Once upon a time, you’d find foodie inspiration from a cookbook or TV chef. But now Tiktok and Instagram are feeding our growing appetite for delicious dinners. What makes a recipe go viral in 2021?
If you’re old enough to remember when supermarkets ran out of cranberries after Delia Smith used them in a duck dish on TV in 1995, or when Yotam Ottolenghi sparked a run on sumac and za’atar in 2008, then chances are that you get most of your recipes from cookbooks or television chefs.
Nigella Lawson’s latest book, Cook, Eat, Repeat and its accompanying television series offered just the comfort we all need in lockdown, and in recent weeks it seems as if every second person is making her chicken with orzo (highly recommended).
The beauty of the recipe is its simplicity — the flavour reward far greater than the effort required to achieve it — but even this gem seems complex compared to the latest recipe to go viral, baked feta and tomato pasta, which, unless you live under a stone, you will a) have eaten in the last week and b) know has proved so popular that is had led to a national shortage of feta in Finland. The pasta dish first appeared on Cooking With Ayeh on TikTok, where most recipes are delivered in 15 seconds.
Emily Stafford (16) is in fifth year and says that watching recipe videos on TikTok during her free time is relieving the boredom of lockdown.
Emily’s mum, Orla Broderick, is a food writer and stylist who works in television (she’s responsible for the meals on Operation Transformation) and with chefs including Neven Maguire and Donal Skehan.
“While food is the beating pulse in our house, how Emily engages is fascinating’, says Orla. “If I show her something on my phone, she wants to know how long it is before she’ll watch it; it has to be snappy.”
“Mum is really involved in food and I love it too,” says Emily, “but I’d never take a cookbook down and look for a recipe and neither would any of my friends. People my age don’t really know about chefs, we are looking more for dishes than for chefs.
“It’s much easier to find what you like on TikTok than it is on Instagram. I love how easy it is to like and follow pages and that there are interesting dishes from more cultures than you’d find in a cookbook.
“The speed is why it’s so good. You can just go on TikTok and within a couple of minutes you’ll find 10 yummy things to make with just a few ingredients. If I see a recipe I like the look of and we have the ingredients in the house, which we often would, I do it straight away. I think the fact that it’s visual really helps, it makes it easier and less intimidating than reading a recipe.”
Emily has a number of favourite TikTokers.
“My absolute favourite is @mxriyum and I love @foodies too; @collegechefron is great — he does everything on a budget. I also like @poppycooks [the account of Polly O’Toole, a Michelin-trained chef making food ‘easy frickin peasy’] and @fitwaffle, who does amazing desserts.”
Right now, Emily says she is addicted to the folding wrap, another viral hit.
“It’s brilliant, you can just change the toppings and make it in five minutes; I came across a flatbread version with mozzarella and pesto that I’m going to make for lunch tomorrow. I also love the chicken quesabirria tacos, which I am seeing a lot.”
Not every recipe Emily sees on TikTok appeals. “I saw someone make the feta pasta with strawberries instead of tomatoes,” she says. “I’m not sure about that.”
Shannen Keane of the Diva Boutique Bakery in Ballinspittle, Co Cork, says she is always up for trying recipes that go viral for the simple reason that they work.
“I follow a lot of people on Instagram but I get most of my recipes from @dianemorrisey — she is prolific, she has six kids and is cooking every day. She tries all the recipes that are out there. I’ve done the feta tomato pasta, the one-pot pasta, many sheet pan dinners, the cookies, the stew... I’ve done them all, sometimes with tweaks; I added roasted red peppers to the feta pasta and more spices to the stew.
“The key to the ones that work is their simplicity, everyone can do them. I’m always amazed at how easy they are. For lots of people anything with five ingredients or less, or that can be done in 15 minutes or less, is a winner — they want good, not technical! It’s not that the recipes are necessarily new or particularly innovative — fridge-raider ‘slice and bake’ cookies have been around for decades, but Alison Roman did them slightly differently and they took off.”
Although no Irish person has yet broken the internet with a recipe, Fifi Heather of @fifisfoodblogdublin reckons the one to watch is Guy Sinnott (@guysinnott) on Instagram.
“He shares brilliant easy-to-follow recipe videos on his Instagram every week,” says Fifi. “I’ve made and shared a number of his pasta dishes, such as carbonara and aglio olio, and they have become a regular dinner staple. His recipes are generally quite straightforward, so I reckon if anyone’s recipes from Ireland will go viral, it will be his.”
Esme Dunne, a hospital doctor in Dublin, says she finds most of her recipes through Instagram.
“Amongst the people I follow are Milli Taylor, @millitaylor, who has an amazing recipe for BBBB [brown butter banana bread], pastry chef Ravneet Gill, @ravneeteats, whose cookie recipe is brilliant, and Thomas Straker, @thomas_straker, who gives great tutorials on everything from cacio e pepe to chimichurri.”
Patrick Hanlon and Russell Alford are the GastroGays and although they’ve acquired 15,000 new followers across their social media platforms over the past year, they say that the consistent daily stats on their website are the most important indicator of how their content is being received.
“Sharing food content is our bread and butter, so we take it seriously,” they say. “In the seven or eight years we’ve been sharing recipes online, the lion’s share of our hits have consistently come from Google searches.
“In devising recipes, we don’t really pander to trends or popular ingredients — we usually focus on what appeals best to us, and then hope it resonates with our audience.”
Over the past year, their biggest hit has been with a recipe for traditional batch bread.
Patrick and Russell only joined Instagram four or five years after they started their website, and they say they are not early adopters of most social media platforms, preferring to sit back and get a feel for things before diving in and producing content.
“We haven’t succumbed to TikTok yet,” they say, “but never say never: this game is summed up by ‘diversify or die’ — you’ve got to keep on top of the fast pace, while not relying solely on one social media platform.”
1 The stew: Alison Roman’s chickpea and coconut stew is suitable for everyone, including vegans (@alisonroman)
2 The cookies: Another recipe from Alison Roman, these seasalt-edged chocolate chunk cookies are the business
3 Batch loaf: Traditional Irish batch bread recipe from Irish food bloggers Patrick Hanlon and Russell Alford, aka The GastroGays (@gastrogays)
4 Baked feta tomato pasta: Dinner without hassle, all the work is done in the oven, just add cooked pasta
5 Dalgona coffee: Originating in Korea, a glass of milk (dairy or otherwise) topped with a creamy blend of instant coffee, sugar and hot water
6 Tortilla wrap hack: Cut a slit from one edge into the centre of a tortilla, fill each quarter with a different topping or ingredient, then fold each quarter onto the next until you have a layered wrap to cook in a sandwich maker or on the hob
7 Quesabirria tacos: Touted as the ultimate hangover food, a traditional Mexican recipe made with goat has been adapted to use different meats with the cheese- and meat-filled tacos dipped into the meaty cooking juices
8 Brown butter banana bread (BBBB): The baking cliché of lockdown 2020 gets more deliciously decadent in Milli Taylor’s recipe (@millitaylor)