Today’s savvy diners want authenticity, bold flavor, portability, and convenience. Globally inspired street food delivers on all of these aspects, and when offered to go, it can be incredibly profitable for your operation. Ethnic takeout is nothing new, but with consumers hungry for new ingredients and craving food that tells a story, it’s time to elevate the carryout menu. There are endless possibilities when it comes to the ﬂavor proﬁles and cultures from which inspiration can be drawn for your to-go program.
Street food with international ﬂair is hot these days amid the convergence of several larger trends. The convenience of street food is ideal for catering to the millennial consumer: according to Technomic, about 44 percent of millennials are ordering takeout more often. According to Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report, ethnic ﬂavors such as Mexican, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and Caribbean are very appealing to consumers, with Mexican near the top of the list at 67 percent. Combine these trending concepts by incorporating ethnic ingredients onto your takeout menu to heighten customer appeal and your brand’s reputation.
When it comes to Mexican and Latin American street food, improve the typical taco by offering a range of ingredients such as braised pork, braised turkey, hot pickles and carrots, jalapeño-carrot slaw, pickled red onions, and cilantro-lime crema. Present the elements in separate containers to allow customers to assemble their perfect taco at home.
When executed correctly, tacos are an excellent option for serving Latin fare to go; however, there are plenty more creative, ﬂavorful options to explore. Elotes, grilled corn on the cob spread with mayonnaise and sprinkled with cheese, is prime for customizable toppings. Oﬀer several house-made butters and cheese combinations to pair with elotes to go. The torta is another perfect canvas for ﬂavor building. A classic preparation is milanesa (chicken, beef, or pork cutlets) topped with crema, avocado, and jalapeño, but experiment with unexpected ﬂavor combinations for maximum impact such as house-made chorizo, creamy black beans, and pickled red onions.
Venezuela’s famous street food sandwich, the arepa ﬂatbread, is about the size of a burger and made with corn ﬂour. It can be grilled, baked, or fried. Like the torta, it is incredibly versatile when it comes to ﬁllings. Put your restaurant’s signature touch on this sandwich by allowing diners to choose their own adventure when it comes to ﬁllings and toppings. Other masa-based street foods include the Salvadoran pupusa and the Mexican huarache, two vehicles that marry convenience with endless ﬂavor possibilities.
In Peru, anticuchos are the country’s version of meat on a stick that can feature any protein from grilled steak to shrimp. The dipping sauce — typically garlic, onion, cilantro, and acid such as vinegar or lemon juice — is where foodservice operators can differentiate themselves and cater to different palates.
Middle Eastern Cuisine On the Move
With its fresh ﬂavors, vegetable-centric options, and shareable quality, Middle Eastern is the perfect cuisine to capitalize on several trends in your to-go program. It’s an opportunity to provide customers with enticing ethnic tastes, convenience, and customizable family-friendly meals. While most Middle Eastern eateries oﬀer similar dishes, make yours stand out by altering the ﬂavor proﬁles and taking these traditional items to the next level.
Tabbouleh, a mixture of parsley, mint, and bulgur can easily be customized with diﬀerent herbs and grains. Have customers select a produce-rich base and pair it with proteins, spreads, toppings, and sauces. Some combinations to oﬀer include rainbow Swiss chard and quinoa, kale and freekeh, or arugula and bulgur wheat. Falafel, the fried chickpea patties or balls, is typically served with tahini or fresh cucumber sauce and topped with pickles. Set your falafel apart with unexpected, playful combinations such as house-made pickles and hot sauce (the Yemeni hot sauce zhug is similar to a chimichurri and perfect for falafel.)
Meatier Middle Eastern cuisine also presents interesting opportunities for various ﬂavor proﬁles. Serve shawarma – chicken, lamb, or mixed meats roasted on a spit spiced with coriander and sweet fenugreek – with accompaniments such as tabbouleh, falafel, or in a wrap with pickled vegetables and Lebanese garlic sauce. Za’atar, a mixture of Mediterranean herbs, sesame, and sumac is traditionally served on labneh or sprinkled on hummus, but can also be featured in takeout items with chicken, ﬁsh, or lamb. Add harissa, a combination of sweet paprika, garlic, caraway, and hot chili powder, to enhance a dry rub for ﬂavorful grilled meats, or use it to heighten the ﬂavor of egg dishes such as the Israeli-inspired dish, shakshuka.
All About Asia
Chinese cuisine made takeout mainstream, but these days, there are more options than ever before. The latest trend is Jianbing, typically eaten for breakfast but perfect for all dayparts. This crêpe-like dish is ﬁlled with scallions, eggs, pickles, and hoisin sauce, but it’s highly customizable and extremely portable. Other to-go snacks include bao buns – steamed buns ﬁlled with everything from barbecue pork (char siu) to hoisin-glazed mushrooms and deep-fried tofu.
The Indian street food scene is vibrant and diverse, providing plenty of inspiration for your globally inspired takeout. Chaat is the collective term for craveable snacks such as pani puri (crispy fried spheres ﬁlled with ingredients like potatoes, chickpeas, onions, and chutney) that can be found at food stalls and roadside food carts. Dosas, airy rice lentil crêpes, and paratha ﬂatbreads are excellent vehicles for customization with ﬁllings and condiments.
Banh mi and pho are arguably Vietnam’s most well-known foods, but there’s much more to explore in this vibrant street food culture. In Hanoi, bun cha — ﬂavorful grilled pork served over noodles and plenty of herbs — reigns supreme and can be easily adapted to your restaurant’s culinary style. Banh can are mini pancakes that can be topped with diﬀerent proteins such as shrimp and are perfect bites to take on the go.
The street food scene in Thailand also provides plenty of inspiration for fl experimentation with your takeout program. Fried rice is a quintessential dish; lime, chiles, ﬁsh sauce, and tomatoes give it that Thai spin. Grilled meats such as chicken and pork skewers marinated in coconut milk and fl with cilantro, garlic, and peppers are Thailand’s answer to the classic skewer; fermented sausage from the northern region is another popular meat on a stick option. To cater to vegetarian diners, Thai street food favorites such as green papaya salad and golden and crispy Thai omelets topped with chiles ﬁt the bill. Thai desserts are also well suited for takeout convenience from fried bananas to mango sticky rice (fresh mango combined with coconut sticky rice and drizzled with coconut syrup).
The demand for global flavors and convenience isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Diners view their food experiences as a method of building their cultural involvement and expressing their identities. Presenting customers with unique ﬂavors, cultural cuisine, and a convenient, personalized build-your-own experience will set your restaurant and brand up for success and proﬁtability in the takeout category.