Comfort food goes global
Carnitas, kung pao chicken, country-fried steak: Comfort food is an essential part of the global culinary lexicon, from Asia and Mexico to the American South.
In fact, the popularity of ethnic and American regional food in the United States is on the rise, thanks to both changing demographics and growing consumer demand for distinctive new menu concepts that offer authenticity and bold, spicy flavors.
According to proprietary research prepared by Technomic for Advance Pierre Foods, items such as teriyaki chicken, calzones, quesadillas, carnitas, tortas (the Mexican version of sandwiches), chicken fried steak and Asian beef are holding their own on mainstream menus, pleasing variety-seeking customers.
What’s more, consumers may be willing to pay a bit more for these globally inspired comfort dishes. Here are a few areas of focus for operators who want to make the world a smaller place.
Look to the East
Asia represents a large and diverse territory for exploring global comfort food, from familiar Chinese and Japanese favorites such as stir-frys and teriyaki to lesser-known fare from Korea and Southeast Asia.
Many Chinese and Japanese specialties have become almost mainstream, particularly when they integrate familiar proteins such as breaded chicken or sliced steak, with Asian ingredients such as rice or udon noodles, bok choy and soy- or miso-based marinades and sauces.
Blue C Sushi, a nine-unit contemporary Japanese restaurant concept, menus a Chicken Katsu Bowl. The dish combines a panko-crusted chicken cutlet with tonkatsu sauce, cabbage, edamame, pickled vegetables and nori flakes.
Thai, Vietnamese and Korean cuisines are other sources of menu inspiration, with comforting dishes such as pad Thai noodles, warming pho soups, and Korean-style barbecued and grilled meats showing up on menus.
South of the border
The growing popularity of Mexican street foods, including tacos, burritos and sandwich-like tortas, along with Tex-Mex favorites such as fajitas and quesadillas, means that more Americans are being introduced to south-of-the-border comfort foods.
The beauty part of many Mexican specialties is how versatile they are. Preparations such as carnitas (braised bits of pork), chicken tinga (spicy shredded chicken) and carne asada (marinated, grilled sliced beef) can be used as a filling or topping in a variety of different menu items, including tacos and taquitos, nachos, enchiladas, quesadillas and more.
This also speaks to the customization trend, allowing patrons to build their own meal experience from a variety of different proteins, vegetables and carriers.
Comfort here at home
Regional American comfort foods are no less inspiring—and gaining in popularity. Southern-style specialties are moving beyond their local roots, from Louisiana gumbo and jambalaya to craveable favorites including pulled pork, beef brisket and chicken-fried steak.
These down-home specialties take well to mix-and-match side dishes such as macaroni and cheese, potato salad, pickled beets and cheddar grits for a satisfyingly hearty plate of comfort. They’re also natural fits for twists on comfort classics, such as an Asian-inspired salad with panko-breaded steak or a crispy beef banh mi sandwich.
But there are other regional favorites that are also calling out for attention, including sandwiches such as the Philly Cheesesteak or the Kentucky hot brown (an open-face turkey sandwich amped up with sliced tomato and bacon, covered with cheesy Mornay sauce and broiled), Maryland Crab Cakes and the South’s spicy pimento cheese.
For more ways to offer elevated comfort classics on your menu, visit Advance Pierre here.