Starters span the globe

stuffed bell peppers ethnic appetizers

Consumers will always seek out classic starters such as stuffed potato skins and spinach artichoke dip on appetizer menus, but the real opportunity for operators is in ethnic specialties and other global fare.

Appetizers and snacks are an ideal launching pad for globally inspired menu concepts. According to the Technomic’s 2015 Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report, 39% of survey respondents revealed that they would like restaurants to offer more appetizers with ethnic flavors and ingredients. When the question expanded to “new or unique flavor ingredients,” 51% of consumers said they were interested, including 62% of the influential 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

The menu items most respondents said they would order, as tracked by the Technomic report, include familiar Asian and Mexican favorites such as egg rolls and nachos, fried wontons and quesadillas. But the appearance on the list of lesser-known specialties such as ceviche and edamame reveals the larger possibilities for more creative global appetizers.

Some of the most exciting appetizer concepts are inspired by destinations as far away as the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and beyond. Vegetable specialties such as roasted beets with feta, tempura cauliflower and hummus are becoming mainstream. Seafood has gone beyond shrimp to embrace squid, octopus and various kinds of raw fish, from Italian crudo to South American tiradito.

Charcuterie and cheese from all over the world also are becoming mainstream as shareable appetizer samplers. Spreads, sauces and dips such as Provençale aioli and Mexican queso are presented with everything from frites to salt cod croquettes to seasonal fresh produce.

Other trending global appetizer inspirations include salt-and-pepper shrimp and shrimp toast; Greek and Middle Eastern dips such as baba ghanoush, tzatziki and taramasalata; and dumplings and dim sum.

And it’s not just authentic global recipes that are growing in popularity; it’s also the flavors and ingredients of the international pantry incorporated in more familiar dishes. In fact, ingredients such as Havarti cheese, sambal, and fish sauce were among the fastest-growing flavors on menus according to Technomic MenuMonitor data.

For example, an item such as kimchi tartar sauce doesn’t exist in Korea, but here in the United States, it could be used as a dip for fried mushrooms and zucchini. Sambal, a spicy Indonesian condiment, can be tossed with chicken wings for a new twist on this ever-popular finger food. Consumers are much more likely to try a new flavor in a relatively low-risk application, such as a shareable snack or appetizer, rather than in a full-priced entree.

Menu Sampler

Grilled Octopus with Cannellini Beans and Frisee
Taco Cowboy, Atlanta

Spiced Tempura Cauliflower
Isa’s Bistro, Asheville, N.C.

Chicken Samosas (crispy wrappers filled with spiced chicken, served with cilantro dipping sauce)
Cheesecake Factory, all locations

Black Bean Hummus, Pico de Gallo, Mariquita Scoops
Finka Table & Tap, Miami

Edamame Dumplings, Dashi, White Truffle Oil, Asian Herbs
True Food Kitchen, all locations

CP Frites, Korean Chili Spice, House Ketchup, Garlic Aioli
Central Provisions, Portland, Maine

Sriracha Shrimp (Sriracha spice and Sriracha chile-lime sauce)
Applebee’s Grill & Bar, all locations

This post is sponsored by Bush’s Best®


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