By: Anne Banas, SmarterTravel Staff
Wondering what's on the menu for 2015? Culinary tourism is on the rise, fed by a growing passion among travelers for local cuisine and an inexhaustible appetite for sharing their food pics online. From cutting-edge ingredients (insects and invasive seafood) to going back to the basics (foraging and communal tables), today's chefs and food purveyors are finding new ways to feed people's passion for food, enabling them to feast their way around the world. So head off the eaten path and look out for these hot food trends in your travels this year.
Last year, the sharing economy entered the mainstream, and in 2015, you can expect to see its bourgeoning meal-sharing segment step into the spotlight. New and expanding peer-to-peer platforms like Cookapp, EatWith, Feastly, and Meal Sharing help get more travelers off the restaurant track and into local abodes, where they can connect over authentic, home-cooked meals.
The locusts are coming … to a restaurant near you. Yes, edible insects have become a trend, and you can expect to see more and more of them crawling onto menus in the next few years. As someone who simultaneously recoils upon seeing bugs and shows Buddhist compassion by escorting them outside rather than smashing them, this is a hard one for me. But despite my heebie-jeebies, I can't deny the many good reasons for eating them: As a sustainable protein source and for nutrition and flavor.
The old proverb "Waste not, want not" still holds true today, perhaps more so than ever. About one-third of the world's food winds up in landfills, according to a study published in February by The New Climate Economy. This includes leftovers, "expired" food, and produce that simply doesn't measure up to cosmetic standards. Horrifying notion, right? But the good news is that a slew of organizations are actively working to tackle the food-waste problem and bring it into the limelight.
Dana Gunders, staff scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council, says, "There are widespread public campaigns to raise awareness and provide easy ways for people to take action. For instance, the Love Food Hate Waste campaign in England was successful in reducing avoidable household food waste by 21 percent in a five-year period. France just enacted a national pacte against food waste that has several prongs to it. And the European Union has committed several million dollars toward a project to better measure and monitor food waste as well as develop policy recommendations to address it."
This "ugly vegetable movement" is also in motion at the local level, offering diners the chance to do their part by feasting on recycled fare. Opened in Copenhagen in 2013, Rub & Stub (a personal favorite of mine) serves quality meals made with the city's rejected produce, seafood, and bread. Similarly, in England, The Real Junk Food Project opened its first "Pay As You Feel" surplus-food cafe in Leeds in late 2013. Last year, French supermarket Intermarché launched its inglorious fruits and vegetables campaign, selling misshapen produce at a 30 percent discount.
What do lionfish, Asian shore crabs, and blue catfish have in common? They're taking over our waterways and our dinner menus. Considered invasive species, these non-indigenous sea creatures are wreaking havoc on our ecosystems by causing loss of biodiversity (a single lionfish can reduce the numbers of native reef fish in its territory by almost 80 percent in just a few weeks). However, many restaurant chefs believe that incorporating them into dishes will help restore the habitats they damage.
Gone are the fast-food days of Panda Express and Cinnabon. Today's food courts are far more discerning when it comes to taste and quality. A combination of communal gathering space, upscale dining hall, and grocer, these new gastro-emporiums, or food halls, are chock-full of celebrity chefs, artisan producers, and specialty purveyors. Stunning in their designs, they are destinations unto themselves. While the general concept has been around for a long time, especially in places like Europe (think Harrods in London and Galeries Lafayette in Paris), there has been a boom both internationally—as with the new Markthal in Rotterdam, dubbed the "food walhalla of the Netherlands"—and in the U.S., where the trend is sweeping the nation in cities both large and small.
Get ready. Your food is about to get wild. As passion for local food increases, heading into the woods to forage for mushrooms, berries, nuts, and roots has started a new era of the hunter and gatherer. Except, rather than circling around a fire, people get to indulge in post-excursion tasting menus and creative craft cocktails at local restaurants. This renewed interest in wild food has prompted chefs to hire in-house foragers and create "hyper-local" menus and inspired tour companies to take groups of curious eaters—basket in hand—into the forests.
According to Alan Muskat of No Taste Like Home, a foraging tour company based in Asheville, North Carolina, "Foraging is not just a trend; it's a necessity. We all know why going local is important and rewarding, and so now the movement is going 'hyper local.'" Muskat keeps his "Wild Food Adventures" informative but fun. He says, "They are more entertaining than [people] expect. I use a lot of jokes, poems, and stories, and I also give them time to explore."
Anyone who is pro foraging will attest to its many benefits, such as adding interest to menus, offering healthy and sustainable food alternatives, and allowing people to directly connect with nature in an enjoyable way. It's fun for the chefs, too. Chef Jonathon Sawyer of Trentina, a new northern Italian-inspired restaurant in Cleveland, says, "We love getting our hands on fresh ingredients that spur innovation and creativity in the kitchen and on a dinner plate." With help from larder master and wild-food forager Jeremy Umanskym, the restaurant uses more than 70 species of fungi and more than 150 different plants, including local species of wild carrot seeds, spicebush berries, and sumac.
Hook and Cook
Go fishing or hunting for your dinner? Like foraging, the "hook and cook" concept, where people can catch their own food and then learn how to prepare it, is giving travelers an interactive way to get back to the basics and in touch with the source of their food while on vacation. According to Pamela Murski of Murski Homestead Bed & Breakfast in Brenham, Texas, "This experience can include hunting 'cock-a-doodle-do' [and then] producing the delicious Southern fried chicken with locally made buttermilk."
Craft cocktails have been on the rise the past few years, but more mixologists are pushing boundaries by adding savory flavors to their cocktail shakers. These culinary cocktails go beyond the Bloody Mary or dirty martini by mixing in ingredients such as exotic chilies, fungi, and even meat.
Food and Beverage Incubators
Food and beverage incubators (or shared kitchens) are popping up all over the country to help food entrepreneurs get their fledgling businesses off the ground. They provide chefs with spaces to work, along with distribution and marketing resources, and allow diners to offer valuable feedback by voting with their forks. Like food halls, many of these collaborative spaces, often referred to as "artisan food hubs," are more like a collection of trendy restaurants and communal tables than industrial, back-of-the-house workspaces. However, the offerings are always changing as chefs rotate in and out and experiment with new dishes.