Hong Kong, the non-Chinese food culture in Beijing still needs time to grow.
6. Let's talk about your photography. You always turn out gorgeous shots! Can you share with us what's in your camera bag? I use a Nikon D7000 with 50mm for most of my pictures. Since I don’t have much sunlight at home (almost none in the winter), I shoot all my pictures with artificial light. I can’t put the artificial lights in my camera bag (I wish I could!), but I usually shoot with one or two strobes (super cheap made-in-China stuff that does its job), sometimes with a softbox attached, or with a diffusion screen (sounds cool right? They are really cheap). Shooting with artificial light has uncuffed me from a very limited cooking time, and I can handhold my camera most of the time. It’s the best investment ever!
I also use a few sheets of white foam core and a large piece of seamless white paper. I’m really really bad at picking props. Sometimes I’m just too lazy, so I place whatever I cook on the white seamless paper and shoot away!
Among everything, I’m the worst at food styling. Unlike most food stylists, I’m often too lazy to use tweezers and I don’t feel comfortable with too much styling, which may make the food inedible. I eat all my food after I shoot it!
7. What's your cooking day routine like? Food shopping in the morning? Cooking and shooting dishes at a certain time before the sun goes down? I do all my cooking on the weekends, since I have a full-time job and usually deal with the post writing and social media during the weekdays. On the weekend, I often start late on Saturday (I’m not an early bird at all!). I usually spend some time to sort out my week and take time to relax. I usually go shopping around noon (it’s less crowded then), start cooking in the afternoon, shoot pictures, and do some photo editing in the evening. I repeat the process on Sunday, but will start earlier and spend most of the day cooking and shooting pictures.
8. I know there're tons of Chinese recipes websites in mainland China that focus on user-generated content (sites equivalent to allrecipes.com). But I always wonder what the food blogging community really like in mainland China? The blogging scene in China is very very different. Again, I could talk about this all day long...
First of all, there are few (or no) self-hosted blogs out there. Even the biggest bloggers don’t have their own domains. It’s like Martha Stewart using a free Blogger account - can you imagine that? There are a few very big recipe sites, and most bloggers use those services to post recipes.
The reason: all the popular social media (FB, TW, YouTube, anything made by Google, even instagram) are banned here (i.e. by The Great Firewall), so people can only use domestic search engines and social media sites. So, the blogging community (and a big part of the internet) is cut off from the rest of the world.
For search engines here, it’s more money-driven than organic search optimization. From the user’s perspective, search results typically only point to big sites (like the Chinese version of Food.com). A few famous bloggers do exist in China (again, not with personal domains), but generally, people use free recipes from these big recipe sites. And of course, your recipes get stolen, even by very big and famous sites (It’s the Chinese equivalent of copying a Rachel Ray recipe on Wikipedia without quoting the source).
Result: people have low awareness of individual brands and they only recognize big recipe sites.
I actually started a Chinese blog before I started this one and it only lasted 2 weeks. The design was just ugly and there were too many annoying ads on it. So I switched to an English site immediately and went self-host. I’m so glad I made that call.
9. What's the most challenging thing about being a food blogger? Right now my biggest barrier is the work-blog balance. Or balance of real life and virtual life. lol
I think it’s a common thing among bloggers (or anyone in the world), that you never have enough time. I know some bloggers can post three recipes a week, deal with their full time job, hang out with friends on the weekends, engage on social media, and build products to sell, all at the same time. I have no idea how they do it. I have literally no social life in my current situation and I realize I will soon have more blogger friends (especially outside of China) than non-blogger friends. Doesn’t that sound crazy? I’m working on increasing my productivity all the time, and hope that in the future I can take a one-day break from blogging every week! It will be my resolution for 2016 :)
10. We'll end with some food blogging love. Any blogs or bloggers who you admire yourself? Another difficult question! I personally follow a lot of blogs. If I had to pick one, I’d say I get so much inspiration from I Am a Food Blog. Stephanie’s pictures are simply amazing and her site is bursting with great recipe ideas and inspiration. Just One Cookbook is also one of my favorite sites, and I cook quite a lot of recipes from there. Nami does such a great job with her step-by-step pictures and cooking videos (they’re so artistically done), and I learned so many things from her blog. I also want to mention Nagi from Recipe Tin Eats. Her site is full of easy and practical recipes and her pictures have me drooling all over my desk every time. She is really a great organizer and a role model of mine! If you’re a blogger, definitely check out her Facebook community.
I also read a few blogs regularly - Simply Fresh Dinners, No Gojis No Glory, Healthy Recipe Ecstasy, Healthy Nibbles & Bits, and Vitamin Sunshine. Although I don’t always talk about healthy food on my blog, but I’m personally trying to keep a balanced diet, and I try as much as I can to make my recipes healthier. I’ve gotten so many insights on healthy eating and great recipe inspirations from these sites. The list never ends.
(Photo Credit: Omnivore's Cookbook – Addictive Kimchi Pork Steamed Bun)