By Daniel During
Outlets will need to go back to basics to cater for a generation keen on local food and comforting dining experiences
As the year winds down to its final few weeks, it is time to review the past 12 months and have a look at where we are and where we seem to be going in terms of food and beverage trends. Most trends tend to be globalised, especially in modern, urban settings. Not all trends impact us in our region, but the ones below seem to have taken root locally, due to the demand of the international community, as well as the local resident’s exponential exposure to the west.
1. Health conscious — the anti-corporatisation of food
Health conscious today means much more than ‘diet conscious’; consumers are better informed about what they are eating and how it impacts their bodies and their children’s bodies. We have better information and certainly more of it, so we are able to make more informed choices. We think about where and how food is grown and raised, how it is processed and how it will impact our overall health. We know about the dangers of trans-fats, too much sugar, too many carbs, MSG etc, and we are wary of genetically modified foods, and more open to the organic food movement. I see it as a movement against what corporations feed us and a real push towards independence and responsibility for our decisions — a kind of corporate backlash.
2. Food pride — a kind of food nationalism
As a direct result of the first trend, we are rediscovering and cherishing our own food and traditions. It’s a kind of ‘food nationalism’. Starbucks is fine, but what happened to our neighbourhood cafés? Our own food is becoming more popular, and chefs are now looking closer to home and adding a slight bit of modernity to the traditional things we know and love.
3. Street food
The first two trends have also led to a renaissance of street food. But this is ‘Street Food Version 2.0’ — cleaner, less greasy, original, but not grungy. This is the food we bought off of carts and in stalls (and always worried about in the back of our minds). This also hearkens back to the health conscious trend — we can have our cake and eat it too! It’s easy, familiar, fast and appealing.
4. Social networking — meeting friends the old fashioned way
We love Facebook, but eating out and enjoying good food and good company in the non-virtual world is a way of connecting that is as old as time. Until Facebook delivers food, aromas and most importantly, soul, we will stick with our genuine, old fashioned way of socialising and networking at our nearest café, bar or restaurant. After all, we are in the Middle East and social gatherings and hospitality are just in our nature.
5. No fuss, no stress, no time
We are time-deprived and increasingly stressed. We have little time to cook at home and we don’t want to miss out on socialising. Dining out becomes a commodity that fulfils the need to feed ourselves while addressing the social aspect too. But we don’t want our dining experience to be laborious or difficult. We want the dining experience to be relaxed, fun and unfussy. Who needs three waiters and a battery of sommeliers when you have great food and good company?
6. The democratisation of dining
We don’t want food that is “encrusted” or “bejeweled”; just give us good, simple, honest food with a dash of originality and fun — and please don’t take yourselves too seriously. We are globalised and we know what to expect from our dinner. Food snobbery and elitism is not for the new generation of foodies. Give us good quality, good value and impress us with friendly service and a good dose of ingenuity.
7. Comfort in tying times
Chefs are bringing back the comforts of childhood in a slightly more grown up way. We live in uncertain times and, as such, we have a real need to feel warm and safe. Food can be nostalgic and comforting and we want that rush we felt in our grandmother’s kitchen, while she was baking and roasting the most delicious things imaginable.
Daniel During is principal and managing director of Thomas Klein International, the Dubai-based food and beverage consultancy company operating from Dubai since 2001.