Is Africa the next big food trend?

by on April 28, 2012 at 1:18 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Josh Schonwald says yes:

One night, after reading about sugar-cane drinks and fresh lobster skewers, I started cooking. I made a spicy okra salad, grilled shrimp piri piri and steamed vanilla pudding. The next night, Zanzibari pizzas—chapati stuffed with eggs, meat and spices. Later, I had a Mozambican seafood stew with Senegalese-style jollof rice. I started seeing it.

…As fast-growing African nations become more prosperous, they will develop something that is rare right now—a middle class with disposable time and income. Poverty, hunger, war and sickness are why Africans—from Cameroon to Mozambique to Namibia to Congo—have been unable to develop a baobab-infused vinaigrette.

I very much enjoyed Josh’s new food book The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food, and I can recommend it for its pro-science stance, its interesting speculations, and its excellent reporting.  My prediction, by the way, based on demographics, is that the next big food trend will be more from the Latino cuisines, fused with American ideas to appeal to the (North) American palate.  Chipotle is but one step in this direction.  Sadly, in my view most Americans have room for only a few foreign cuisines in their lives.  Thai and Indian are knocking on the door of Mexican and Chinese (all in their American versions), but I do not see new contenders for that throne.

KenF April 28, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I think kimchi is going to become much more popular. They are selling a less-garlicky (less stinky) version at Trader Joe’s now, imported from Korea. It’s quite good. I think it will catch on more broadly.

CBBB April 28, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Man don’t get me started. I wish I could find good Korean food in North America. I suspect LA might have some but I don’t know. I’ve had some decent food but it’s just not quite the same and the quality of Kimchi is just awful.

DK April 29, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I don’t believe you. Kimchi is a fairly simple dish – it’s unlikely that no one could make it well given the volumes that it sells. I think you are imagining things and in blind tests would not be able to tell better American kimchi from genuine Korean one. This sort of thing is true for snobs of 99% of food and drink – and kimchi is probably no different.

KenF April 29, 2012 at 10:07 pm

If you go to a Korean market in LA, they have huge tubs of the stuff for sale, made locally. It’s hard to imagine all of these Korean-born people are buying huge tubs of kimchi that is substandard. However, Trader Joe’s is now selling kimchi made in Korea rather than sourcing it locally and it isn’t priced high. So it wouldn’t be cost prohibitive to import the stuff if the stuff here truly were substandard.

CBBB April 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm

They buy substandard kimchi when they buy it from the grocery store in Korea too – unfortunately just because they’re Korean doesn’t mean they know quality Korean food.

CBBB April 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm

You’re wrong. There’s huge variations in Kimchi quality and all the mass produced stuff I’ve had is pretty bad. Maybe they should be able to mass produce it properly but they don’t. The other thing is the best part is the leafy part but those mass produced ones are mostly core. always You’re wrong about that being true about 99% of food too.

DK April 29, 2012 at 11:45 pm

That’s what everyone says until they get to blind tests. Then the miracles happen: Suddenly “experts” start having trouble distinguishing between good and bad wine, 24-bit audio and 160 kbps MP3, Tate gallery masterpieces and their $20 Chinese lookalikes, etc, etc. I would bet just about everything that you will fail a blind kimchi test, too.

CBBB April 30, 2012 at 11:27 am

We’re not talking about merely taste. We’re talking about texture and feel. Those packaged kimchis are inevitable watery and too crunchy. Not only that but there is variation in kimchi from place to place – mass production ruins that.

GiT April 28, 2012 at 10:21 pm

I strongly doubt fermented vegetables are going to be the ‘next big thing’ in food in America. Kimchi would be lucky to catch on narrowly, let alone broadly.

ChefDad April 28, 2012 at 2:35 pm

We agree! We just finished three recipes from Mozambique on our food blog. We’ve been cooking from countries around the world for the last year and a half or so and we just did Mozambique. All three things we made were excellent.

Bradley Gardner April 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Ethiopian food seems to have already caught on, both on the East and West coast. There is some progress in Ghanian food, based on growing migrations to DC, but I imagine it’ll be a while before that makes it to the West Coast. There seems to be an issue with access to raw ingredients, which is a big make or break with West African food.

Though California/DC seems to be a whole different world from NY/The rest of America.

Nylund April 28, 2012 at 6:36 pm

If you read the link, I believe he notes that North African cuisine (including Ethiopian) already has a foothold. He’s talking more about sub-Saharan Africa. I actually just had Ethiopian last night, but I don’t think I’ve ever had anything sub-Saharan.

TGGP April 29, 2012 at 9:35 pm

I generally think of Ethiopia as sub-saharan (east african foremost). I just exclude the Berber/Arab parts of Africa from the sub-saharan category.

msgkings April 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm

LOVES me some Ethiopian food. Second only to Mexican for me. Started on it in college decades ago.

GW April 28, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Ethiopian and Jamaican are definitely making inroads, ‘though injera makes Ethiopian a strictly sit-down proposition while the Jamaican patty is already a food truck staple. Other possibilities are Indonesian-style sate (satay) and Nepali momos, each offering the possibility of numerous traditional and novel local variations.

superdestroyer April 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I guess Tyler will support more illegal immigration from Africa so that his Okra salads and fish stews will be cheaper.

DK April 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Doesn’t he already?

db April 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm

“Sadly, in my view most Americans have room for only a few foreign cuisines in their lives. ”

This is probably true, but after a certain level of market penetration it no longer counts as foreign in many people’s minds. Do people really conceive of Chipotle as “foreign”? How about the linguini down at the Cheesecake Factory? Pizza? Of course those things aren’t foreign really. All of these things seem to have totally assimilated into U.S. food culture even as their foreign roots remain identifiable. I think sushi in the U.S. is well on its way to the same fate. Things like california rolls are already american reimaginings of sushi, and now your starting to see ingredients like jalapeños become commonplace in U.S. sushi restaurants. 50 years from now, if we still have fish, nobody in the U.S. will stop to think that sushi was originally Japanese.

Patricia Mathews April 28, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Going to be? Here in Albuquerque, deep in flyover country, an African restaurant just opened. We already have a new Peruvian restaurant, a long-standing Brazilian restaurant down by the downtown multiplex, a little Salvadorean one about the size and configuration of an old Steak int he Rough stand, and of course, all sorts of Real Mexican (as opposed toTex-Mex or New Mexican) places of all sizes, and everything from styrofoam-plate to white-tablecloth.


Ray Lopez April 29, 2012 at 1:42 am

Good for you. Albuquerque is hardly backwoods though, and probably not representative of the USA anymore than Fairfax County, VA (DC area) is. I myself am looking forward to the day they import fresh durian and jackfruit, the stinkier the better, into major US cities, along with fresh coconut juice, and not the ground dry powder stuff that’s trendy now. And though I’ve never tried it, I hear locust is on the menu in Africa. Yum, yum, I wonder if Yum Brands will put locust on the menu and IFF will come up with a synthetic chemical they imitates durian and jackfruit so they can infuse carbonated sugar beverages with it! Or the unique calamansi fruit.

Clay April 28, 2012 at 6:38 pm

The major factor for ethnic food trends is volume of food service labor. A new ethnic food trend will require a large source of recent immigrants and a strong desire from that community to run and staff restaurants. If you have a fairly small flow of immigrants or the immigrants aren’t terribly serious about food service work, then it won’t be a big trend.

Peter April 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm

That’s one of the reasons why a number of Greek diners have closed in the New York area. Significant immigration from Greece ended decades ago, so the immigrants who opened the diners are mostly gone. Their children and grandchildren have less interest in the business, and there’s no new influx of Greek immigrants to take over.

Matt April 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm

But this is entirely due to the authenticity fetish, where white people will only eat ethnic food if cooked by actual ethnics with their magical ways. Otherwise, anyone could just bring back a few recipes from Africa and go to town.

Justin May 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Large exception to that would be Rick Bayless, the most famous “Mexican” chef in the world that grew up in Oklahoma City.

Bill April 28, 2012 at 7:21 pm

The next big world food trend is….

American Food.

Just ask McDonalds. Although, it would be interesting if McDonalds introduced, in the United States, some of the food modifications, some of the products or some of the sauces or drinks they make or offer in China, India, Japan, Mexico etc.

That would be interesting.

byomtov April 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Thai and Indian are knocking on the door of Mexican and Chinese (all in their American versions),

I thought Italian was the number one ethnic cuisine in the US, albeit that definition includes every mass market pizza place in the country.

byomtov April 28, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Almost forgot.

Isn’t it the case that what we think of as “southern” food is largely African in origin? So maybe African food is not something new at all.

GW April 29, 2012 at 5:02 am

byomtov, you’re probably right if you start counting pizza places, but ethnic is very much a local affair. In California, for example, from the turn of the 20th century onward, if a small town was large enough to have a restaurant, it was a toss-up whether it was (Californian Cantonese) Chinese or a “continental”-style Inn. If it had two restaurants, it had both, and if it had a third, it may well have been Mexican. The pre-WWI Los Angeles Times Cookbook already reflects this particular admixture. (There has been a lot written about East Coast Jewish affinity for Chinese food and not nearly enough about Californians and the same.) Italian food only emerged in the 1950′s in California and began in the city with the most prominent Italian population, San Francisco. In contrast, for the Midwest, the ethnic option was more likely German/Polish/Czech, reflecting the local immigrant mix. A very interesting book ought to be written about how kosher food did not, ultimately, succeed beyond isolated markets.

Bill April 29, 2012 at 9:53 am

You could probably use google data or yelp! as a data source for plotting the number of ethnic restaurants by geography.

byomtov April 29, 2012 at 11:51 am

The Jewish affinity for Chinese food is, I believe, based on some obscure passages in Leviticus that contain an exemption from the prohibitions on pork and shellfish, but only when eaten in a Chinese restaurant.

“Kosher” food is not really a well-defined category. If you are simply talking about food prepared in accordance with dietary laws, then it can encompass many foods not usually thought of as traditionally Jewish. All vegetables are kosher, for example. If, more likely, you mean “kosher-style” traditional deli fare, it’s a different matter. Some of this is indistinguishable from German or Eastern European food. A lot of it is fairly heavy, so out of favor these days. Not a lot of pots of chicken schmaltz on dining tables today. But some has also been absorbed by American culture, or else closely matches other popular American foods. Think of bagels, or smoked salmon. Is corned beef Irish or Jewish? Are kreplach wildly unlike other stuffed-dough dishes?

Tom Davies April 29, 2012 at 11:31 am

What about Vietnamese? Lighter and subtler than Chinese, not as spicy as Thai — very popular here in Australia, and aren’t there plenty of Vietnamese immigrants in the US?

GiT April 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Plenty of good Vietnamese food around California. Pho is relatively popular.

Matt Flipago April 29, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Speaking from my hometown, within a year I saw 3 middle eastern establishments pop up. I think middle eastern is catching on way more than African. People know about gyros, falafel and hummus. Most people have zero idea what African foods are.

The Anti-Gnostic April 30, 2012 at 11:14 am

There will be no Next Big Food Trend. “French” (Julia Child) was the first Big Thing. Then “Italian,” then “Asian,” then “Mexican” (in more or less that order). Follow the trendline: there will be no market-dominant majority to declare the Next Big Thing. Rather, niche markets are forming which cater to their national populations and a few faddish Americans. The art of cooking itself imposes limits: chefs take years to master a style.

There is nothing wrong with having an appreciation and basic knowledge of a wide variety of foods. But after a point, gastronomic trend-chasing is for people who neglect to build a culture of their own. Like somebody mentioned, fermented vegetables are from a particular time and place and people, like kibbeh, or etouffee, or chili con carne, or barbecue, or coq au vin. Constantly hopping from food trend to food trend betrays the idea of food as status-marker, not food as cultural expression.

The Anti-Gnostic April 30, 2012 at 7:22 pm


Floccina April 30, 2012 at 11:22 am

I have some friends from Nigeria and I have eaten Nigerian food at there home many times. The food is great. The Nigerian turkey stew is fabulous (similarly the goat stew) and I never liked tripe until I had it Nigerian style.

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