Have you ever heard of a website and cooking application called Cookpad? Even though I spend my entire waking life obsessing over food and writing about it, I hadn’t heard of it until I read this piece from The New York Times. But apparently we American home cooks have been missing out on a big resource that’s been right in front of us this entire time.
Cookpad, originally from Japan, is one of the largest cooking platforms in the world, attracting around 100 million visitors from 76 countries each month (compare that to Allrecipes, whose monthly visitor base is around 125 million per month from more than 200 countries). But it hasn’t been a big hit in the United States, which is why you may not have heard of it yet. It treats home cooking like a utility rather than something to be glamorized, and you won’t see any shiny influencers vying for top visibility on this platform.
I’m actually kicking myself for never having seen Cookpad. Notes from home cooks are the kind I trust the most. The kinds of tips and tricks I learned in a professional kitchen, like bashing vent holes in the top of an industrial-sized can of olive oil with the heel of a shitty kitchen knife (it gets oil pouring fast when you’re in a rush), have no place in my home kitchen. And try as I might, nothing that comes off my stovetop looks anything like the same glittery recipe I see being cooked on TV or TikTok by someone who is, without fail, far better looking than I am.
The New York Times piece talks to various users about what they like about the site. Vishali Passi, who lives in Castro Valley, California, grew up in Punjab, India. She found Cookpad via a Facebook ad and became interested in its regional Indian dishes, and then she was inspired to post her own recipes. (Now if I could only get my mom on this!) Areej Ismail, a Lebanese-American stay-at-home mother from the Pittsburgh area, uses the Arabic-language version to find and share recipes from Baissour, her home village. Google is useless. “I only find them on Cookpad,” she said.
“The question was how to make cooking fun, and not a chore,” says Aki Sano, who started the website in 1997 as the internet started booming. He wanted it to be an interactive experience for users, allowing them to search for recipes, upload their own, and provide feedback. It took five years for the site to get to one million users, and the company is currently valued at around $315 million.
But the userbase in the U.S. lags behind, even now, and so the American version is simpler than Japan’s. Google rarely pulls up results from it, which probably explains why I’d never even heard of it.
“America is a really hard region when it comes to cooking,” Mr. Sano said. “Less people cook.” The nation ranked close to the bottom in a 2020 survey Cookpad conducted with the analytics company Gallup to gauge the average number of meals eaten at home, by country.
Mr. Sano attributed this to Americans’ affinity for frozen meals and takeout, along with watching food television, which he said can become a substitute for actual cooking. Cookpad succeeds in countries where cooking is more of a necessity than a diversion, Mr. Sano said.
There’s a lot more to reveal about Cookpad, which seems like it’s been a secret hidden in plain sight. If you’re at all interested in global home cooking, check out the New York Times article to learn more about what makes the site tick and what you might have been missing out on this whole time.