Global culinary trends you should know about
The food services industry is always changing, but never faster than during the COVID-19 crisis. Food has taken on an even greater importance – it can remind diners of the flavours from their home country or give them a taste of excitement while travel abroad is restricted. And in this challenging, innovative time, some key trends have come to the forefront.
The last few years have seen some interesting changes in the food scenes of Arabia. Indian and Pakistani foods are increasing in popularity and West African cooking is taking social media by storm. Meanwhile, cultures and flavours from East Asia are becoming more in demand. And Western cuisine is evolving beyond its usual fare. In this fast-moving environment, we want to help chefs who experiment so they can use these trends to create world-leading gastronomy.
Let’s talk South Asian cuisine
Indian and South Asian cuisine have long been popular in the GCC. Ask any chef and they’ll be able to recommend a local eatery or cafeteria that does fantastic food from this part of the world. However, we’re seeing a steady move towards South Asian cuisine in mainstream casual dining and fine dining. You only need to look to famous restaurants like Indego by Vineet in Dubai to understand its popularity. But as more diners turn to takeaways during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for Indian food in Arabia is as strong as ever. One restaurant in Dubai didn’t want customers to feel hesitant about eating their Indian meal with their hands, and embossed a hygiene message onto their rotis.
Feeling inspired to learn more about Indian cuisine? Check out our UFS Academy Chef Course on Indian Breads to find out how to make crowd-pleasing parathas and chapatis.
It’s not just Indian food that’s increasing in popularity – Pakistani food is also entering the spotlight. The search for the best Biryani in Dubai is a common subject amongst foodies in Saudi Arabia. Dishes that were once a go-to for students are now being featured in the best restaurants in the region. But it’s not just about importing the best South Asian flavours. It’s about food with surprising and progressive fusion twists. You can try dum cooking, the mouth-watering steaming approach that creates the juiciest meats. Or try the process of baghar, where spices are blended with oil. These techniques can be woven into your menus to elevate your food and capture the inspiring foods from South Asia.
Diners embrace East Asian flavours
One trend we see growing in popularity is the demand for East Asian flavours and cooking methods. A love for Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine is nothing new in this part of the world, but the number of expats from East Asia are inspiring restaurateurs to highlight foods they might be missing from their home countries. Often affordable, delivery-friendly and healthy, but still full of unusual flavours, they meet a sweet-spot in a market that wants both comfort food and something a bit different.
The trend has been helped along by foodshops like Westzone, which have a huge selection of Asian ingredients, and speciality supermarkets like We Mart.
Whether it’s street food or 5-star restaurant dishes, diners love the sweet, spicy, tangy flavours of East Asia. It will have chefs reaching for the Knorr oyster sauce. For fans of Desi-Chinese food, you can blend spices like cumin, turmeric and coriander seeds into your recipes.
And these cultures aren’t just finding their way onto plates. East Asian influences are even being seen in the dining experience. The Japanese idea of ‘omakase’ where the customer lets the chef choose what they should eat is having a moment. This concept is fun for customers but also good for your bottom line. It’s not just for chefs serving East Asian dishes. If your menu has a range of smaller dishes, like starters or side dishes, you can group these into an omakase menu, then let your waiting staff know that customers have the option to follow the chef’s recommendations on these dishes. It allows you to push foods that are in good supply or bold new dishes you want to share.
Western cuisine gets innovative
Western cuisine is ever popular in the GCC, and burgers and pizza still have their place – as do Mexican classics. But while comfort food remains, consumers are shying away from the calorie-heavy offerings and chefs are increasing their veggie offerings. High Joint, for example, has added a new vegetarian friendly burger called High Leaf, using a plant based patty with date mayo, as well as their meat free haloumi sandwich and vegetarian buffalo wings.
Traditional ‘fast food’ like burgers are being seen on fine-casual and fine-dining menus too. From homey to more polished versions of pies, pastas and stews, restaurants may be streamlining their menus to manage cashflow and inventories but are still retaining or even adding more familiar items. Good service is as important to diners are ever, perhaps one of the reasons why western-style self-service cafeterias haven’t grown in popularity. But diners find appeal in moderately priced, fast-service, casual establishments. If casual dining is your style, why not add a juice or smoothie bar? This area is popular already, and growing even faster thanks to an increased interest in fresh, healthy foods.
Global trends like these are important for the food industry because over time these broad movements make their way from global to local. Sometimes all it takes is something as simple as adding a new spice or cooking technique to give your dishes a global twist.
The fast-growing buzz around West African cuisine
2019 saw West African food burst onto the scene in UAE and beyond, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Unique flavour combinations, healthy ingredients and social-media worthy dishes have made this trend grow and grow. West African dishes show that healthy doesn’t have to mean boring. Dishes are often plant-based, but elevated with specialty spices like African nutmeg.
It’s no coincidence that Catfish owner Gbemi Giwa’s new restaurant The Gbemi’s Kitchen has been met with such enthusiasm in Dubai. We recommend dishes highlighting hero ingredients like jollof, amaranth and suya. For you chefs who love cooking with spices, you can push boundaries by cooking with scotch bonnet peppers – the spicy, fruity chilli flavour often found in West African cuisine. You may have to hunt some local markets or specialty African supermarkets (Fish Market in Sharjah, UAE is one such). Just make sure you get the right level of spicy heat right for your diners!