West Coast America
Another style of slurping
Since the ramen craze has simmered down, noodle connoisseurs are eager to explore another import from Japan: tsukemen. Diners dip cold noodles into a separate bowl of hot broth, which is more intense in flavour than the usual ramen dashi (seaweed-based stock). Tsukemen has always been popular in Los Angeles (Tsujita Annex, Okiboru), but this style has recently migrated northward in California to Taishoken in San Mateo, which draws huge lines.
Regional birria tacos
New styles of ramen aren’t the only thing cropping up in popular food categories: regional styles of tacos are also making the scene. In California, it’s all about birria tacos (and queso birria tacos) from Jalisco, Mexico. These flavourful eats are primarily made with stewed beef, griddled, and finally dunked into a deeply savoury and spicy consommé (the queso version is stuffed with cheese and put on the plancha until it’s melted and crisp on the edges, and then dunked). In Los Angeles, the king is Tacos y Birria La Unica, with 132K followers on Instagram, while the San Francisco Bay Area’s cult favourite is El Garage, a pop-up with a loyal fan base. More food trucks and taquerias are beginning to offer this flavour-packed speciality on their menus as they see lines forming for birria tacos elsewhere.
Of course, California is all about exploring the cutting-edge of plant-based cuisine and products, from alternative milks (including one made from peas) to cashew cheese, which are making their way from the health food store aisle onto restaurant menus. Impossible Foods products are everywhere, from fast-food burger partners to higher-end restaurants. New restaurants like Wildseed in San Francisco are finding a welcoming audience, offering a completely vegan menu (from an omnivore chef, who wanted the menu to appeal to non-vegans, too) with a matching bar programme focused on fresh juices. In Oakland, Vegan Mob opened to massive crowds hungry for Toriano Gordon’s vegan BBQ and soul food, from plant-based brisket to vegan gumbo.
Hop into the pizza canoe!
While last year was all about pinsa, now we’re seeing a new pizza shape and style gain in popularity: khachapuri. This Georgian-style import is a canoe-shaped kind of pizza, topped with melted cheese and a raw egg – you tear off the edges of the crust and dunk it into the eggy and cheesy middle. But leave it to Californians to riff on the classic already: at the Tony Khachapuri pop-up in LA, they’re doing some unique additions, like mushroom and shallot with pain crust. At Bevri in Palo Alto, they’re making a brunch khachapuri. It’s the kind of dish people want to try at least once, especially cheese lovers.
*Compiled by Marcia Gagliardi, 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
Alternative proteins and milks
Chinese vegetarians and vegans have been paying attention to the rise of plant-based companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Both brands are already available in Hong Kong and Macao, and they are scheduled to break into the mainland China market in 2020. While we expect to see the alternative burgers cooperate with existing partners like Burger King, KFC and Butcher’s Club, some local partners might be a surprise. Think vegan tacos or baozi.
There's a lot of potential for these newcomers, but China has a long history (back to the Tang Dynasty) with vegan meats. That means there will be some local competition. One such brand, Shenzhen-based Whole Perfect Foods, has been around since 1993. In addition to burger patties, its catalogue includes vegan oyster sauce, abalone and grilled sausage. They were also one of 10 local Chinese brands to feature their plant-based meats at the first annual Vegans of Shanghai Meat Fest in April 2019.
When it comes to meat in China, it’s all about the pork. That makes the forthcoming introduction of plant-based OmniPork to Mainland China a big deal. This low-cholesterol faux meat consists of soy, pea, mushroom and rice. The African swine epidemic and US trade wars have both contributed to the rising cost of pork in China. The addition of health and sustainability concerns could push non-vegans towards this product.
Oatly milk substitute has been in Shanghai since 2016, and they added vegan ice in 2019. Just’s mung bean-based egg substitute also hit the Chinese market this year. Zhen Meat even put out plant-based Shanghainese meat mooncakes for the first time.
Instagramable desserts won’t die
Diners in China can be fickle, but you can depend on one thing staying the same for the foreseeable future: chasing those internet-famous trends. Desserts, in particular, lend themselves well to the ultimate food porn shot.
That photo could be TikTok-famous jiggly piggy pudding from a 400-store dessert shop chain from Xiamen, or any number of fruit-shaped patisserie a la Cedric Grolet from C’est, BoboLEE Cake or Whites. It could even get as crazy as ordering soap-shaped treats from a place called Bathe or shaved with googly eyes from Taiwan dessert café Roji Monster’s first Shanghai location.
Fizzy fermented drinks may line the aisles in the US, but Papp’s Tea was often the only bottled kombucha brand you’d see around Shanghai and Beijing for the past few years. This year saw upstarts such as the Shanghai-based Zestea and Guangzhou-based MoMing hit the market. Flavours are getting fun with combinations like lychee and jasmine or mint and lemon.
Long gone are the days when Cantonese food represented Chinese cookery to the rest of the world. In recent years, spicier regional fare from Sichuan and Hunan has popped onto the global radar, but it’s high time that Guizhou’s spicy-sour (suan la) Qian cuisine makes its mark. The fact that the province earned a spot on Lonely Planet’s top 10 regions to visit in 2020 should prove helpful.
*Compiled by Cristina Ng, who has been eating and writing about food in Asia for the past decade. She currently covers the Shanghai food scene extensively as food and drink editor for That’s Shanghai.
The new Peru?
Colombia is making its mark on the gastronomical map, and more chefs than ever are on the map, with one restaurant – Leo – ranking in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list, and two – Leo and El Chato – ranking in the top 10 of Latin America’s 50 Restaurants Best 2019. A third, Celele of Cartagena, was named the One to Watch. This means it’s great timing to start getting into Colombian ingredients and food. The world’s second-most biodiverse country, there is plenty to be savoured besides coffee, from the Caribbean, to the Andes, the Pacific and the Amazon (among others). In addition, in November, the capital city hosted the first edition of Bogotá Madrid Fusión, another reason for putting Colombia on the path to becoming the new Peru.
The new Peru 2?
Ecuador may be a more unlikely successor to Peru, but Quito has a small yet fascinating fine dining scene that is more developed than nascent; it simply needs more diners and food experts to try Ecuador’s Pacific, Amazon and Andean ingredients. Chefs and government bodies are keen to put this biodiverse nation on the map, so I believe we will see chefs such as Alejo Chamorro from Nuema, Mauricio Acuña from El Salnés and Emilio Dalmau from Casa Gangotena moving more around the continent for pop-ups and collaborations in 2020.
In beef-loving Argentina, very little information is available about breed, weight, age and where cattle were raised when it comes to buying meat from butchers or supermarkets. And despite the fact that Le Grill, a fancy steakhouse that owns its own herd, closed earlier this year, two restaurants are making traceability a priority.
While La Carnicería in Buenos Aires has raised and used its own Aberdeen Angus and Hereford cattle since opening five years ago, only this year has it started better communicating the fact they will also use older animals, such as former dairy cows, then dry-age them; the chef-owners Germán Sitz and Pedro Peña made a short documentary (see below) about their beef’s origins.
The plant everyone loves to hate
Eighteen Colombian chefs from restaurants such as El Chato, Celele and Mesa Franca, visited Popayán and Cauca in southwest Colombia on a trip organised by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations to learn more about Erythroxylum coca, or coca leaf, in August.
Many renowned chefs across the Andean region already cook with mambe coca flour and dust, but the use of this controversial ingredient is particularly poignant in Colombia, where communities are making an effort to use it in alimentary – and legal – ways. While it cannot presently be exported from Colombia, either milled, as flour or dried leaves, these chefs are working to make coca leaf more acceptable by cooking with it – a fact that is also playing its small part in Colombia’s peace process.
Casual spots from fine-dining experts
While an array of more casual spots were opened by Latin American chefs who cut their teeth at the world’s top kitchens over the past year, there’s a move to make follow-up projects even easier on the wallet.
From Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Narda Comedor in Buenos Aires is due to open a bakery and cafe by year’s end; Tegui is due to open Marti, a casual dining restaurant without a tasting menu, with service revolving around the bar; A Casa do Porco in Sao Paulo runs Hot Pork and Sorveteria, respectively a gourmet hot dog and gourmet ice cream spot; Leo Espinosa from Leo in Bogotá opened a second branch of Misia but this time in Cartagena; and Don Julio in Buenos Aires refurbished a BA classic, El Preferido de Palermo, that offers a more relaxed setting for well-prepared homely dishes as well as delicious charcuterie prepared in house.
*Compiled by Sorrel Moseley-Williams, an Argentina-based 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
‘Continental’ isn’t just for breakfast anymore
Nostalgia has always been an important form of currency for restaurateurs. Earlier this decade, we started seeing more and more of them reaching for a sort of vintage Americana feel with NYC spots like Minetta Tavern (which looks like a lounge in which Sinatra might have performed), Carbone (which embraces the kitsch of the chequered tablecloth and a million verbal specials) and The Grill (which recalls the Mad Men era of advertising in Manhattan and its requisite two-martini lunches) leading the charge.
Earlier this year, Thomas Keller opened TAK Room in New York’s Hudson Yards, where he peddles ‘continental cuisine’ classics like thick slabs of prime rib and lobster thermidor. Dave Beran (formerly head chef of Next in Chicago) has followed up his tasting menu restaurant in Santa Monica with an unapologetically old-school French spot in the same city called Pasjoli. Even Grant Achatz, Dave’s old boss, has gotten in on the fun with The St. Clair Supper Club, a throwback to suburban Midwestern tradition where there seems to be a shrimp cocktail and an old fashioned on every table.
In short, this trend has not dissipated at all over the last few years and, if anything, is gaining major momentum all around the country as we move into 2020.
The concept of the nomadic chef is a relatively recent one, but these days it seems almost the norm. The younger generation of cooks all around the world seems inextricably linked by the collaborative spirit, with more limited-time-only pop-ups and four-hands (or more) dinners than ever before happening in seemingly every major city. The next wave, though, is the long-term chef residency, which I think we'll see a lot more of in 2020.
At London's P. Franco, young chefs rotate through the shoebox-sized kitchen every few months, slinging a flurry of creative small plates to accompany a deep cellar of natural wines. At New York's Chefs Club, international chefs swing through town for extended stays. The decor, menu, music, and indeed the entire experience, changes with each iteration. Also in the Big Apple, members' club Spring Place has partnered with a major credit card company to painstakingly recreate destination-worthy restaurants around the world inside the cavernous halls of the lofted SoHo space. (‘priceless,’ indeed.)
The dissolution of borders
With the American president adding political fuel to the fire, Mexican cuisine continues to thrive across the United States.
In Los Angeles, Jessica Koslow of the game-changing all-day cafe Sqirl has just recently joined forces with Mexico City seafood superstar Gabriela Cámara of Contramar fame to open Onda in Santa Monica. Fans of the Cal-Mex genre, with its south of the border flavours and stunning produce, will be in for a treat.
The team from New York's Cosme will soon make the journey cross-country to open Damian in LA's Downtown Arts District, and in doing so Enrique Olvera will have a foothold in three major North American cities.
With so many more eyes on Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa in Philadelphia after her feature on Netflix, the chef has taken on the responsibilities of an immigrants' rights activist, while Diana Dávila of Mi Tocaya in Chicago has continued to make a bigger and bigger name for herself in the Windy City. All across the country, Mexican food is thriving – and it shows no signs of slowing down.
*Compiled by Aaron Arizpe, 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: @pocketfork