The Middle Eastern lifestyle calendar is pretty much chopped into two seasons: Before Summer and During Summer. The former spans late September to roughly early May. The latter is when everyone picks up on their social calendars and, as we know in the UAE, food is always on top of the list. Here are the top trends to watch this season.
‘Locavorism’ and Organics
For some time, a few of us in the food industry have been sounding the horn of eating local. As a farmer’s daughter, I champion the cause, and so does the blog My Custard Pie. As people get more aware of how their food is grown, they are more concerned about the health and environmental impact of genetically modified foods, factory farming, pesticides, preservatives and food additives. The trend to eat less processed foods is driving people to demand more local produce, and providing a sustainable market for local farmers and businesses that facilitate the sale of their produce. Initiated by Baker & Spice some years ago, with their commitment to sourcing regional and — where possible — local and organic produce for their own restaurants, they created the UAE’s first Farmer’s Market, where farmers could actually sell directly to consumers. Now, we have additions like the box-food scheme Ripe, founded by a marketing specialist and a brand new competitor, Greenheart UAE, which is led by Elena Kinane, who ran the old Naswa Organic farm shop. Ripe now has a shop and along with Greenheart, they are currently supplying boxes via orders. Baker & Spice will resume their Farmer’s Market on the Terrace in November, at Souk Al Bahar on Fridays, and at their new Marina Promenade location on Saturdays. Expect to see more farm-to-table concept restaurants opening up soon.
Head to Tail
As part of the new wave of sustainability, people who would eat nothing but fillet will branch off into eating the whole animal. This is already happening in all cuisines across the world, but some city dwellers get squeamish about eating offal. Even if it is merely ground up in a sausage, people will begin to experiment more. We hope that our local restaurants will also catch on to the trend.
Part of getting to know the entire animal will mean foodie shoppers will have to get to know their butchers and their meat. Getting the right cuts will be critical, and getting certain offal will require special orders from a butcher. The butchery shop will feature prominently for those who really want to eat animal produce in a way that sustains the environment. There aren’t too many trained butchers available, but the few who are around will gain real prominence and prestige. Newcomers Prime Gourmet and the iconic Park ‘N’ Shop will feature prominently.
Cookery and Bakery Schools
As the UAE develops an insatiable appetite for all things gourmet, these continue to pop up. From informal lessons in people’s home kitchens to demos and specialised courses, consumers have a range to choose from. L’atelier des Chefs at Le Meridien now has stiff competition with the spanking new Top Chef and Miele Gallery, which provide well- appointed individual stations, and are attracting some of the finer culinary trainers in the UAE like Chef Andy Campbell and Dima Sharif. Tavola’s cake decorating courses by Wilton and PME remain popular.
Artisanal Breads and Bakeries
As the market gets more and more developed, artisanal breads will become more popular, and old-fashioned bread bakers will get more and more hip. More than flour and yeast, artisanal breads are miles ahead better than anything that could ever come out of a supermarket.
The Finjan App
Writer and entrepreneur, Daveeda Shaheen created The Finjan a really innovative iPhone app that actually reads your coffee cup. It was nominated for Best App in the iPhone awards. Coming from a Middle Eastern tradition of coffee cup reading, the app also complements a really awesome gift package featuring a well-written book and all you need to make authentic Arabic coffee. Daveeda also has a social responsibility project to promote Yemeni coffee as coffee is native to Yemen.
As the number of people with intolerances rise — since more are getting tested these days — this trend will continue to pick up as the demand increases due to celiac disease and other gluten intolerances. Initiatives like Gluten Free UAE have been lobbying supermarkets to separate gluten-free products from those with gluten, and educating both food and food service providers to the dangers of cross-contamination for the person diagnosed with celiac. Entire households have been converting to these diets when one person suffers from intolerance, which increases the demands for the products and services. Expect to see a rise in suitable menu offerings from established hotels as well.
When we started our blog there were just a handful of food bloggers in existence. Now, the group Fooderati Arabia has recorded over 100 in less than two years. As some blogs become successful, others are opening up à la minute. This is an interesting thing for the Middle Eastern food industry, as it gives more people a voice in the marketplace and gives marketers a chance to come up with attractive ideas targeting bloggers. The offering is diverse, ranging from those of us who work full-time in the food and beverage industry and media, marketing and photography, to hobby bloggers who simply like to share what they eat.
Our fellow blogger FooDiva added two to the list…
1. We are seeing more home-grown restaurant concepts develop here on the back of Okku (which is now opening in London), eg. Table 9 at Hilton Dubai Creek. Having said that, the celebrity chef trend is continuing fuelled by a primarily expat population – Gary Rhodes is opening at St Regis Abu Dhabi Corniche fusing Arabic influences into his cuisine, and Atul Kochhar at JW Marriott Marquis with an Indian concept.
2. The restaurant experience is becoming more technology driven here from online reservations to i-pad menus.