5 ways operators are innovating on ethnic sandwiches

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Global influences and ethnic mash-ups have skyrocketed in popularity over the past several years while portable handhelds remain a perennial favorite of consumers. The intersection of these two demands has resulted in expansion of ethnic sandwiches on menus.

According to Technomic’s 2017 Flavor report, 65% of consumers say they like trying new flavors from time to time, and 55% say they’d be likely or extremely likely to try new flavors on sandwiches. Offering innovative takes on ethnic sandwiches is a great way to attract the business of these diners.

Popular ethnic sandwich choices and how operators are innovating

Menuing unique twists on popular ethnic sandwiches doesn’t have to mean revamping the whole menu. Rather, it can be as simple as swapping out one element—the bread, the protein, the toppings—or adding an unexpected ingredient or condiment. And to attract the 73% of consumers who say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers new flavors, according to Technomic’s Flavor report, operators can’t go wrong with these options.

 See how operators are evolving their ethnic sandwich offerings with some simple steps meant to attract new diners.

Expanding protein options: Vietnam’s banh mi, which features meats, pickled vegetables and herbs stacked high on crispy French bread, is typically served up with pork as its main protein, but can also be served with beef, turkey, shrimp, tofu or any number of other vegetarian options. For instance, at Ba Le in Chicago, the Vegan Tofu Eggplant & Mango banh mi comes with all the traditional trimmings, including cilantro, pickled daikon and carrot, plus a sweet mango sauce. Other options offered include a slow-grilled sliced honey sausage banh mi, topped with peanut sauce and scallions, and a sirloin steak banh mi topped with onions and lemon fish sauce.

Veganizing: Coming from Turkey, the doner kebab is similar to a gyro and is often made with lamb cut from an inverted cone on a rotisserie. It’s usually topped with veggies such as tomato, lettuce, onion with sumac, and pickled or fresh cucumber, making it a refreshing and indulgent option. At Wursthall in San Mateo, Calif., though, vegan diners delight in the option to order a vegan kebab, made with meat-free doner kebab, vegan garlic sauce, house pickles and sumac on Turkish bread.

Swapping proteins: Arepas from Venezuela and Colombia can be enjoyed during any daypart. These corn-cake sandwiches are stuffed with flavorful ingredients such as cheese, steak and more, but at Healthy Route 66, a restaurant with three locations in Miami and Coral Gables, Fla., diners can choose the Turkey Arepa, stuffed with turkey, ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato.

Exploring condiments: Australia may not be known for any specific ethnic sandwich, but the country is known for its acquired-tastes-only spread, Vegemite. Slathered on bread or blended into mayonnaise to create a Vegemite aioli, it’s the perfect accompaniment for a grilled cheese sandwich—or any other sandwich that could use a sharp kick. Scofflaw, a cocktail bar in Chicago, notably served the salty, umami-rich spread on a “cheese toastie”—a grilled cheese with tomato, avocado and caramelized onions on sourdough bread.

Breaking out new breads: The Cuban sandwich is a nearly perfect meal—piled high with ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread. It’s also been served up with turkey instead of traditional pork (The Matador Room in Miami, Fla., serves it this way). But switching up the bread could be the next way to attract diners to this savory sandwich. The Medianoche sandwich, as it’s called when prepared this way, replaces the crusty Cuban bread with a soft, sweet egg dough similar to challah bread.

Updating and innovating ethnic sandwiches is a great way to get diners excited about the menu. Blending familiar formats and flavors they know and love with new ingredients, interesting sauces and more keeps things fresh and keeps customers coming back for more.

This post is sponsored by Butterball Foodservice