Dinner Diversity: Emerging global cuisines find a place at the dinner table

From the winter 2017 issue of CRFN

By Dora Meza

Dishes with global influences are becoming increasingly popular at the dinner table, more so than during breakfast, brunch, lunch or snacking occasions. Approximately half of consumers are more likely to try ethnic-inspired items or flavours at dinner, according to Technomic’s 2017 Canadian Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report. That’s compared to just a third of consumers who say the same for lunch and a tenth who agree to ordering ethnic items at breakfast, with many instead opting for more standard fare during these dayparts. This interest in ethnic, particularly at dinner, is largely driven by younger diners.

What’s tempting consumers to try more international offerings at dinner? One reason for this movement is a growing desire for new culinary encounters when dining out. Six out of 10 consumers agree that they are eating more unique types of ethnic foods and beverages now than two years ago, according to Technomic’s report, and the same proportion also say they want to try new flavours.

Outside of adventurous taste experiences, the authenticity of a dish is also proving important. With 64 per cent of consumers considering authenticity a top consideration for ordering, more operators are focusing on cooking the truest preparations and flavours of international cuisines. Younger consumers, who are more ethnically diverse than previous generations, are also leading the pursuit to more authentic meals.

What’s noteworthy about the growth of ethnic cuisines is that less familiar global fare is making its way onto dinner menus. While mainstream fare like Italian and Chinese will always have a strong presence, the foods and beverages from lesser known regions of the world are budding. Let’s look at four emerging ethnic cuisines that are influencing the dinner landscape.


Ukrainian dishes are on the rise, with 26 per cent of consumers ordering these items at least once every 90 days. Interest in Ukrainian fare is partly due to its flavours aligning with the already familiar German and Polish cuisines.

Traditional dishes that often appear on a Ukrainian dinner table include borscht soup, which comes in hundreds of varieties but is typically made with fresh beets and other vegetables or meats, and varenyky, or small stuffed dumplings that can be served as an appetizer or main course. Another Ukrainian dinner favourite is Chicken Kiev—a boned chicken breast rolled around a chilled chunk of herbed butter, then dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and fried until crisp.

These offerings are popping up more on both chain and independent menus across the country. The Pickle Barrel in Ontario, which falls in Technomic’s 200 Canada chain ranking, serves P.B. Original Cabbage Borscht, while Ottawa’s Riviera restaurant spotlights a Chicken Kiev with whipped potatoes and carrots on its dinner menu.


More and more, Filipino influences are penetrating the foodservice market. The cuisine of the Philippines is shaped by both European and mainland Asian cultures and includes selections such as adobo, bagoong (a fermented seafood paste) and sisig (a dish made from a pig’s head and liver). Consumers are open to sampling these often sour and bitter flavours, with one-fifth agreeing that they are likely to order Filipino cuisine from time to time.

A new option at dinner is the arrival of Filipino quick-service chain Jollibee, which debuted a year ago in Winnipeg and has plans for continued expansion across Canada. Consumers, and especially those adamant on authenticity, can experience true Filipino flavours through the brand’s menu of fried chicken, burgers, sandwiches and noodles. A more traditional choice at Jollibee is the Palabok Fiesta — bihon rice noodles served with palabok sauce and toppings of pork chicharron bits, tinapa flakes (smoked fish flakes), sauteed pork, shrimp and egg slices. Jollibee also sticks to its original menu by offering rice as a side to further the authentic appeal and create greater differentiation from established quick-service chains.


Matching Filipino, 20 per cent of consumers are also ordering Moroccan fare at least once every 90 days. With French, Moorish and Arab influences, to name a few, Moroccan dinners are packed with an array of aromatic flavours. Selections include briouat (a sweet- or savory-filled pastry), couscous and harira (a spiced vegetable soup). Another traditional option is tagines, or stew-like dishes named after the clay pot used for the cooking and featuring a variety of ingredients like apricots, chicken and vegetables.

Diners now have more opportunities to sample the heavily spiced flavours of Morocco thanks to recent restaurant openings. In Toronto, Atlas Restaurant debuted last spring and offers a taste of French Moroccan cuisine through small plates and sharing plates. The menu includes mushroom briouat and Marrakesh-style olives for appetizers, as well as sides of couscous and grilled red pepper with za’atar and olive oil. For the main dish, guests can opt for proteins such as whole-roasted stuffed quail or a tagine of roasted goat, okra, chickpeas and squash. At Bar Sybanne, Moroccan-inspired dishes include Ras el Hanout, or roasted carrots, and apple cake with a Moroccan-spiced ice cream.


Another ethnic cuisine finding itself on the dinner plate is Ethiopian, which 15 per cent of consumers say they are likely to order on occasion. Stew-like dishes and a sourdough spongy bread called injera are staples of this cuisine. The injera is used in place of utensils, acting like a tortilla would in Mexican cooking. Traditional favourites include firfir (shredded pieces of injera with meat or vegetables), shiro wat (ground chickpeas in a curry-like sauce) and kitfo (minced raw beef). Ethiopian culture also uses coffee and coffee ceremonies to extend friendship and hospitality to guests. Coffee beans are often freshly roasted and ground in front of guests on a tray with burning incense, and the coffee is typically paired with popcorn or nuts.

Despite its modern decor, Montreal’s Queen Sheba restaurant provides visitors with a classic Ethiopian menu. Guests choose from vegetarian, beef, lamb and chicken dishes to pair with injera bread, or opt for chef-arranged platters. At Ensira Ethiopian Restaurant in Calgary, guests can complement traditional dishes with Ethiopian beer, spiced teas or a coffee ceremony that provides a tray of rich Ethiopian coffee and smoking incense.

Broadening the Appeal of New Cuisines

While many diners seek out emerging ethnic fare on their own, operators can take steps to enhance their appeal to a wider audience. For instance, offering samples of global flavours through sauces or condiments allow less-daring guests to get a taste of exotic cuisines without having to fully commit. Ethnic sauces and condiments also pair well with more recognizable entree platforms like burgers, chicken, pork, steak and fish.

Using recognizable terminology and vivid descriptions to label foreign menu items, as well as training front-of-house staff to educate consumers on ethnic dishes are also key to making these international fares more enticing. Four out of 10 consumers say they are unlikely to try a dish with no description or that has a name they can’t understand, according to Technomic. Detailed menus, corresponding pictures and knowledgeable staff can do much to coax guests out of their comfort zone.

As Canada’s immigrant population continues to grow, so too will consumers’ interest in branching beyond mainstream ethnic cuisines. While Ukrainian, Filipino, Moroccan and Ethiopian are just some of the emerging cuisines in foodservice, other regions of the world will also start to excite taste buds as Canada grows more diverse. Particularly look for greater influence from regions where immigrant populations are growing in Canada, such as Asia, the Middle East and Africa. These new culinary influences will allow diners to explore global cultures through taste like never before.

Dora Meza is Assistant Editor at Technomic Inc. Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. Its services include publications and digital products, as well as proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the food industry. Visit www.technomic.com.

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