#SusanEats: Food Trends 2016

written by Susan Wong 22nd January 2016

True trends evolve over time, so what does this mean for a city such as Nairobi where the flourishing gastronomic scene is still very young? Susan Wong finds out five things foodies can expect from  restaurants this year.

2016 promises to continue some old trends, such as locally‐sourced ingredients, whilst bringing in some fresh concepts shaped by the city’s growing cosmopolitan population.

When I was a child I thought Tong Yuen or small round balls of glutinous rice flour in savoury broths with rich and smoky Lap Yuk (Chinese cured bacon), delicate small portions of Dim Sum, long strands of Sapporo Miso Ramen with Garlic Oil, and my neighbour’s Italian Meatballs were just delicious. I never thought they could be both delicious and trendy. Tong Yuen, traditionally homemade and eaten in celebration of the beginning of the Winter Solstice, was to me something deeply rooted in tradition and definitely not as cool as eating pizza. Now, they’re often found occupying the freezer next to your grocery store’s diverse selection of frozen Dim Sum.

Culinary and restaurant trends aren’t new news to us, and understanding them depends on the prediction of mood, behaviour and eating habits of the diner at a particular time. True trends evolve over time, so what does this mean for a city such as Nairobi where the flourishing gastronomic scene is still very young?

Food Trends 2016

As Nairobi becomes more cosmopolitan, so will lifestyle‐based choices that extend into other areas of our everyday life. Dining offerings will reflect the growing interconnectedness of the global space and trends in foodservice usually led by professionals in more developed markets will echo those in emerging ones. Thanks to growing competition between restaurants in Nairobi, it’s not surprising to see an increase in demand for variety.

2016 promises to continue some old trends, such as locally‐sourced ingredients, whilst bringing in some fresh concepts shaped by the city’s growing cosmopolitan population. The culinary forecast in Nairobi calls for sunny with a chance of delicious eating! Here are five restaurant trends to look out for in Nairobi:

ASIAN INVASION

Ethnic cuisine continues its inroads into mainstream and Nairobi menus. As Kenyan palates become more adventurous, so do restaurant offerings. Already there are a fair amount of Chinese restaurants here, but that’s about to increase especially with authentic and regional offerings. People want to experience the true depth of flavours so don’t be surprised when you see less signs reading “XXX Chinese Restaurant” and more like “Shanghai Dumpling House.”

The opening of Ohcha Noodle Bar in Westgate will certainly lead the way in an imminent ramen and noodle explosion as Malaysian and Vietnamese favourites continue to pop‐up in restaurants such as The Arbor. Personally, I’m looking forward to the opening of the French‐Vietnamese restaurant in Upperhill this year. This would be the first time Nairobi has enjoyed the fresh flavours of authentic Vietnamese cuisine and the intricate preparation and precise presentation of the French since Chef Philippe Bischoff and Chef Mai Phuong Nguyen visited the Fairmont Norfolk in 2011!

OhCha Noodle Bar

OhCha Noodle Bar

OUTDOOR SPACES

From lush gardens and large patios to rooftops, Nairobi restaurants are offering spaces for people to lounge and linger. No longer are lush and airy surroundings limited to restaurants in old spacious private homes or hotels: River Café enjoys its forest surroundings, Brew Bistro in Westlands is pulling in the crowds with its rooftop beer garden, KIZA opens its vast rooftop, and even fastfood chains like Pizza Hut are embracing casual outdoor spaces.

River Cafe

River Cafe

CHEF‐DRIVEN CONCEPTS

Whether it’s fast‐casual or fine‐dining concepts, 2016 is going to see more interaction between chefs and diners. For a very long time, executive chefs have only been defined and respected solely by their function; but those perceptions are changing thanks to their rising celebrity statuses and television appearances, new trendy cooking styles and ingredients, and showcasing unparalleled creativity in plating. Chef’s Tables have already been popping‐up in Nairobi, the latest being at Sarova Stanley and Wet Lounge, and dining at a chef’s table is culinary exclusivity defined.

Wet Lounge

Wet Lounge

ETHNIC CONDIMENTS AND SPICES

Miso and Wasabi, traditional Japanese condiments and seasoning, will continue to make more appearances on menus across Nairobi. From marinades to even mash potatoes, expect to see more Japanese influence in different cuisines. One of my favourite spice mixtures and a must‐gift from friends who pass through Ethiopia, Berbere, will be a great spicy addition to any barbequed meat. Korean red pepper powder, also known as Gochugaru, which has smoky, fruity‐sweet notes and quite a kick will have more of a mainstream presence this year in restaurants aside from the Japanese and Korean spots.

Chinese

LOCAL AND ARTISANAL SOURCING

Locally grown produce has been widely featured in restaurant menus in 2015, but this year diners can expect that to continue to gain in momentum. Whether its cuts of protein, legumes or cheese – people are serving proudly Kenyan. However, adding to their meteoric rise, menus will see more artisanal interpretations such as Mursik Cheese, which is made from sour milk that’s blended with burnt herbs and charcoal powder from Kenya’s Kalenjin community. In addition to what higher‐end hotels and some restaurants such as Seven Grill & Lounge and Talisman have already done, more and more  restaurants will begin to incorporate their own artisanal butcheries, offering different cuts of meat and experimenting with curing.

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