Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Food trends are like wish lists, says Enzo Lim, mixologist and co-owner of Filipino restaurants Maharlika and Jeepney in New York. Cuisines, flavors, or restaurants that will gain popularity are, to a certain extent, predictable, and can be made to happen by a few who know how to reach an engaged audience either by word of mouth or social media.
But food trends don’t necessarily have to be just about “the next big thing,” or the next best dish, or the next best restaurant. One can look into various factors that shape how people eat to know what will come next. Traffic still a problem? Expect better versions of food on-the-go. Better travel opportunities? Expect more appreciation for global flavors. A rediscovery of local cultures? Expect diners to look for cuisines that express their heritage.
San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center’s “Food Forward,” a food event to open the new year, enumerates five food trends (and cocktail trends) for 2018, but the list appears more as an assessment of how food will serve our changing needs, as informed by the center’s culinary partners Chefs Gene Gonzalez, Heny Sison, Emelita Galang, Rosemarie Lim, and Sylvia and Ernest Reynoso-Gala.
The list is notable for how it shifts the focus away from particular dishes, ingredients, cuisines, or even restaurants as trends, and instead includes food movements resulting from the advancement of technology, the ease of travel, and the desire to preserve cultural identities, among many others.
The past years have seen Filipino cuisine attract more global attention, with a recent emphasis on street food (thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s endorsement of sisig). But to focus on a single food item or group loses sight of how food is intrinsically connected to our way of life. Culinary stars and social media popularity aside, the future of food is largely shaped by its cultural, political, or economic context, and how it adapts to volatile times.
1. Food on-the-go
The popularity of convenience store food speaks of the whirlwind nature of most office lunch times and breaks, owing no less to the lack of ample time for food preparation brought about by Metro Manila traffic. The solution still lies on better public transportation and improved urban spaces for pedestrians; but what the government lacks in infrastructure planning can be temporarily made up for by way of healthy, ready-to-eat salads (think of Go Salads, Salad Stop) or calorie-conscious meal kits carefully prepared and delivered to your doorstep: both convenient and nutritious, in line with a growing appreciation for healthy living that must adjust to a fast-paced lifestyle.
2. Heritage Filipino cuisine
Philippine cuisine is defined by its regions, says Pam Obieta, corporate chef of San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center. A culinary pilgrimage to Laguna, for example, allows the indulgences of puto in Pila or minanok in Sta. Cruz, while in Bacolod, one can sip into piping hot la paz batchoy or sizzling kansi.
More eaters and chefs have been going back to their distinct roots to diversify Philippine cuisine. In Manila, Filipino restaurants like Sarsa have been offering innovative takes on regional cuisine (in this case, Chef JP Anglo’s Negrense roots). In 2017, Chef Myrna Segismundo and Amy Besa took it a step further, going on a culinary tour to introduce Filipino flavors to the world, championing good Filipino food that is inclusive yet true to its origins.
Chefs Sylvia and Ernest Reynoso-Gala “predict” that “Filipino cuisine will gain even more prominence this year,” but if one looks into Philippine culinary heritage, this means that more underrated regional cuisines (Mindanaoan cuisines, for example) should take the spotlight.
3. Global flavors
The Philippines has been cited as an emerging market for young travelers, with travel forecasted to grow 4.4 percent each year from 2016, and is thus no stranger to exploring new tastes. African and Moroccan cuisines will accustom themselves to the Filipino palate, says Llena Tan-Arcenas, San Miguel Pure Foods culinary services manager. Chef Obieta says these cuisines heavily use spices, also a characteristic of local cuisine.
The ease of travel leading to increased immersion in other cultures promotes receptiveness to new flavors, already evident in the way Filipinos support Indian and Mediterranean cuisines, adds Tan-Arcenas. Well-traveled chefs are expected to incorporate global cooking techniques, notably sous vide (low temperature cooking in water to preserve more flavor), enhancing the dining experience.
4. Artisanal breads and hybrid desserts
Recently-opened bread and pastry shops like Panaderya Toyo and Poison Doughnuts probably knew what they were doing, as artisanal breads and hybrid desserts will be more recognized this year. We’re talking about a renewed appreciation for good quality bread cooked without shortcuts, as well as fusion pastries: a matcha croissant, a Mexican concha (a cookie-topped bread with a shell pattern on top), or Japanese Hokkaido bread, among others. The foundation of good bread will still look into the French, says Rene Ruz, corporate chef for San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center, but bread and desserts from Japan will provide happy competition.
5. Extreme indulgence
For every healthy diet, there’s a cheat day. “Extreme indulgence” may sound puzzling as a food trend at first (don’t we all do this every once a while?) but Tan-Arcenas explains that since 2016, there has been a focus on “extravagance” and “outrageousness” in food, flavor, and taste combinations, bringing to mind a 12-inch monster burger filled with all sorts of stuff (potato fries, bacon, beef and chicken patties, onion rings et cetera) or a spicy chicken lollipop less the guilt (mixed with earthy green peas and peas). Your imagination’s the limit.
6. DIY cocktails made with local ingredients
Enzo Lim’s work as a bartender in New York taught him to be flexible: in a cocktail, there’s no harm in experimenting with new flavors if you feel like it, moreso when you’re in the comfort of your home. Locally, there’s always a new speakeasy opening up, welcoming both day drinkers and late-night bar-goers. There’s even a delivery service for booze, for those who’d rather mix it up at home and avoid traffic.
Access and convenience dictate what we’ll be drinking more of this year, as drinkers experiment with what’s available (calamansi, guyabano, lemongrass, mango, and pandan) and what’s easy to prepare.