Building a Digital Expat Recipe Collection

2 minute read

Cookbooks and recipes are a big deal to expatriates living abroad.

It’s one of the more challenging transition topics–figuring out how not just to work with foods and preparation in a foreign-language environment, but in learning how to prepare and cook meals in the first place.

Where There is no Whopper
Photo Credit: Rebecca Hale, National Geographic

More importantly, food and cuisine are absolutely integral to a communities’ culture, calendar, and identify. It is often so intertwined with the people of a given place and background that ‘to learn about their food is to learn about them.’

Expatriates learn about foods and cooking from their host-families, their neighbors, their colleagues, their food markets, and virtually everyone in their community at some point.

And then they practice, and they write it down.

They turn their notes into recipe cards–they trade thoughts and experiments of success and failure with other Volunteers (“this is how you make biscuits with no eggs–it tastes so close!”)

That’s a lot of meals.

And not only do they contain incredibly rich data about particular foods, recipes, and cuisines, but they also provide histories, vocabularies of food, and information about local practices and insights related to these dishes.

Some of this information is so unique to a place or a time that it exists nowhere else in the world.

And as technology has diffused into the expat experience, so too have some aspects of the cookbooks. Namely, the cookbooks have started to become digitized, and the collaborative nature of their input made more accessible by more Volunteers.

The moment

We are so close to being able to combine all of these cookbooks into a single place–a global database of recipes, nutrition information, and glossaries of useful information right at our fingertips. This is for Volunteers as much as it is the rest of the world.

This is as open a project as it can be, and truly belongs to everyone.

The challenge

The challenge is that while many of these collections of recipes have been digitized, many were built and updated by hand, are not all structured in the same way, and are sometimes duplicative.

Recipes Mobile Splash

Recipes Mobile Concept

The pitch

The goal of Global Recipes is to collect, organize, and share the collected recipes from as many expatriates as possible past and present.

Specifically, it includes these objectives:

  1. A digital library of recipes.
  2. An organized database of structured data from these cookbooks.
  3. A website to browse, search, add, and modify existing recipes and meta-data.
  4. An offline-ready app to use in the field for Volunteers (or anyone else for that matter).
  5. Possibly, a polished and edited cookbook available as HTML, PDF, and EPUB formats.

What we currently have

Global Recipes Web Interface Concept

Global Recipes Web Interface Concept.

Right now, I have a collection of around 53 cookbooks (all digital, though I know there are paper items out there!). They vary in length, but are on average 100 pages per cookbook, with the actual combined total of pages at ~6300.

The format of these are all different, but are mostly in a Word or PDF document format, structured as its own publication (i.e. not standardized across cookbooks).

Global Flash of Recipe Covers

Global Flash of Recipe Covers.