Food trends, like beauty, are apparently in the eye of the beholder.
At least that’s the impression you get from scanning a dozen or so of those year-end trend pieces looking ahead to the foods of 2018. Reading such things can be fun, of course, filled with predictions that may or may not make it anywhere near your mouth. Yet they certainly are a bit of pulse-taking, since what we eat always says a great deal about who we are.
As in every year for the past twenty or so – with a brief aside for comfort foods after the 9/11 trauma – the single overriding push of food in America is toward global cuisines. It sometimes seems we diners are simply spinning the globe and picking out places at random, except the places we pick tend to have extraordinary histories and cultures of food. One year it might be Indian, the next year Peruvian and maybe Korean the year after that. And whenever those get old, you can always fuse two or more.
Take the banh mi, for example. This Vietnamese sandwich is the hottest dish of its kind on American menus these days, replacing the pressed sandwich known as the Cuban. Yet the story is every bit as intriguing as the taste. After all, the flavor is Vietnamese, especially the sweet-sour contrast of rice vinegar and sugar with fresh cilantro.
Yet without a long and painful occupation by the French, Vietnam wouldn’t have had the French bread that is the banh mi’s much-loved delivery system. And without the Vietnam War that lured in the United States after the French departed in defeat, there wouldn’t be Vietnamese-Americans to make the banh mi as familiar here as it is delicious anywhere.
Another, quite different sandwich figures into the 2018 predictions at Bon Appetit, perhaps the oldest card-carrying food magazine still bring published. It’s the Mexican torta ahogada – a crispy sandwich with the added flavor of a spicy tomato sauce. A classic version might also feature pork carnitas, habanero slaw and cilantro. Other trends for the new year include canned seafood in olive oil from Portugal, the lotus root in any form, the European-style wine bar (before or after dinner, not FOR dinner) and Japanese breakfast. That last features lots of seafood plus a pickled vegetable seafood. Don’t look for this to replace the breakfast taco anytime soon.
We’re partial to the 2018 list compiled by Packaged Facts, not least because they are seeing creative uses of familiar products in the supermarket, rather than exotic ingredients per se. Things they want us to be on the lookout for include: cauliflower both as side dish and main course, eggs Benedict any time of day or night, mac and cheese (the gourmet trend continues), meatballs made with a wide variety of meats, olives, brown butter, figs everywhere and Earl Grey tea in desserts.
Campbell’s is, naturally, the company that taught us “soup is good food.” But in its predictions, the Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute is clearly able to think outside the can. Its trends include “heritage” (the next generation of “authentic” and “ethnic”), nutrient-dense desserts, playful twists on classic or even retro products, and a new golden age of meat-eating, its highlights ranging from unique cuts of familiar meats to some very exotic game.
Whole Foods, of course, virtually owns a certain type of customer, so it isn’t surprising they too have a set of 2018 predictions. As you’d guess, several have as much to do with how something is grown or processed than how it tastes as a finished product. Edible flowers may finally make the leap from fancy restaurant to home kitchen, as might “super powders” made with healthy items like kale, herbs, roots and spices, especially turmeric. Other trends include mushrooms used as dietary supplements, Middle Eastern dishes and spices, and puffed and popped snacks.
One final element that Whole Foods describes well is something its trend team calls Transparency 2.0. While non-GMO, certified organic and other designations are increasingly familiar, many consumers are interested in delving a bit deeper. Fair Trade certifications, responsible production and animal welfare standards are expected to take up more visibility in 2018, at least among consumers shopping at Whole Foods.
By JOHN DeMERS
HONEY GARLIC CHICKEN BANH MI
This sandwich is looking like the hottest – at least one of the hottest – new dishes on restaurant menus over the next few years. Americans are finely learning to enjoy the sweet-sour-spicy mix of vegetables that sits atop the protein of your choice, making it taste authentically Vietnamese despite the presence of oh-so-colonial French bread. The sandwich is great with traditional thinly-sliced pork, but we think it’s even better made with chicken breast.
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup carrot matchsticks
½ cup radish, thinly sliced
¼ cup thinly sliced onion
¼ cup thinly sliced cucumber
1 (12-inch) crusty French bread loaf
2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ cup Fischer & Wieser Savory Honey Garlic Stir-Fry Sauce
3 tablespoons good-quality mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeno, seeds removed
In a bowl, combine the vinegar and water; stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Add the carrot, radish, onion and cucumber, letting marinate for at least 45 minutes. Longer is better, up to about 2 hours. Slice the French bread to open lengthwise, take out some of the soft interior to eventually make room for the chicken, and set under a broiler until toasted. Remove the bread from the oven.
Cook the chicken with the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat, 5-7 minutes. Season with lemon pepper, garlic powder and crushed red pepper. When cooked through and golden brown, add the stir-fry sauce and toss the chicken to coat. Cook for about 1 minute more. Let the chicken cool enough to handle and slice it into bite-sized pieces on a cutting board. To assemble the banh mi, spread both interiors of the toasted bread with mayonnaise. Add the chicken slices and top with the marinated carrot mixture. Sprinkle with cilantro and jalapeno. Squeeze the lime over the top. Serves 2-4.