Veganism, gut-friendly kombucha and Latin American cuisine were among 2018’s top foodie trends in the UAE. This year it’s all about peganism, omega-3-packed seaweed snacks and dishes from the Pacific Rim and the “stan” countries. Also, while we saw a bunch of restaurants ban plastic straws last year, we’re taking our conscious consumption habits even further in 2019, it seems. Here’s what’s trending in food, both in the UAE and around the globe.
Flavours from the Pacific Rim
The countries dotting the Pacific Ocean are having their day in the sun. From Oceania states to regions in the Americas, flavours from the cuisines in this area are catching on in culinary circles across the world. According to Whole Foods, shoppers are particularly keen on items such as guava, dragon fruit, longganisa (Filipino sweet sausage), shrimp paste and cuttlefish. In the UAE, Hawaiian-inspired poke bowls (pictured) – a dish that typically incorporates diced raw fish, fresh vegetables and grains – are certainly popular. A bunch of poke-focused restaurants have popped up in Abu Dhabi and Dubai over the past couple of years – Poke Poke, Poke and Co and Cali-Poke Californian Seafood House, for example – offering diners the option to customise their bowls. This is one trend, alongside the UAE’s taste for acai bowls, which shows no signs of slowing down.
The rise of peganism
We’ve all heard of paleo and vegan diets by now, but peganism – think caveman meets cruelty-free eating – has been dubbed the world’s healthiest diet. On Pinterest, pegan-related searches are up 337 per cent and it’s among the social media company’s top 100 trends for 2019. So what exactly is it, you ask? Basically, the diet champions natural, whole foods – plenty of fresh fruit and veg, healthy protein and fats (“phat fats”, such as ghee and coconut butter, are also big this year), nothing from animals and no processed junk. A paleo diet also cuts out grains, legumes and beans: the philosophy behind it is our bodies should be fuelled by foods that existed in the Paleolithic era, before agriculture came along.
Cuisine from “the stans”
The cuisine from countries referred to as the “stans” – Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan – is set to hit big this year, according to restaurant consultancy group Baum & Whiteman. The diasporas have taken their flavours on travels with them, which have finally infiltrated the mainstream. So ingredients such as tarragon, spinach, coriander, dill, garlic, chives and parsley have been tantalising chefs’ taste buds the world over (pictured, kabuli palau, an Afghan dish). In the melting pot that is the UAE, we’re lucky to have access to a number of restaurants that focus on food from these regions, and we can only expect more to come.
Tahini and hummus with everything
Sesame paste is not new to the Middle East, but the rest of the world has finally realised how good it is, with some describing tahini as “the new almond butter”. Foodies are putting it on everything, using it as a traditional dip, as a spread on oat bread and even in desserts. Hummus, too, is being used in desserts (pictured, chocolate hummus). Cocoa, peanut butter, even cookie dough – it’s all being mixed up with our favourite chickpea snack. Plant-based ice creams made of hummus and tahini are also a thing now.
Snacking on seaweed
Algae and marine-life-infused munchies have seeped into the food stream. Seaweed chips, plant-based tuna alternatives and water lily seeds are a few things to look out for. In particular, according to cookbook author Marc Murphy, there’s a big focus on kelp. “It’s a sustainable option that’s good for diners and oceans, so you’ll see a lot more of it,” he predicts. It’s not easy to get your hands on items like kelp noodles (pictured) in the UAE yet, but charcoal-grey kombu (dried kelp), wakame and nori are available in supermarkets, and often crop up on Asian-inspired and health-conscious menus.
The United Kingdom’s gone food-hall-crazy, just as the Emirates welcomes the Todd English Food Hall at The Dubai Mall. It’s based on fine-food speciality markets around the world – specifically the one at the Plaza in New York – but also focuses on regional tastes, including Middle Eastern and Afghan dining options, alongside a range of other live kitchens. Elsewhere, The Yard in Al Khawaneej is a 350,000-square-foot development that features a farmers’ market and Last Exit food truck village, where you can wander around and feast on-the-go or pick up fresh produce.
Lessening our impact
Consumers are wising up to how many single-use plastics we actually go through, and how bad for the environment they are. In the UAE, we made huge strides in 2018 – countless restaurants and cafes took plastic straws and bottles off the menus; supermarket chain Waitrose began trialling a charge for plastic carrier bags in Abu Dhabi; and Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort became the first hotel in the UAE to ban all single-use plastics throughout its premises. In 2019, we hope to see shops tackle packaging on products (bananas wrapped in plastic is an abomination), and for restaurants to pay attention to takeaway boxes. Other trends in this vein include eating more local produce and buying from socially conscious brands.
Going au naturel with desserts
Cinnamon-soaked pears, avocado-cacao mousse, kale brownies (pictured) – these are just a few examples of the healthy desserts doing the rounds. As more and more of us try to avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners – as endless reports come out about how both harm our health – we’re turning back to nature to satiate our sweet tooth. Frozen treats, in particular, are being revamped in a big way. We’ve already mentioned hummus ice cream, but ingredients such as avocado and coconut water are also being transformed into icy delights.
Plating the seed
Move over, nut butters. When it comes to moreish spreads, almonds and cashews are being replaced with the likes of sunflower, pumpkin and watermelon seeds in hip households. These “share the same good-fat profile of nut butters, but may offer an alternative for those with nut allergies”, states the Kind 2019 Healthy Snacking Trend Report. A good point, as food and nut allergies regularly made headlines last year. If you’re making the switch, make sure you continue to stick to natural versions that don’t use added sugars.
DNA dining breakthroughs
Personalised meals based on your blood type and/or DNA: is this the future of healthy dining? A company called Thriva certainly thinks so. It offers a service that analyses people's blood biomarkers and then provides a bespoke report and GP recommendations on how to improve your lifestyle. Last year it teamed up with VitaMojo, a restaurant and software company, to allow diners in London-based restaurants to design their perfect meal based on their specific nutritional needs. At the same time, companies such as 23andMe use DNA testing to create personalised, genetically guided meal and training plans. We think this could take off in a big way. Check out www.dnafit.com/ae for more.
The celebrity chef appeal
Alongside the influx of five-star hotels in Dubai, we'll also witness the launch of some incredible restaurants in 2019. The Middle East's first Dinner by Heston Blumenthal open at The Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences at the end of this year, as will Ariana's Persian Kitchen by Iranian-American celebrity TV chef and cookbook author Ariana Bundy. Over at Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah, a restaurant from Portuguese chef Jose Avillez of Michelin-star fame and another by Nobu-trained restaurateur Ross Shonhan will launch. Massimo Bottura, who's behind three Michelin-star Modena spot Osteria Francescana, will bring Torno Subito to W Dubai on The Palm. That's also where Akira Back, of Iron Chef fame, has brought his blend of Japanese cuisine with a Korean twist to the Middle East. Cue an era of fine dining among foodies in the UAE.