Although globally inspired dishes and flavors have been influencing the industry for several years, consumers today still can’t get enough of these options on restaurant menus. According to Technomic's 2017 Flavor report, 62% of consumers say they purchase ethnic or ethnic-inspired foods from restaurants and other foodservice locations at least once a month. Meanwhile, nearly half of consumers say they consider ethnic flavors generally appealing or extremely appealing.
Additionally, that same report found the most appealing cuisines in 2018 include Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Spanish and Japanese. Likewise, nuanced flavors that come from specific regions within these culinary traditions are influencing some of the emerging trends in American restaurants and cafes.
Here’s a look at the next wave of ethnic food trends bursting onto the restaurant scene.
Food truck fusion hits restaurants
Handheld dishes that mash up international flavors with popular American classics are showing growth, due in large part to consumers’ enthusiasm for food trucks, which often feature these types of dishes. Asian-style egg crepes filled with American barbecued meats and coleslaw are one on-trend option; this fusion food, traditionally called jianbing, is one of China's most popular breakfast dishes.
For diners looking to try out trending Asian flavors, Szechuan or Sichuan food is on the rise. This spicy cuisine features bold flavors thanks to its reliance on garlic and chili peppers. One famous dish in Szechuan cuisine is mapo tofu, made with tofu, fermented black beans, a fermented bean-and-chili paste called douban and minced meat.
Latin American flavors are here to stay
American consumers also can't seem to get enough Latin and Central American food. In fact, Technomic’s Flavor report finds that Mexican food is American diners’ second most favorite cuisine, with 68% of consumers saying they find it to be appealing or extremely appealing. At all times of day, operators are turning to the versatility of Latin American flavors to satisfy adventurous diners.
Regional Mexican cuisines, such as Oaxacan food, are gaining traction in the restaurant world. Like Mexican food, Oaxacan recipes rely on staples such as corn, beans and chili peppers, but there’s greater variety in other ingredients and preparation styles. Some restaurants are offering varieties of mole dishes—Oaxacan cuisine is known for having more than 200 preparations of this complex sauce, flavored with an array of spices (and sometimes chocolate). Mole is typically served with meat, but whatever protein is being used, it’s important to remember that the sauce is the star of this dish.
Sauce it up
Beyond specific global cuisines, restaurant operators can look to sauces from around the world to inspire their menus. For instance, Technomic’s MenuMonitor finds that flavors on the up-and-up right now include Caribbean jerk, Greek tzatziki sauce, Thai curry, wasabi and Cajun sauce.
Without altering entire menus, operators can incorporate these trending flavors into dishes that are already on the menu—for instance, fried rice can be accompanied with Cajun-spiced shrimp for a twist, or steak bites can be offered with a wasabi aioli dipping sauce for a zesty kick.
Caribbean jerk chicken can be served with a side of beans and fried plantains—a blending of Latin American foods perfect for appealing to those looking for something that’s familiar yet new and exciting.
Embracing the trending global flavors of 2018 presents an opportunity for chefs and operators to differentiate themselves from competitors who stick only to tried-and-true favorites. This year, restaurants can stay ahead of the culinary curve by drawing inspiration from street foods and food trucks, menuing regional cuisines of perpetual favorites and creating fusion dishes to introduce new and trending global flavors.
This post is sponsored by Bush’s Best®