When Alexa Andrzejewski traveled to Japan and Korea in 2009, she was rather hungry. It wasn’t one specific dish she had her heart and palette set on, however, but rather a roving buffet of local delicacies. Even with a meticulous itinerary and watery mouth in place, however, she hadn’t anticipated the sheer number of culinary surprises that lay in store. It was enough to inspire her to write a book that would serve as a field guide for edible adventurousness. But first she would have to conquer the overcrowded world of mobile apps.
The Foodspotting Field Guide is the culmination of a five-year journey, and one of the first books ever adapted from an app. Andrzejewski founded Foodspotting the year after her trip to Japan, in lieu of shopping around the book proposal she’d conceived. A few years later, the app had grown into such an undeniable force that the original idea of a book seemed almost look an afterthought–or, rather, a digestif.
“The more I shared the book idea back in 2009, the more I realized it would be a great app,” Andrzejewski says. “It would be one that let you not only learn about the dishes, but find out where to get them. Before we even launched Foodspotting, people were spreading the word about our private beta like wildfire.”
It turned out that food bloggers and casual fans alike wanted to know where they might spot rare fare such as Tteokbokki (finger-sized rice sticks in red sauce) and Okonomiyaki (savory pancake stuffed with mochi and meat and anything else, fried.) Foodspotting let its users browse photos of nearby dishes, look up their whereabouts, and leave rave reviews. (This last measure circumvents the negativity and amateur criticism of Yelp by emphasizing positivity.) By the time restaurant reservation giant Open Table purchased it for $10 million last January, Foodspotting had over 3 million dishes in circulation, with tens of thousands more added each month.
“From my perspective, with book publishing then and now, the author’s platform is a big concern,” says Kate McKean, the Howard Morhaim literary agent who brokered Foodspotting’s book deal. “Gaining readers and fans through an app, like other authors would through Twitter or a blog, was a genius idea.”
Once the deal was struck with Chronicle Books, all that was left was the task of turning an app into a book. Foodspotting’s then-Head of Community and Editor April Walters made sure to diversify across countries in finding 75 world-class dishes to include in the book, and describe each of them in a way that brings the accompanying images to life. Although the book lacks the tracking element of the app, it is meant to be a source of inspiration that lights a fire beneath eclectic eaters.
“The biggest challenge was narrowing it down to 75 dishes,” Andrzejewski says. “I’m sure people will still wonder why their country or favorite dish wasn’t included, but who knows, maybe this will just be the first of many books to come.”