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Focus on flavor: Menu trends go global

Exploring the rise of African, Indian, Middle Eastern and Filipino cuisines

Diners’ interest in unique, new flavors is clear: Two-thirds of customers eat global fare at least once a month, and about a quarter (24%) eat it at least once a week, according to Technomic’s 2017 Flavor report. And in fact, 36% of consumers say they are more interested in trying ethnic flavors than they were a year ago, according to that same report.

This year, cuisines from Africa, India, the Middle East and the Philippines are trending on restaurant menus. Check out how these cuisines are being presented and how operators are working to incorporate new flavors in their dishes.

Diving deeper into regional cuisines

Exploring the growth of global cuisine means learning more about what’s being served. Chef Kit Kiefer, executive chef of R&D for Kent Precision Foods Group, points out that regional cuisine is overtaking the more traditional idea of different global cuisines.

Indian cuisine, he says, used to be “curry and all the regular dishes that you see at an Indian restaurant. But now, I think they’re focusing more on regional cuisines. Consumers are more interested in regional cuisines—Mussaman and Vindaloo.”

Mussaman curry gets its name from the Indian word for Muslim and starts with whole spices toasted in a cast-iron pan. Toasting the spices imparts a deeper, darker flavor that pairs well with heavier proteins and starchy vegetables. While full of flavor, it’s a milder curry.

Vindaloo, on the other hand, is a dish popular in the regions of Goa and Konkan as well as other parts of India. It is often regarded as a spicy, fiery dish—though isn’t necessarily the spiciest curry around.

While African food has been popular in the form of Ethiopian cuisine, other African countries’ cuisines are now emerging on menus—for instance, Moroccan food. For Ethopian food, hot and spicy berbere seasoning is crucial, but in Moroccan food, turmeric, saffron, paprika and white pepper are more prevalent than other spices. Also popular in Moroccan cooking is the tagine—a stew-like dish cooked in a clay or ceramic pot that has a conical lid.

Appealing to American palates

According to Technomic’s Flavor report, 32% of consumers say that they are hesitant to try ethnic foods because they are made with unfamiliar ingredients. To help make diners feel more at ease, chefs and operators tailor their offerings to the American palate, focusing less on total authenticity and more on ensuring each diner understands what each ingredient and flavor is. While consumers are willing to try new foods, it’s important that they feel comfortable, too.

Keifer says that some of the flavors are often dialed back a bit in order to appeal to American diners. “Pad Thai from Thailand is totally different over there—definitely spicier, definitely hotter. The curries in India, they vary, but the pickles, the flavors, they’re definitely more pungent.”

However, despite those differences, Kiefer says that more diners nowadays are interested in stepping outside of their comfort zones.

“The American palate is becoming more sophisticated and more interested in what’s going on in those other cuisines. They’re more willing to venture into the unknown,” Kiefer says.

Filipino cuisine appeals to many American diners because it’s often reminiscent of food truck/street-food dishes that consumers know. For instance, Kiefer says, “Everybody thinks about lumpia—the Philippines’ version of an eggroll.”

There are a few ways to help encourage diners to try these new menu ideas. One way is to include a picture of the new dish, as 20% of consumers say that not including a picture of menu item deters them from ordering it, according to Technomic’s Flavor report. It’s possible that including a picture could encourage them to try something new.

Another way to encourage ordering of a new dish is to offer it in a shareable or appetizer-sized plate—this smaller portion encourages the customer to try something new at a lower price point.

Finally, consider offering samples of dishes, perhaps as diners enter a restaurant. This small investment gives customers a taste of what’s to come, and having just one bite of a delicious appetizer or meal can leave them wanting more.

Global cuisines on the rise

Of the four trending cuisines—Middle Eastern, North African/Moroccan, Filipino and Indian—Kiefer says that Filipino and African are the ones to watch.

Need some inspiration? Some popular foods/flavors in these cuisines include:

  • North African/Moroccan: Turmeric, curry, cardamom, saffron.
  • Middle Eastern: Rose water, orange blossom water, mint, saffron.
  • Indian: Pickles (mango pickle, chili pickle), curry, chutneys.
  • Filipino: Adobo (a flavorful braising liquid), sour flavors (calamansi and lime), ube.

For operators who want to get in on the fun, perhaps the most important thing to remember is not to shy away from a cuisine’s flavors—Technomic’s Flavor report finds that 57% of consumers say that food tasting authentic is the most important factor when deciding where to visit for ethnic food and beverages.

This post is sponsored by Mrs. Dash Foodservice

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