As consumers react to the coronavirus pandemic—and foodservice providers adjust to offer carry out- and delivery operations—inherently mobile dishes are gaining popularity. Restaurant patrons may prefer to dine with distance for the foreseeable future.
International street foods are also finding their place on menus—especially as bar or happy hour snacks, grab-and-go offerings, and shareable appetizer plates.
That’s good news because snacks have shed their salty reputation: 39 percent of consumers say their definition of a snack has changed to include more foods, and 36 percent of them say they order ethnic foods or foods with ethnic flavors at least weekly.1
Flavorful street foods are meant to eat on the go. Around the globe, consumers can walk down the street and find a roadside cart selling a variety of snackable specialties—from grilled skewered chicken satay in Malaysia to grilled skewered chicken meatballs (tsukune) in Japan. But how do you bring this global cuisine into your restaurant?
Here are a few ways to update your snacks, appetizers, and bar food to include street food as a menu category.
Rename and Reimagine
Update the appetizer menu section with a broader and trendier category like small plates, bites, or snacks. At Kemuri Tatsu-ya, a “Texas izakaya” in Austin, Texas, the menu offers assorted “munchies,” including Tokyo Street Corn that combines grilled corn, yuzu pepper aioli and cotija.
To make snack sharing fun, mimic the small plates experience. Provide a sharable amount that can be passed around the table or sent home with guests as a grab-and-go snack.
Make It Easy and Economical
To avoid offerings that are too taxing on busy staff or cost-prohibitive, substitute ingredients with those you already use in-house and add authentic spices.
Try crafting popular street foods with your own spin. Street tacos, for one, can easily become a fusion of ingredients and flavors. The Applebee’s menu, for example, includes a variety of dishes featuring chicken. To appeal to diners seeking ethnic flavors and cuisines, the restaurant chain added Grilled Chicken Wonton Tacos, an appetizer featuring four crispy wonton shells filled with grilled chicken, sweet Asian chile sauce and dumpling sauce—and topped with a crunchy slaw and cilantro mix.2
Poutine is widely considered Canada’s street food, but it can be far more than French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. Indian fast-casual concept Curry Up Now offers its own version, dubbed Sexy Fries, made of cross-cut sweet potato fries, cheese and paneer or chicken tikka masala.3
Strive for Premium or Functional Ingredients
For ever-evolving American eating sensibilities, premium is a powerful purchasing motivator.
Guests look for value in price, of course, but they also seek premium quality—even if it may cost a little more. For example, 35 percent of consumers say they would pay more for antibiotic-free food.4 As a result, some of the leading chicken chains prioritize sourcing of chicken without antibiotics, including Chick-fil-A, which reached its no antibiotics ever chicken goal in September 2019.5 Be sure to communicate your ingredient standards—such as organic, free-range, non-GMO chicken or turkey with no antibiotics—to customers.
Additionally, functional food can provide another welcome lure. San Diego eatery Enclave Adventurous Superfood offers Tikka-ish Tacos. Customers can choose a fresh collard green leaf as the taco wrap. It’s then filled with chicken or chickpea tikka masala and includes arugula, microgreens and cucumber.3
Undoubtedly, snackable street food comes in many forms, but the global fare has popularity and flavor on its side. Find a few options that you can easily put your own spin on and add to your menu. It may become your next big hit.
- 2018 Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, https://www.technomic.com/available-studies/consumer-trend-reports/ethnic-food-beverage
- Fitzpatrick, Tara, “Street food-inspired snacks appeal to customers at restaurants and bars,” Nation’s Restaurant News, Feb. 26, 2020, https://www.nrn.com/chef-insights/street-food-inspired-snacks-appeal-customers-restaurants-and-bars
- Hamstra, Mark, “Global Eats: The Rise of Indian Street Food,” Specialty Food Magazine, Dec. 12, 2019, https://www.specialtyfood.com/news/article/global-eats-rise-indian-street-food/
- The New Healthy Keynote Report, Datassential, June 2019, https://apps.datassential.com/snap/ArticlesDownload/DownloadReportPdfFileSample?reportId=494
- Grant, Michelle, “Chick-fil-A has officially removed a problematic item from its menu,” TODAY, Sept. 16, 2019, https://www.today.com/food/real-difference-between-chick-fil-s-chicken-other-chains-t162642