WHEN food blogging was new (about 15 minutes ago), it was fun to pore over the gastronomic musings at the Accidental Hedonist or I Was Just Really Very Hungry. In those days, reading about what someone ate for dinner or which food magazine they liked best was kind of amusing. But quicker than you could say blogosphere, the world of blogs-by-dedicated-foodies got crowded, repetitive, overly precious and just plain dull.
These days, hyper-focus is in; generalism is passe. A food blogger who wants to stand out from the rest of the pack has to be specialized. Really specialized. And more and more, specialization is taking the form of pinpoint devotion to an exhaustive coverage of a minusculely narrow food-related topic.
One specialized food blog attempts to cover every compelling bowl of the Vietnamese beef noodle soup pho in Southern California (though lately the author, who identifies himself only as "Diamond Dog," a male who lives in Orange County, has weighed in on phos in San Francisco, Seattle and Boston).
Another blog maps, with detailed reviews, pizza by the slice in Manhattan. There's even one that critiques every cake mix on the market.
Bacontarian (www.bacontarian.com) is a group blog about "baconism," the near-religious belief that bacon must be incorporated into every meal. It offers instructions, with photos, for how to cook a bacon-covered Thanksgiving turkey; gift ideas like bacon air freshener and bacon-shaped adhesive bandages; the story of how one of its authors, who identifies himself as Ethanz, made and served bacon tempura for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. After that entry, Ethanz concludes, "Mmm. Sacri-delicious."
Deep End Dining blogger Eddie Lin (www.deependdining.com) has committed himself to finding, eating, describing and photographing L.A.'s most challenging dishes. We find Lin, via photos and anecdotes, at various L.A. restaurants sampling German blood tongue, sea cucumber and duck fetus (a Filipino delicacy).
A video clip shows him eating still-writhing pieces of octopus. "If a picture of live, squirming tentacles is worth a thousand people feeling nauseous," he writes, "then a streaming video of the tentacles is worth a zillion vomitoriums."
Nor is there much dull material to wade through in Deep End Dining: It's what people in the blogosphere call a "slow blog," meaning that the blogger posts infrequently. In Lin's case, that means once or twice a month, whereas other bloggers typically update their sites a few times per week.
The anonymous blogger who calls herself the Wednesday Chef (wednesdaychef.typepad.com) founded her blog with the express mission of pitting the L.A. Times Food section against the New York Times Dining section. "This blog has been borne out of my spending too much time searching fruitlessly for reliable information on the recipes published each Wednesday in the food sections of the New York Times and the L. A. Times," she writes. "Do the recipes really work? Which food writer has the best ideas?"
We're sure we know the answers to these questions, but it's highly amusing to read about (and often see the step-by-step photos of) her attempts to re-create a clafouti with Concord grapes from Melissa Clark's New York Times story about Pierre Reboul, pastry chef at Thor in New York City, or Russ Parsons' garlicky braised cauliflower with capers. Too bad she strays from her mission, often giving us travelogue or a recipe from Martha Stewart, and thereby flirting dangerously with generalism.
Useful, serious and smart
OTHER specialized food blogs are designed to be more utilitarian. Burrito Eater (www.burritoeater.com) scrutinizes San Francisco's taquerias and burrito wagons, rating them on a 10-mustache scale. Blogger Charles Hodgkins, a geography student, dreamed up the site as a go-to guide for San Francisco's vast array of burrito stands and taquerias. Express Taqueria in the Tenderloin district earned an overall mustache rating (OMR) of 8.42 in a December post. Apparently Hodgkins arrived at that score by averaging the ratings for the nine-mustache super asada burrito he sampled in August and the 7.83-mustache super chicken mole burrito he reviewed in December.
Hodgkins writes with admirable authority: "Quite possibly the most walloping sucker-punch on Burritoeater record, this," he writes of the super asada. "Two kinds of cheese (Jack and cheddar) lined the inside layer.... Peas and carrot bits enlivened the Spanish rice, while the workmanlike refried beans also held down the fort."
"Diamond Dog," the Southern California blogger at Pho-king (www.hewnandhammered.com/pho), is just as serious; one Food section staffer who went to check out a Little Saigon spot he raved about was more than impressed.
Many of the highly focused blogs sport smart slogans. At Pho-king, that would be "King of pho, there is none higher, sucker recipes can call me sire." I Love Sandwiches, a blog about sandwiches (www.keaggy.com/sandwich), has "Wherein we blog all things sandwichy -- Est. 2002." There, it's heartwarming to read about such passionate devotion to stuff between bread. One recent post proclaims: "Supermarket launches musical sandwich. 'Tired of the same old lunch at your office desk? Help is at hand. A supermarket is launching the ultimate life-enhancing snack -- the musical sandwich.' " The blog's gift guide suggests a little something "for the person who always wanted to get a sandwich in the mail": a $65.39 Reuben from appetizerstogo.com.
Undeniably, there's something enticing about being let in on these writers' obsessions. Bloggers like these are the online foodie equivalents of bobblehead collectors. Or people who collect owl figurines, or airsickness bags. It's hard to resist reading about someone else's mania.
You can't help but wonder, who are these people? Is Pho-king's "Diamond Dog" the same blogger who goes on about Craftsman architecture at the food blog's host site, hewnandhammered.com? If a food blog is "slow," does that mean the blogger might actually have a life?
Adam Kuban, keeper of sliceny.com, is passionate about pizza. Why else would he have eaten it every single day for six months straight? And that was before it even occurred to him to start a blog. His site includes an interactive map of New York City, overlaid with pizza slices. Click on one and a bubble identifies a pizzeria, with its address and photo. Clicking the pizzeria's name within the bubble takes you to Kuban's review of the place.
Zoom out to see where, besides New York, Kuban has sampled pizza. In Las Vegas, for example, he ordered a couple of slices at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino only to find that "the pizza lived up to every cliche in the book: crust like cardboard, sauce like ketchup, cheese like rubber. Sbarro is better."
Some bloggers admit that they sometimes get tired of their own minutiae. Kuban confesses it's tough to not force the writing -- or burn out on the food, for that matter. "There's only so many ways you can describe crust, sauce and cheese," he says.
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A blog for every eccentric taste
Here's a listing of the food blogs mentioned in this story, plus other fantastically focused selections.
The Accidental Hedonist: www.accidentalhedonist.com. An old-school blog -- general food musings from former aspiring stand-up comic Kate Hopkins.
I Was Just Really Very Hungry: www.maki.typepad.com/justhungry. Another general musings blog, from Makiko Itoh, a Japanese-born food lover living in Switzerland.
Pho-king: www.hewnandhammered.com/pho. An Orange County pho lover's obsession, bowl by bowl.
SliceNY: www.sliceny.com. Interactive New York City pizza map and reviews.
Balmy Duck: www.balmyduck.blogspot.com. Reviews boxed cake mixes.
Bacontarian: www.bacontarian.com. Ravings from pork enthusiasts.
Deep End Dining: www.deependdining.com. Close encounters with Southern California restaurants' most challenging dishes.
The Wednesday Chef: wednesdaychef.typepad.com. Pits the L.A. Times Food section against the New York Times dining section.
Burrito Eater: www.burritoeater.com. Reviews of San Francisco taquerias and burrito stands.
I Love Sandwiches: www.keaggy.com/sandwich. Anything and everything about sandwiches.
The Art of the Buffet or All You Can Eat is Not a Challenge: www.buffets.blogspot.com. Reviews of all-you-can-eat buffets, mostly in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
White Trash BBQ: www.whitetrashbbq.blogspot.com. A Brooklynite competes on the barbecue competition circuit.
A Hamburger Today: www.ahamburgertoday.com. The sister site to SliceNY parses burgers on both coasts. Worthwhile just for its link to Burger Time, a video game in which you move a little chef around, avoiding the hot dogs, eggs and pickles.
Garlicster: www.garlicster.blogspot.com. Recipes that use a lot of garlic.
Candy Blog: www.typetive.com/candyblog. Candy reviews and analysis, nicely photographed.
FOODBlog: www.kiplog.com/food. A blog about food blogs, with comprehensive, up-to-date links to the newest entries.
-- Avital Binshtock