West Coast America
The colour purple
While Pantone just released its colour of the year (Living Coral), in food, it would have to be purple. Ube purple.
The Instagram-ability of purple food is certainly a driver in its popularity, but Filipinos have been enjoying ube (purple yam) for generations. You’ll see ube in Filipino brunch spots (ube waffles!) and as a violet filling in croissants, while others use ube to colour bread or brioche.
The famous Mr. Holmes Bakehouse has used it to make ube-filled puffs. There are ube lattes, ube macarons, ube doughnuts, ube cheesecake custard popsicles, and, while it has been a famous flavour at San Francisco’s Mitchell’s Ice Cream for years, ube is now appearing in milkshakes, too.
Restaurants are also having fun with purple potatoes, from savoury to sweets, from cake to pastries.
It’s not pizza, it’s pinsa
San Francisco’s Montesacro was the first place in the United States to offer pinsa, a modern spin on an ancient style of Roman flatbread. The dough is made with a combination of soy, rice, and wheat flour (imported from Rome), making for a lighter and crisper style of crust – one that is also easier to digest.
Typically made into an oval shape, pinsa is now the speciality at four places in San Francisco, while Montesacro is opening a second location in Portland. There’s also a pinseria in New York: Camillo.
We see you, katsu
The beloved Japanese breaded pork cutlet sandwich, with a dab of tonkatsu sauce and shredded cabbage, nestled into soft Japanese milk bread and served in a little box, has captivated the attention of diners and chefs alike.
While San Francisco’s Stonemill Matcha makes a traditional sando with all house-made ingredients, there are also versions popping up all over the US with fried chicken, wagyu beef (like at Katsu Sando in LA), or even decadent A5 (the highest rating for steak), sold everywhere from New York’s Don Wagyu ($80) to Houston’s B&B Butchers & Restaurant ($120).
It doesn’t have to be all about pricey meat, however. Konbi in LA is known for its bright egg salad sando, served katsu-style. This sandwich format is as photogenic as it is delicious, so expect to see many more versions in 2019.
Plant-based dining choices – and cauliflower is in charge!
San Francisco chefs have been happily showcasing vegetables for years, and recently they’re doing clever things to elevate humble cauliflower to make it a front-and-centre dish (Rich Table does a rotisserie version, topped with beet tahini, while the Indian Ritu does whole cauliflower in the tandoori oven). And then there’s cauliflower pizza crust for the gluten-free set.
The successful rise of the plant-based Impossible Burger has also been interesting to watch: not only do top SF chefs embrace it enough to put the burger on their menus, but it’s now available at fast-casual establishments all over the Bay Area (and United States). Restaurants are using the Impossible ‘meat’ on pizza, on fries, in tacos, and Barbacco Eno Trattoria uses it for a version of their meatballs. (Some places even top it with cashew cream to create a vegan burger or taco with a “cheesy” topping.) The Impossible Burger also just secured halal certification and has recently been designated as kosher, which will continue to extend the company’s reach.
And now Just, Inc. (formerly Hampton Creek) is developing “cultured meat” in the lab – scientists are hard at work creating chicken and wagyu beef. Maybe we’ll see some ‘wagyu’ katsu sandwiches in a couple years?
// Marcia Gagliardi is a freelance writer, consultant, event host, and founder of the tablehopper column, covering the San Francisco (and international) food circuit like a restaurant P.I. Discover more: @tablehopper.
Salted Duck Egg
Salted duck eggs have been a staple of Chinese cuisine for centuries, stuffed into cifantuan (glutinous rice balls) for breakfast, chopped up inside xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) or centred in moon cakes during Mid-Autumn Festival to represent the full lunar event. A stall in Taipei’s Ningxia Night Market serving taro balls stuffed with salted yolks recently won a Bib Gourmand from Michelin.
But generations of young Chinese chefs trained in Western cooking techniques are fusing these brined duck eggs with new ingredients. Around mainland China and Taiwan, you can sample the umami-bomb eggs swirled into addictive sweet-savoury Italian gelato, creamed into a sauce to top sausages or whole yolks added to the air pocket of a Cantonese bubble waffle. You can even get salted duck egg yolk in your bubble tea.
And the hottest snack in China? Singapore’s famous salted duck egg yolk fish skins are so popular on Taobao (the Amazon of China – but bigger and faster) that knock-offs are more common than the original.
Get it delivered
Walk on to any street here and you’ll be able to see a delivery man in every direction you look. The trend has become so widespread that the uniforms of the delivery boys garner online fetish communities.
Convenience is key in China’s major cities, where you can use an app to order literally anything to be delivered in well less than an hour in China. This year food delivery company Meituan had a US$4.4bn IPO on the Hong Kong stock exchange, and Ele.me is close on its heels. They are part of Alibaba and Tencent’s ‘New Retail’ strategy, which integrates online and offline experiences, like grocery shopping.
Dishes fresh from your favourite restaurant, the contents of entire grocery stores, bottles of European wine (chilled to the temperature at which it’s meant to be consumed, of course) or just that tupperware you left at your friend’s dinner party the night before are all just a click away. Most arrive in 30 minutes or less and almost all are subsidised through hongbao (red envelopes of digital cash) and coupons. The delivery war means consumers win.
Robots in the kitchen
Are noodles still ‘hand-sliced’ if the hand holding the knife belongs to a robot? This pseudo-philosophical debate spurred by a real robot in Beijing is now passé, as robots take over whole kitchens (and dining rooms).
Haidilao (the largest hot pot chain with stores worldwide) and Panasonic teamed up this year in Beijing to create a ‘smart’ hot pot kitchen, where all of the meat, vegetables and soup bases are prepped and delivered based on orders made by iPad in the dining room. A live-stream of the row of robot arms is beamed into the dining room for guests’ viewing pleasure, and robot waiters deliver the food to the table and clear up finished trays. Even the hob is ‘smart,’ measuring how high the heat should be based on the weight of the hot pot, helping cut electricity costs. No word yet on if Panasonic is developing a robot who can achieve the legendary noodle-dancing technique of the remaining live waiters.
And though this is the most fully thought out version of the robot trend, we’re seeing robot butlers in serviced apartments and cocktails shaken to order by robot arms. Expect more think pieces on the robot revolution from China over the next year.
High-end hot pot
While Haidilao is cutting costs by upping the tech factor, hot pot in general is getting fancy. When Meituan-Dianping debuted its Black Pearl awards this year – in part a response to the backlash to the underwhelming Michelin stars that offended many local diners and chefs by ignoring mainland Chinese restaurants – the accolades given to high-end hot pot restaurants kick-started hours-long queues for fancy soup bases and premium ingredients. The average spend per person at a place like this? Upwards of GBP65. This is not your typical hot pot experience.
New trendy (and pricey) soup bases, from white pepper pig stomach and chicken broth, to lobster, tomato and oxtail soup, are all the rage. When it comes to what you should dip, expect paper-thin slices of Japanese and Australian M9 wagyu ribeye and Australian abalone alongside upgraded classics like shrimp balls made from Pacific tiger prawns and wild mushrooms flown in from Yunnan (a Chinese province renowned for its fungi).
Tea goes beyond bubble (and bubble goes beyond tea)
The new bubble tea is cheese tea. If you think there’s no way an iced tea layered with a thick head of foamy cream cheese is coming to a store near you soon, think again. If it can go viral in a country where 80% of the population has some degree of lactose intolerance, it can win the West. Pioneers of the cheese tea sensation like Hey Tea, Happy Lemon, and Gong Cha have already expanded internationally, and the movement is also exploring coffee as a base. Starbucks’ holiday drink in China? A “snowy” cheese latte.
But don’t give up on bubble tea’s boba just yet. The little tapioca pearl balls have swum right out of the drink menu and into the food menu this year. Hey Tea is serving a boba ice cream, and Happy Lemon sandwiches together two slices of bread with milk tea sauce and boba pearls. There’s even a boba pizza making the rounds on messaging app WeChat’s moments, but that sweet-savoury combination probably crossed a red line that we didn’t even know we had.
// Jamie Barys is the co-founder of UnTour Food Tours, China's top-ranked food tour operator. Whether she’s exploring China's hidden hole-in-the-wall restaurants or sneaking back into kitchens to snag behind-the-scenes recipes, she's always hungry for more. Jamie has been living (and eating) in China since 2007.
Spotlight on micro ecosystems
Top Latin American chefs made the most of micro ecosystems to create regional cuisine within their respective countries in 2018. This identities concept is set to grow: Peru’s Virgilio Martinez opened MIL this year, creating a menu based on products only grown in the altitudinous Sacred Valley ecosystem, and by the end of 2019, he will have opened a restaurant focusing only on Amazonian ingredients near Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon.
After transferring his Buenos Aires restaurant to Mendoza for a six-week pop-up, German Martitegui will repeat the Tegui SuperUco experience from late February 2019 onwards, recreating an exclusively Mendoza tasting menu using ingredients and adapting regional recipes. There’s already talk of rolling the project out to a different province in 2020.
Weekly pop-up Proyecto Caribe has finally become Cele, a restaurant with a fixed abode in Cartagena, Colombia. Eating produce sourced from Colombia’s Caribbean region and used in traditional recipes that have a contemporary twist will now become easier to access. And, in 2019, Alex Atala will focus on the pre-colonisation food cultures in both Brazil and the Amazon at Sao Paulo’s D.O.M.
And speaking of the Amazon, I’ll call it: as food culture and as a food region, it’s going to get consumers more excited than ever.
Pared-down fine dining will gain further ground
A slew of new casual establishment that focus on high quality without the stuffiness have opened across Latin America, picking up recognition in the process.
In the past few months, Kjolle (nominated Arrival of the Year in the World Restaurant Awards 2019), Siete, Merito and Mo have opened in Lima; Proper, Gran Dabbang, Mishiguene and Narda Comedor in Buenos Aires all ranked in Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants 2018; and Bogota’s El Chato was the highest new entry on the LatAm 50 Best list.
Pedidos Ya, the Argentine equivalent of Deliveroo, was joined by Glovo and Rappi in January and March 2018 respectively – and demand has soared.
Colombian firm Rappi started in capital Buenos Aires and already reaches Cordoba, Mar del Plata and Quilmes. 2019 will see services extend to the cities of La Plata and Rosario. And while UberEats hasn’t yet launched in Argentina, due to ongoing tussles with taxi driver unions and the company’s legal status, those problems are being ironed out and it can only be a matter of time.
More veggies (though not necessarily more vegetarians)
It’s a slow movement in a protein-loving continent, but vegetables, greens and leaves will continue their steady takeover on plates around Latin America.
At Lima’s Mo Bistro, onion and vanilla star in a beef broth, while at Narda Comedor, the humble onion pairs up with creamy mash and a beef gravy. Chef Narda Lepes is also behind Todxs, a vegetarian restaurant that focuses on zero waste and using the whole vegetable. Expect more cooks to start highlighting veggies in menus.
While protein purveyors will ply their wares with increasing care (origin, sustainability, zero waste), LatAm consumers from non-traditional insect-eating countries will open their minds to the likes of grasshopper flour or ants used in mole (the sauce, not the animal).
Mexican chef Edgar Nunez of Sur 777 gave a great speech on the future of proteins at the LatAm 50 Best Talks in October. And in Chile, Rodolfo Guzman at Santiago’s Borago has already experimented injecting carrot with penicillin to create a carrot cheese.
// Based in Argentina since 2006, Sorrel Moseley-Williams is a lover of Latin food, travel and wine. Her handiwork can be found on the pages of Monocle, Condé Nast Traveller, T+L and Decanter, among other publications. Instagram:@sorrelita
East Coast America
A broader spectrum
This year saw the opening of the ambitious Korean restaurant Atomix in New York City. At a sleek chef’s counter, Junghyun ‘JP’ Park elaborates a progression of nearly 20 intricate courses that feels a world away from the KBBQ and bibimbap a few blocks north in Koreatown. Expect 2019 to show more new expressions of several Asian cuisines, not just in NYC but across the world.
Paris’ C.A.M. is headed by Esu Lee, who spent time in top Hong Kong kitchens and recently took a sabbatical to absorb the Buddhist temple cuisine teachings of Jeong Kwan in the countryside of Korea. His menu is impossible to categorize, but the energy of his cooking is undeniable. Elsewhere, Lisa Lov (ex-Relae) will open the Cambodian-inflected Tigermom in Copenhagen’s hip Nørrebro neighbourhood.
Back in NYC, the team behind the wildly popular pho parlour Madame Vo will open a Vietnamese barbecue restaurant, the first of its kind in the city.
Whisking up change
On the heels of Massimo Bottura’s ground-breaking Food for Soul project, which has launched ‘refettorios’ – a new kind of soup kitchen – in Milan, Paris and Sao Paolo, 2019 will see chefs put forward more socially and environmentally minded initiatives of their own.
Dan Barber’s Row 7 Seeds is developing new breeds of vegetables that have already landed on the menu at salad giant Sweetgreen and will soon trickle throughout the restaurant ecosystem. Danish chef Claus Meyer’s cooking school, offering an education to students in economically downtrodden Brownsville, Brooklyn, is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. Noma sous chef Fejsal Demiraj has launched the RRNO Foundation, an organisation intent on researching and codifying the culinary traditions of Albania, a part of the world to which his uber-famous boss Rene Redzepi can also trace his roots.
A dissolving stigma
It used to be that only in Paris could you scarcely skip a rock across the Seine without smashing a bottle of natural wine. Now the juice has proliferated in cities big and small across the US.
Smoked meat czar Billy Durney of Brooklyn’s Hometown Bar-B-Que has plans to pair old-school, cast-iron fried chicken with new-school, funky wines. LA’s Majordomo showcases eccentric (and exceptional) small producers from as far away as Adelaide. Austin’s Bufalina is an exceptional pizzeria that boasts the best selection of skin-contact or no-sulphur-added gems in the state.
Whether in a fine dining setting or a casual one, this style of winemaking is no longer seen as a passing phase or a second-rate product. Natural wine is here to stay.
// Aaron Arizpe is a rapacious eater who lives in restaurants, travels the world to write about them and calls Manhattan home. His work has been featured in publications like TIME Magazine, Bon Appetit and Eater. Follow him on Instagram at @pocketfork.