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Crave: local food app reveals where the good eats are

Charles Chong created ‘Crave’ to help solve the nagging problem of where and what to eat. (Afizi Ismail @ FMT Lifestyle)

PETALING JAYA- There are pros and cons of living in a multicultural country like Malaysia. And not surprisingly, most of them have something to do with food.

Here’s an example, pro: too many dizzyingly delicious options when choosing one’s meal. And con: deciding which one of them to go for!

Plagued by this dilemma for far too long, Charles Chong decided to take matters into his own hands and developed a food app called “Crave”.

“It’s basically Instagram, but for food,” he told FMT Lifestyle before the social media food app’s launch on Nov 11.

Chong stressed that the AI-powered “Crave” is not a food delivery service as there are many of those in the country already.

What he’s aiming for, rather, is for “Crave” to be the go-to app for every hungry person out there who’s undecided about where to fill their bellies come meal time.

So, how does it work exactly?

Once the app is opened, the user is greeted with a home screen that recommends user-trending restaurants and dishes near them based on their food preferences.

Meeting time at Crave: which restaurant to try next? (Afizi Ismail @ FMT Lifestyle)

“We don’t conform to the normal five-star rating system, rather we use an alternative one called ‘cravings’, where our users can click on which dish they’re craving at that moment.”

Chong said the app builds a model based on users’ preferences. So every recommendation is unique.

At the moment, “Crave” lists about 12,000 restaurants in Malaysia categorised by cuisine – Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Malay and more.

Other than that, a user can filter their food choices by taste, be it savoury, sweet, sour, spicy or bitter.

Once you’ve decided on what to eat, “Crave” is integrated with navigation apps, such as Waze and Maps, and will help you navigate to the eatery of your choice.

After that, feel free to post your food pictures on the app so that other users can check it out too!

The proposed home page and map of the soon-to-be-launched food app called ‘Crave’. (Charles Chong pics)

The 27-year-old said the idea actually came to him one day back in 2021.

“I was driving and as usual, thinking about what to eat and it popped into my head: how good would it be to have an app that can suggest to me where to go?”

As the idea matured, Chong decided to put his plan into motion.

According to him, the research and development phase was particularly difficult, as there were three main objectives the AI had to achieve in order for the app to work.

“First, it needs to be able to classify the food pictures and categorise them accordingly; second, recommending what you’d like based on your previous choices and activities; and lastly, have the ability to split the foreground and background in the photo to recognise the food better.

“Since it’s a picture-based food app, it needs to be very efficient in singling out non-food pictures,” he added.

Filter your food choices on the app based on your preference of cuisine or taste. (Charles Chong pics)

As expected, the project underwent multiple changes during the development phase as Chong’s objective was to make it as user-friendly as possible, from the trending map down to the navigation wheel.

“If I can’t imagine myself using it, then why would other people want to?”

Hence, putting together his team was one of the most challenging aspects of the app, a process which took Chong almost two years.

“I needed an AI expert, a good developer, an app tester and a creative director for it to work. Luckily, I have some really good friends who were willing to help.

“I won’t call myself a full-blown foodie, but at the end of the day, I’ll just be happy to know that I helped you, in some way, to solve your food-themed dilemmas,” he said, smiling.

Head to Crave’s website for more information.