It takes awhile for American consumers to take a shine to new food, but when they do, they often do it with gusto. Take a look at the popularity of hummus, Greek yogurt and chipotle peppers as examples of how quickly ingredients can go from obscure to mainstream.
Three cuisines in particular that remain comparatively obscure in the United States show potential as sources for newly popular menu items as they begin to grow in influence.
Quinoa, from Peru, is already showing its potential for big-time success, and Korean kimchi is appearing on more and more menus these days. And while Vietnamese food is shrinking in popularity according to recent data from online ordering company GrubHub, two dishes — bánh mì and pho — may be poised for growth.
NRN takes a look at these three emerging cuisines and what they might be able to offer U.S. restaurateurs.
The foodways of the Incas and their predecessors, Spanish colonizers, African slaves and large populations of Chinese and Japanese immigrants have been combined to create what many people in Latin America regard as one of the region’s finest and most complex cuisines.
Citrus-cured seafood, in the form of ceviche and sashimi-like tiraditos; stir-fried dishes called saltados; corn with giant kernels called choclo; potato-based, protein-topped appetizers called causas; skewers of beef heart or veal heart called anticuchos; rice dishes reminiscent of paella, and others more like fried rice, are all hallmarks of Peruvian cuisine, as are their distinctive chile varieties, called aji.
Quinoa, a high-protein grain from high, dry sections of Peru and Bolivia is going mainstream and is available at chain restaurants such as First Watch, Seasons 52 and Pret à Manger, as well as at many independent restaurants.
The United Nations has even declared 2013 “International Year of Quinoa.”
Ceviche is already widely recognized because Mexicans make it, too. Peruvian ceviche is distinguished by the use of aji limo or other indigenous chiles, as well as leche de tigre, or “tiger’s milk,” which is a combination of citrus, chile and other flavorings.
The preparation is simple, but the presentation can be dramatic. At Herringbone in La Jolla, Calif., loup de mer ceviche is made by slicing the fillets and laying them between the head and tail in the shape of a fish. The fish is then seasoned with fleur de sell, lime segments, sliced Fresno chiles, shaved shallots and olive oil.
Ceviche has even made it to some chains. It’s a big hit at Sushi Samba, a seven-unit fine dining chain that features the cuisines of Japan, Brazil and Peru. It was also recently added to the menu of 11-unit Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, which has a ceviche of shrimp and white fish marinated in citrus juice, papers, onions, tomatoes and micro cilantro.
Though traditionally made from beef or veal heart, Peruvian restaurants in the U.S. call virtually anything on a skewer and anticucho, including chicken liver at Seviche, a pan-Latin restaurant in Louisville, Ky.; fish, chicken or beef at New York City-based Sushi Samba; and octopus at La Mar, which has locations in San Francisco and New York City.