There was bread, there were kebabs, there was butter chicken and there was Chelsea

The year Google taught us how to cook

In this cursed annum, when that purest of joys – being fed by someone else – was briefly snatched away from us, we turned in desperation to our lord and saviour, the world wide web. 

It seems unfathomable now, but for 41 long days across March and April, we had to cook. Remember that? No dinners out, no takeaways, just the stark reality of one’s own culinary skills, or lack thereof. 

We hope never to return to those dark days (keep using the damn tracer app, people), but there exist constant reminders of what we went through. One such memento: Google and its plethora of data, which shows that New Zealand searches for “easy recipes” were at an all-time high in March, as we stared down the prospect of a level four lockdown. 

Furthermore, the just-released top trending searches of 2020 feature evidence aplenty that we spent much of the year trying to figure out how the heck to feed ourselves. 

Of the top 10 “how to…” searches, half are food-related – how to make bread, how to make naan bread, how to make self-raising flour, how to make pancakes and how to make buttermilk. Of the remaining five, three are depressingly Covid-related (how to make a face mask, how to make hand sanitiser and how to use Zoom). The others are “how to vote NZ” and – even more depressing than the Covid ones, but about as predictable as 2020 wasn’t – how to lose weight fast. 

Food also featured in the top “what is…” searches (what is buttermilk?); as well as the “why” searches, with “why were cornflakes invented? If you’re one of the many people wondering, my esteemed colleague and namesake Alice Webb-Liddall has covered that one here

So what were the top trending recipe-specific searches for 2020? They’re dear to my carb-loving heart: hot cross buns, scones, banana bread, bread, naan bread, banana cake, carrot cake, ciabatta and pancakes, with butter chicken the sole non-carby inclusion.

Bread, that most beloved of staples, featured so prominently that it’s worth breaking it down a little further. Did we go as nuts for sourdough as a certain podcast claimed? Well, “sourdough bread recipe” was at number four in the trending searches, behind “naan bread recipe”, “banana bread recipe” and “beer bread”, and in front of “bread and butter pudding”, “easy bread recipe”, “wholemeal bread recipe”, “soda bread”, “no yeast bread” and “fried bread”.

But let’s go back to beer bread for a second. New Zealand had the highest search interest for that term of any country in the world in 2020, according to Google. Why? I’d wager a freshly baked lockdown loaf that one woman is responsible for this curious phenomenon – a woman who happens to be among the top 10 most Googled New Zealand celebrities this year too. 

That woman is Chelsea Winter, whose beer bread, aka “lockdown loaf”, was baked, it would seem, by every man, woman and quite possibly their dog during the dystopian days of alert level four.

The fact naan was the most searched for bread-adjacent term, as well as the appearance of butter chicken amid the carb fest of the top recipe searches, hints at another strong theme of 2020: we missed takeaways. God, how we missed them. 

When we were finally allowed to order in, Google Maps searches for “takeaways” surged by 75%. Indian was the top takeaway variety hunted for, followed by Thai, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. The biggest surge from March to October went to kebabs, which, it must be said, are more a grab-on-a-night-out-in-between-bars foodstuff rather than a grab-on-your-way-home-after-work foodstuff. And even before full-blown lockdown, remember, kebab-adjacent shenanigans were few and far between, with the lingering threat of Covid hanging over our heads reducing the appeal of squeezing into a packed bar. 

So when we finally emerged, embracing the heady pre-resurgence vibes of alert level one, with a seemingly endless string of zero-case days lulling us into a blissfully ignorant false sense of security, we went out – and we drunkenly searched for kebabs, and remembered the times when we couldn’t.




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