By Aaron Jourden
Now, more than ever, ethnic cuisine is fueling menu trends, fads and innovations taking place in the restaurant world. While this can be seen across mealparts and dayparts, food and drink, and flavours and ingredients, global inspirations arguably have the most impact when applied to starters and centre-of-the-plate dishes.
Here we look at some ethnic meat and poultry preparations that could inspire chefs and restaurant operators in the coming year. Some of these dishes are already well represented on Canadian menus but are receiving somewhat of a makeover as of late, while others are at the leading edge of the trend spectrum.
Beef is the second-most-prevalent protein in starters and entrées on Canadian menus (excluding seafood and tofu), coming only after chicken, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor. While certainly a craveable protein, beef is commonly served as a steak or on a burger—leaving ample room to develop ethnic dishes featuring the meat.
Operators, however, can approach beef in new ways when part of a traditional or fusion ethnic dish. Different cooking techniques, flavourful sauces and the use of less-common cuts can help cast beef in interesting and unexpected light.
In Toronto, Lamesa Filipino Kitchen features beef in both small and large dishes, highlighting the flavour profiles from the Southeast Asian country’s cuisine. Visitors can snack on a small plate of Corned Beef Lumpia with ricotta, bacon, scallion and cabbage, or settle into a comforting bowl of Beef Bulalo Shortrib with bone marrow, cabbage, potato, carrot, salsa verde and ginger broth.
Restaurants can also draw from a host of ethnic sauces, condiments and spice mixtures to create engaging twists on familiar fare. Pairing grilled beef with Argentinian chimichurri sauce is a classic combination that gets an eclectic treatment at Sawmill Prime Rib & Steak House in Edmonton. Guests can order a Surf or Turf Taco with blackened sirloin steak, pickled red onion, avocado, tomato, salsa, arugula and housemade chimichurri. Harissa is a North African condiment gaining more attention for its spicy kick and aromatic qualities. On offer at Queue de Cheval in Montreal is the Mediterranean-influenced Mob Burger with pepperoni, sautéed mushrooms, mozzarella, harissa tomato sauce and truffle oil.
Pork is a standout protein within culinary traditions the world over—from the star meat in Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches to the foundation of the succulent taste in Mexican carnitas dishes. Pork is a great canvas upon which chefs can experiment with various ethnic interpretations since it matches up well with big, bold flavours and is adaptable to many preparation styles.
Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches have been celebrated as a trendy ethnic dish for some time, loved for their exotic ingredients and textural contrasts in a familiar format at an attractive price point. Pork is a classic meat filling for these sandwiches, making appearances in the form of pulled pork, barbecue pork, grilled pork and pork belly. The Classic at Vancouver’s DD MAU features steamed pork loaf, head cheese, pork shoulder, housemade pâté, cucumber, pickled radish and carrot, cilantro and jalapeños on fresh baguette.
Pork carnitas is a classic Mexican pork preparation consisting of small pieces of browned pork that are often used as a filling for tacos and burritos. This craveable protein is generally made from an inexpensive cut of pork and would work well as a fusion street food with other ethnic ingredients. La Capital Tacos in Montreal serves a simple carnitas taco filled with marinated pork carnitas, coriander, onion and radish. Guests at Vancouver’s Patron Tacos & Cantina can opt for a torta sandwich filled with carnitas, chipotle mayonnaise, refried beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, jalapeño and guacamole.
Restaurants are also making pork a central ingredient in traditional Canadian dishes reimagined with ethnic flourishes. For example, Mata Petisco Bar in Toronto gives a Brazilian twist to its Smoked Pork Poutine by serving it with cassava frites instead of potatoes.
Chicken is far and away the most prevalent protein on Canadian menus, loved by restaurants and diners alike for its multitude of preparation possibilities, adaptability to both healthy and indulgent preparations, and modest cost relative to other proteins such as beef. The popularity of this protein also means that operators must be more creative with it to differentiate from competitors.
As with beef and pork, restaurants can look at global dishes for ideas and inspiration when it comes to menu development around chicken items.
Recently, there has been a resurgence in fried chicken. New concepts are giving this traditional comfort food a makeover by focusing on fresh preparation and quality ingredients. For example, these new concepts make use of local ingredients, pay homage to the American South and feature an Asian style, flavour profile or technique from the traditions of South Korea, Japan or Taiwan.
Korean fried chicken might be the best known of the Asian styles, with its thin crackly crust and moist meat. Torafuku in Vancouver marinates its Rye So Messy Chicken Wings with rye and gochujang, and serves them with mango glaze, ramen crumble and “KFC” (Korean fried chicken) sauce. Toronto’s Mo’Ramyun coats its fried chicken in crushed noodles and serves it with garlic mayonnaise and gochujang dipping sauces.
Compared to chicken, beef and pork, turkey has much lower incidence on menus across Canada. And when it is on the menu, the protein is found most often on a sandwich or burger. Like chicken, turkey can serve as a platform to showcase different cuisines since it plays well with all sorts of flavours and preparation methods. Turkey also makes a great substitute not just in burger patties, but in items like chorizo, pepperoni, bacon and even schnitzel.
One platform well-suited for turkey is Indian curry, especially a curry applied to a mashup-style format such as in tacos or burritos. Habaneros Modern Taco Bar, with three locations in the Halifax area, recently offered a special of Indian Curry Turkey Quesadillas, prepared with roasted turkey, curry sauce, jalapeños, Havarti, cheddar, sautéed onions and peppers, cilantro and choice of salsa or cranberry sour cream.
As an alternative to other proteins, turkey works well in a variety of dishes, from the growing number of turkey burgers to less-common applications like Buffalo-style turkey wings and Cuban sandwiches. Big Wings from Parlor Foods & Co in Toronto is a haute take on classic Buffalo-style chicken, consisting of confit turkey wings, blue cheese, pickled crudité and a choice of maple-rye-and-mustard hot sauce, hot-and-honey sauce or Buffalo sauce. La Cage Brasserie Sportive, with locations throughout Quebec, recently added its own take on the Cubano sandwich with a version featuring slices of roasted turkey breast, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and chipotle mayonnaise.
About the author:
Aaron Jourden is Editorial Manager for Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm. Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. Visit technomic.com for more information.