Come February, yours truly has already graced four continents in search of … while one would love to hear a purposefully worded goal or simply salvation, the honest answer is just a well planned series of trips that interlaced work, pleasure, gastronomy, and other loves and taboos.
Tripabilities aside, the flip of the calendar beckons the mapping of what astrology says about gastronomy.
Trend-hunting is slowly but surely becoming a vivacious sport that many unrelated players play, and in which there are really no winners.
Behold trends in one of my two core passions.
The Salt Dilemma
Salt, bashed by Mens Health so often that it is akin to the Barbarian plague, is at a dilemma of all sorts this year. With retailers demanding low salt items and restaurants revamping menus to reduce salt content, we seem to be swimming to safety from this bloating, blood enemy.Yet, the chocolate show was a crystal demonstration of the fact that chocolate is salt’s newest BFF. And the oxymoronic taste is truly liberating to the taste buds, who witness the clash of sugary sweet with very obviously large sour salt granules. I guess the shift from mealtimes to desserts will keep salt producers happy, but what about consumers?
Meatballs have existed for lifetimes, even nibbled on the loving Lady and her rugged Tramp. While bitterballen is the deep fried cheesy equivalent in Amsterdam, I am now seeing more balls emerging across several continents. Virtually indecipherable from each other, with a similar golden brown fried spherical exterior, the adventure commences in deciphering what is inside, and slowly becomes an addictive game to play. I’ve tasted crushed peas from chez mom, a tangy twist to the classic indian bhajia, and closer to the west, devoured insides of fried carrots or goat cheese and honey. This voluptuous spherical trend tickles my obsessive, comical fancy, owing to its playfulness and tongue-in-cheek prank-ability.
Desserts a la Vegetables
Sure, you are thinking carrot cake. But what else comes to mind after this lucky vegetable that has created a legacy by mating and baking with sugar and cream cheese? This year belongs to the likes of parsnip cake, an often heard but seldom tried sweetling, or beetroot pie, where the perception of its color is enough to send me salivating. Tomato ice cream and celery sorbet form the frozen component of this trend. Is it healthy? Not really, but any extra dose of vegetables is probably a better dietary bargain than oodles of cocoa. Featuring a sweet medley of sugary noodles and purple glazed caramelized carrots, and celery ice cream with tomato droplets.
Breakfast is indeed a coy character. Years ago it flirted with lunch to give birth to brunch, a Sunday staple. And now, its eyes are on dinner. Breakfast foods (at least the good ones) are generally happy – they bring a smile to faces, prevent infectious snacking during the day, are tasty and wholesome, and generally relay a sense of wellbeing. So why not eat them all day long? Health and haute couture brings this trend to the forefront, and leaves the likes of me smiling even more.
Popping red and deep pink in color, pomegranate adds variety to just about anything. Infused into burgers, topped on salads, glazed on cakes, and even infused into cookies! Provocative in their plump redness, juicy with a sweet and tangy tingle, with a satisfying crackle at the last bite, pomegranates have been a longtime comrade of mine, and I am thrilled that the world has decided to unleash their potential!
Colorful Crunchy Peppers
Last year’s quirk was roots. This year it is pepper. In naturals like green and sunset colors of reds, oranges and yellows, the dash of color and inimitable crunch that it adds to any dish makes peppers the most sought after garnish of the year. Topple this with the variety of hotter peppers, spicy ones, foreign ones, almost lethal ones, and you have a kaleidoscope of flavors that is too irresistible to leave out at any meal. Better yet, chop them up and garnish them on toast, or dip them in dough and deep fry them whole. The possibilities are endless!
Canele, the new Baked Fad
There has to be one baked dessert that scores the bull’s eye in the food circles. Years ago it was soft baked cookies, followed by pies, cupcakes, and macaroons. Now the red carpet awaits a chef hat shaped, old-school jello shaped cake. Made with egg yolk batter and glazed with caramel, the plastic-y crisp sweetness on plain cake with a custard-y infusion makes it a novelty. A dazzling row of them also makes for a dapper sight. But can they replace household favorites like cookies and macaroons?
Despised by yours truly, doughnuts and munchkins are synonymous with Dunkin’. Yet I have seen a plethora of medium to upscale to downright gourmet doughnut treats hitting my eyeballs. Culturally adapted and flavored doughnuts will be the akin to the bagel explosion, with fruit infusions, spicy mixes, and of course, the stereotypical healthy substitute. As long as we steer clear of the frosting dip that engulfed cupcakes and made them practically inedible, I can tolerate photographing a trend that simply refuses to settle down my throat!
Indian, Gourmet Style
Many have an aversion to upscale Indian food. Blame it on the plethora of Indian fast foods that are so delicious, easily concoctable, and effortlessly eaten. But there is a lot to be said about the slow cooking biryanis made of layers of rice, eggs, soy nuggets and meats, and the patiently prepared glazed to perfection, or the indecipherable transformation of fruits and vegetables and dough into wildly designed desserts and sweet treats. Not forgetting the plethora of Indian breads of all hues of brown, stove made and fire burnt, even topped with unrefined sugarcane sugar! While I enjoyed last year’s gourmet junk food trend, this is quite the antithesis. Alluring, nonetheless.
A Moroccan Makeover
While Korean posed to pencil itself as a tough competitor to a classic sushi, Moroccan food seems to be moving forward as the ‘it’ item in urban gastronomy. Peeling itself away from being an exotic and an African-Middle Eastern medley, the world is waking up to the distinctness of couscous, the plethora of macademia nuts that can grace mushrooms and tomato sauces, and the variety of baked to burnt meats that can be glistened with spices and lemon.
Ever felt your mood rise from plummeting depths after nibbling a bar of dark chocolate? Or upon chewing through a melted cheese pie? Or after devouring seemingly unhealthy but crunchily delectable Indian street food and spherical sugary ladoos? Biologically, serotin is a chemical that is responsible for swaying you from ecstatic to depressed, and while foods do not contain the chemical, flavors and aromas can help sway the balance to produce more to make you happier. A new fad and claims gimmick? I can only imagine a “happiness tea” or “mood-lifting brownie mix” coming onto the selves.
Passe as it sounds, the real and organic trend still generates buzz. Perhaps because there is a wealth of debate over what is real, organic and natural. Smacked on every grocery store item is the word natural, which, despite its straightforward simplicity, is open to interpretation. Seeing one of my favorite pastas as 51% natural made me quiver in repulsion. And thus the world continues to seek its roots. For after all, natural organic or green aside, all we want is real food.
Next Door Ingredients
When I lived in Africa we used to buy food from the grower next door. And then came the supermarket age. And now in the west, the supermarket age wants to revert to forgotten times of the past with farmers markets and neighborhood purchases. Besides inevitable cyclicality, food literally grown next door extrapolates from the real trend. Be it fear of novelty, economical distress, or the urge to try something in its naked, unprocessed form, the world is becoming a voyeur to seeing the roots of food sources. (So, when I see a chef making fresh tomato puree, transforming beets into bright beet sauce and churning out fresh wheat crackers, I’m obviously elated.)
Mini-me or Share-me
Double triple and quadruple whopping multiplicative combinations of everything from chocolate brownies to Bolognese bowls and ice engulfed sodas to burger stacks are all thankfully exiting planet earth. This trend extrapolates from last year’s, with the focus now on having reasonable portions for sharing. With restaurant culture changing from meals to grazing on heaps and piles, it really either drops to minimizing sizes, or introducing sharables. Behavioral food adaptation at its best.
Control, not Banish
‘Mini size me’ leads to a behavioral trend that I hope catches on well. As a comrade I Live in a Frying Pan pointed out, eliminating an entire food group from your diet like gluten or fats is bound to have terrifying aftermaths in the aging aftermaths. So, why not shrink your tortilla to small manageable portions topped with little shrimp, abundant greens a beautiful radish and onions, instead of going the overload way, or the carb-free way? Portion control thus becomes an apt way to move forward without the prison-like feeling of sheer deprivation.
And thus ends a relentlessly long rant of my cravings for 2012, some self imposed, self induced and self desired, others aptly collected from a sprinkling of foodies, trendhunters, chefs, culinary artists, and editors. As the layers of the year peel, let’s see which ones turn into salivating staples during mealtimes.
As you eat through the year, keep your senses consistently tasting, for you may be licking the next gastronomic revelation of all time.