The list of food trends reflects an expanding American palate in search of authenticity and interesting flavors and textures. Common themes in all of these trends are a strong interest in traditional methods and ethnic cuisines, coupled with a little nostalgia. Here are a handful of the key trends we’ve seen thus far in 2017.
Asian Noodle Dishes
Ramen and pho are still enjoying their moment in the spotlight, but plenty of other Asian noodle dishes that have been waiting in the wings are now sharing time on the stage. Bowls of fat, slippery udon noodles have started to appear on Instagram and on menus with regularity. So has the Korean dish jjampong, a spicy soup served with a nest of chewy wheat noodles under a mix of seafood and vegetables, and curry laksa, a Malaysian noodle dish made with a pungent, unctuous curry broth. Mee goreng, japchae, zha jiang mien, bún...the delicious list goes on.
With this growing interest in fermented foods comes charcuterie (or salumi, as it’s called in Italy), cured meats that includes more familiar items such as salami and prosciutto and increasingly popular ones such as lardo and coppa. Enthusiasts can find more and more restaurants offering house-made charcuterie and are also trying their hand at this traditional preservation method at home. The category also includes fresh items that can round out a killer meat and cheese board—mouthwatering items such as patés, terrines, and rilletes that go great with crusty bread and a little mustard. Speaking of mustard...
Fermented Foods (and Drinks)
The many nutritional benefits of fermented foods seems to be a catalyst for otherwise wary American diners to branch out a little. While more common fermented items such as vinegar, cheese, beer, and wine have long been popular, dishes such as kimchi, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), kefir, and miso had been somewhat relegated to the ethnic groups that brought them to America. In recent years, this has changed as chefs and home cooks discover and make use of their distinct flavors.
Fermented ingredients can sometimes hide in our favorite dishes, as with the Indian dosa, whose delicious crepe is made from a mixture of fermented rice and lentils. Beverages such as kombucha and kvass, a drink made of fermented beets, have also become more mainstream.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the ketchup, mustard, and mayo of our youth, but the list of condiments to keep in the fridge and pantry has grown along with the modern American palate. The hot sauce category alone is almost overwhelming with choice. Then there are the mashups, where Sriracha might get mixed with ketchup to add a little kick to your burgers and dogs.
Even the three standards are being retouched by gourmet food product companies who are putting fancy (and often healthier) twists on them: Wilkin & Son’s organic ketchup, mustard with crushed rosemary from Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen, and Sir Kensington’s avocado mayo, to name a few.
Condiments that are worth keeping around to add a quick punch to your meals: sambal oelek, harissa, hoisin, fish sauce, ponzu, mirin, tahini, aged balsamic vinegar, and pomegranate molasses. Does sorghum count as condiment? We’d add that to the list, too.
Cooking with Fire
It’s likely that the popular show, The Mind of a Chef and Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked, have helped contribute to a growing obsession with cooking over an open flame. A hot oven and a gas grill can go a long way toward a great meal, but there is something about the flavor of meats (and vegetables, and fish, and nuts) when they are infused with smoke and are affected by the Maillard reaction and/or caramelization. Plus, it offers a connection to a more primal way of preparing the foods that we love.
It might be surprising to know that oysters were once a big part of the American diet for those who lived along the coast in cities like New York and Baltimore. So big, in fact, that their popularity led to (sometimes violent) skirmishes between oystermen protecting their turf. When early settlers arrived, they found American waters teeming with oysters, some over a foot long. Pollution, disease, and heavy-handed harvesting eventually led to the collapse of oyster populations in many areas. The oyster’s popularity waned.
Americans have loved raw fish in the form sushi for a while now, so it’s only natural that this Hawaiian dish has taken hold. Fast-casual restaurant chains and food trucks have sprung up nationwide to offer their versions of what started out as a snack for hungry fishermen.
In its simplest form, poke consists of sliced raw fish seasoned with soy sauce or salt, onion, and maybe a little sesame oil or seaweed. Chefs and home cooks might also dabble with adding fresh ginger, sesame seed, fish roe, or furikake, a popular Japanese condiment. Poke is most commonly served with tuna, though octopus and other fish such as salmon are also popular choices.
The demand for a greater understanding of how our food is sourced and prepared continues to be a part of the conversation, enough that this may cease to be a trend and instead become the new normal. Discussions on growing practices at the farmer’s market, changes in labeling, and green packaging are all evidence of the consumer’s desire to eat good-tasting food that is also good for the body and the planet.
Old is New Again
Perhaps a counterpoint to some of these other trends is a return to dishes that many of us loved (or sometimes didn’t) in our childhood. Dishes such as beef stroganoff, pot pies, and tuna casserole are getting a makeover. Where recipes previously called for time-saving measures—think canned soup—or cheap ingredients, chefs and cooks are taking the time and spending a little bit more money to make these nostalgia-inducing dishes from scratch. The results are delicious, sometimes more decadent, and sometimes more nutritious. Just think of all the places where you can now get a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup as evidence of this trend.