Authentic recipes of homemade meals that are rarely tasted at Japanese restaurants are a subject of interest to many outsiders.
For those who want to know what’s cooked daily in the kitchens of ordinary Japanese households and even want to know how to cook them and learn what exotic ingredients are used, a powerful tool has been launched that will cater to their curiosity.
Cookpad, Japan’s most popular recipe-sharing website with 20 million monthly unique users, has just launched an English version, with an initial 1,500 selected recipes introduced on the site (en.cookpad.com)
The website still looks like a prototype with limited functions, but the operator is now working on translating popular recipes posted on the original Japanese website by its users. The firm’s plan at the moment is to upload a whopping 30,000 different recipes in English.
And the stock seems almost unlimited. Launched in 1998, Cookpad now boasts 1.5 million recipes, which are rated by millions of ordinary Japanese users regularly.
“You can find here ‘real’ homemade meals that are actually cooked and eaten at home,” Jun Kaneko, who heads the English-version project at Cookpad Inc., said during a recent interview at the firm’s head office in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.
The English-language Cookpad project began as a way for the company to diversify its operations by launching a number of food-related services, such as fresh vegetable delivery, according to Kaneko.
The firm saw an opportunity to launch an English version of Cookpad, realizing that even though more and more people overseas are becoming interested in Japanese food, information about what kinds of dishes actually appear on dinner tables in Japan is still not well known, he explained.
Indeed, although there are many published Japanese cookbooks, they tend to focus more on traditional recipes prepared by professionals. But Kaneko pointed out that recipes on Cookpad are all written and posted by ordinary Japanese home cooks.
In the 15 years since its launch, Cookpad has become a household name, especially among the young. The company claims 80 to 90 percent of all Japanese women in their 20s and 30s have used the website, and more than 1 million people now have paid the premium membership fee of ¥294.
On the Japanese website, members upload their home-meal recipes with several photos and comments, which can be viewed basically for free. Other Cookpad members can add comments after actually trying it out. Every day the site’s operator picks recipes recommended by more than 10 users and introduces them on the top page.
Particularly popular recipes recommended by more than 1,000 users are featured in the “Hall of Fame” category, which helps users spot good and/or easy-to-make recipes for everyday meals.
The English version has yet to feature such special functions. Neither does the site have some sections to explain basic ingredients or techniques unique to Japanese cooking, such as what “dashi” (basic soup stock) is and how to make it.
In fact, only in its fifth month of development, the company has opened the English website to the public to get feedback to find out what users really need, Kaneko said.
Should users of the English site consider it necessary, the firm may add more explanations of such unique ingredients that might be useful for non-Japanese cooks in the future, he added.
But for now, the priority is to increase the number of translated recipes so that international users can have a wide variety of meals to try out, Kaneko said.
Indeed, Cookpad — both the original Japanese and English sites — look very inclusive.
This reflects the Westernized dietary habits of Japanese, who now prefer serving, for example, Italian or other Western dishes at home from time to time.
The English site now has categories by main ingredients, such as meat, fish and salad. For those who are not familiar with Japanese home-style cooking, it may not be easy to tell which ones are “pure” Japanese meals.
Still, Kaneko says they are all no doubt “Japanese” homemade meals.
One target of the English Cookpad are those connected to both Japanese and non-Japanese communities and have a passion for cooking, said Kaneko, who is himself married to a Briton whose parents live in the United Kingdom.
Speaking from experience, Kaneko said people of an international background are often asked how to cook Japanese meals and translate recipes into English.
“I don’t think there has been a website or service for such people,” he said.