Susan Wong knows that the Nairobi restaurant scene is hell-bent on becoming bigger, better and more adventurous and she fully intends to partake in the city’s flavour revolution.
2017 was quite a rollercoaster for many of us in Kenya. What began as a promising year, quickly became entangled in its political dramas, which affected the spending and dining habits of many consumers. Despite the conservative year, 2017 wrapped-up with a flurry of activity with several restaurants opening their doors to curious diners eager to take part in Nairobi’s flourishing gastronomic scene.
I’ve said this before: culinary and restaurant trends aren’t new to us, and understanding them depends on the prediction of mood, behaviour and eating habits of diners at a particular time. Kenya is no different. In fact, the Kenyan food world is changing at an incredible speed and the industry must evolve too.
Let’s look at what’s in store for the dining world in Kenya in 2018. Inspired by some global food trends, Kenyans will most likely see the rise of the vegetable, more ethnic restaurants, curated restaurant pop- ups, increase use of healthy plants like Moringa and experiment with new cuts of meat.
2018 promises to continue with some old trends such as locally- sourced ingredients, whilst bringing in some vibrant and fresh concepts shaped by the influence of Nairobi’s growing cosmopolitan population. Buying local, vegetable-forward and ethnic-inspired menus will be a recurring theme this year. Many of us already incorporate these trends in our lifestyles and want to see them reflected in restaurants as well.
Vegetable-forward menus have been a global food trend for some time now, but with global giants such as McDonald’s introducing a vegan burger in many countries and Google looking to reduce their environmental footprint by reducing their employees’ beef consumption, vegetables are now officially the cool thing on a menu. Fresh produce will be the star of a dish. How a chef redefines the use of vegetables is an exciting culinary frontier and one which will ultimately amplify the concept of combining great taste with great nutrition. In Kenya, don’t be shocked to see a resurgence of indigenous greens cooked to perfection in a contemporary African setting.
Mexican cuisine has been a global food trend that has seen its popularity grow strength-to-strength thanks to its street food appeal, traditional culinary techniques and unique ingredients and flavours. The recent openings of two fully-fledged Mexican eateries in Nairobi is a testament to the evolving palate of Nairobians. We’re becoming more adventurous and mindful of trends from other parts of the world. I personally think Nairobi is missing three specific cuisines: Turkish, Vietnamese and Filipino. You might find Bánh mì (Vietnamese Baguette) or Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup) in a couple of places, but when was the last time you found a good Nuoc Cham (dipping sauce) just sitting on a table? The ultimate breakfast, in my opinion, is a Turkish one. A Kahvalti is a decadent spread of fresh cheeses, olives, sausages, fresh-baked bread, honey, sweet butter, salads, salami, soup, tea and brewed coffee. Doesn’t that sound perfect under Nairobi’s sunshine? Finally, Filipino cuisine is eclipsing global ethnic cuisine trends such as Thai, Korean and Mexican. According to Google, Filipino food searches have doubled since 2012. It’s inevitable that the Filipino craze will hit Nairobi soon, I just hope it’ll be this year.
With many Kenyan diasporas returning home to invest, some of whom are trained professional chefs and food and beverage professionals, Nairobians will see more pop-up restaurants this year. Perhaps they want to test out a restaurant concept or they just want to keep diners curious, the pop-up scene is expected to push boundaries in terms of flavours and experience. So, look out for them!
Back to combining great taste with great nutrition, the superfood Moringa is literally taking over supermarket shelves in the US and Canada. In Kenya, you’ve probably already taken Moringa before. Whether it’s at your grandmother’s farm or in your breakfast porridge, Moringa isn’t a new thing to Kenyans. What’s new is that Kenyan produced Moringa is being spotlighted as some of the best in the world, and companies are investing in developing new products such as incorporating Moringa in tea and even spice blends. Moringa is no longer limited to smoothie and juice menus. Don’t be surprised to see it in salad dressings or sprinkled on a roast this year.
Finally, using locally-sourced meat is no surprise, but using traditionally less popular cuts will be featured more on menus. Whether it’s the oyster steak, shoulder tender, Vegas Strip Steak, or even a Merlot cut, these are all cuts of meat that we should be eating. You probably won’t find most of these obscure cuts at a supermarket, but with access to butchers, chefs will be able to cook some magic with these flavourful cuts and add diversity to the steak eating experience.
Global trends will always lead the food conversation, but Kenya is blessed with incredibly delicious produce and creative talent. 2018 will truly be an exciting year for the Kenyan food world. Get ready!