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Up-and-Coming Global Cuisines Looking to Capture American Palates

 

Lucas Witman

Until the 1930s, few Americans had ever tasted a taco or burrito, but since then, Mexican cuisine has become a ubiquitous staple in this country. Likewise, before the 1980s, most American diners would have found it appalling to sit down to a plate of raw fish and rice, but today it seems that there is a sushi bar on every urban street corner. And living in a country with 43,000 Chinese restaurants, it can be easy to forget that there was once a time when the cuisine of China was about as foreign to American eaters as the cuisine of Mars.

Throughout American history, palates (and, subsequently, the foods American cooks place on their dinner tables) have constantly evolved. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the effects of immigration, American travel abroad, the careful marketing of global cuisines in this country and the simple transformation of tastes. It is understood that the dishes most popular with one generation are almost certain to be different from those most beloved by the next. With American palates shifting so rapidly, and with the potential rewards for staying on top of the trends so great, many are motivated to shape and predict what will be the next big thing in global cuisine.

Polish cuisine attracting adventurous gourmands

According to the American Community Survey, there are currently almost 10 million Polish Americans living in the United States, making up 3.3 percent of the total population. In Wisconsin and Michigan, over 9 percent of the population is of Polish descent. As the Polish population in this country is burgeoning, so is the importation of goods from Poland. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2010 and 2013, the value of goods imported into this country from Poland increased 65.5 percent.

International travel to Poland is also up (over 12 percent since 2009), and Americans make up the second largest group of visitors to the country after the French. The cuisine of Poland has become one of the draws bringing American tourists to the country. In part due to the success of high end gourmet Polish eateries, such as Warsaw’s Atelier Amaro, the first restaurant in Poland to receive the Michelin rising star award, hungry food tourists are flocking to Eastern Europe to taste indigenous Polish ingredients prepared with 21st century techniques.

According to Tomasz Piszczek, founder of Polish specialty food company Polska Foods, Inc., the increasing popularity of Poland as a destination for food tourists and of Polish food more generally in this country is the result of Polish chefs going back to the country’s pre-communist roots and re-inventing the national cuisine with an eye toward freshness and flavor. “During the communists, the Polish kitchen used a lot of salt, fat and black pepper to increase the flavor. You didn’t have too many spices. It was difficult to get access to traditional ingredients such as cloves, anise, figs, cinnamon, saffron, walnuts, almonds, and nutmeg,” said Piszczek.

Piszczek explained that contemporary chefs specializing in Polish cuisine approach the country’s food traditions in a different way. “The new generation in Poland right now is bringing back their culinary heritage of the past centuries—food with exquisite flavor that was influenced by Italian Queen Bona in the 16th century in Poland, who brought culinary lavishness to the Polish court,” he said. “As the new generation returns to old traditions, and as more people travel to Poland, many are rediscovering Polish cuisine that artfully blends many European flavors into one celebrated dish, setting the record straight for future generations.” According to Piszczek, this modern Polish cuisine features a wide variety of spices, vegetables, seeds and nuts, and this is the Polish cuisine he sees growing in popularity among U.S. eaters.

Malaysian tastemakers looking to capitalize on American love of fusion 

The American love affair with fusion cuisine goes back at least to the 1970s, when increased U.S. trade with Asian countries led to an explosion of American eateries specializing in Japanese or Chinese delicacies, but with a distinctly Western twist. Asian fusion continues to be popular throughout the United States, along with a plethora of other fusion cuisines from Tex-Mex to Louisiana Creole to California cuisine. As Americans continue to go crazy for fusion, another exotic fusion cuisine could be on deck to capture consumer interest in this country: Malaysian cuisine.

For Americans who are often so enamored with the combination of disparate global flavors, ingredients and techniques, the fusion cuisine of Malaysia seems tailor-made for the country’s food-obsessed populace. Malaysian cuisine represents the unique coalescence of Indian, Chinese, Thai, Portuguese, Middle Eastern and native Malay flavors.

“Why do Americans need Malaysian cuisine?” asked Christina Arokiasamy, chef, author and Malaysia’s Food Ambassador to the United States. “America has given Thailand a chance. America has given Japan a chance. America has given India a chance, China a chance, Vietnam a chance. America is a country that is multicultural. America is close to traditions. And Americans are also very innovative. We Malaysians are also very close to our culture, just like Americans. We are very traditional, yet we are so innovative that we can make this kind of food for the American kitchen.”

The most popular Malaysian dishes represent the melting pot that is the company’s eclectic food culture. Hokkien Mee, for example, is a Chinese style noodle dish cooked with crispy cubes of deep fried pork lard. Nasi Kandar is a popular rice dish, seasoned with Thai-inspired curry sauces. Malaysia also offers its own unique take on satay, a dish popular throughout Southern Asia, from India to Indonesia.

With bottled Malaysian sauces, packaged spice pastes and pre-packaged heat-and-serve meals available in many grocery stores, cooks who never before attempted a Malaysian passport meal at home are now beginning to experiment with the exotic flavors of this Southeast Asian kingdom. Meanwhile, those less likely to whip up their own Malaysian feast are experimenting with the flavors of the country at popular restaurants, such as San Francisco’s Banana Leaf, New York’s Nyonya and Las Vegas’ Satay.

Home cooks experimenting with flavors of India

Although Indian food is relatively well established in this country and thus does not necessarily fall into the category of up-and-coming global cuisines in the way Malaysian or Polish food might, the fare of the Indian subcontinent is growing as a mainstream cuisine of choice in this country. According to market research company Mintel, retail and foodservice sales of Indian food have jumped 35 percent in recent years. As a result, more and more home cooks today are experimenting with Indian flavors and ingredients in their own kitchens.

Today many Americans who never before touched a plate of chicken tikka masala, palak paneer or vegetable jalfrezi are carefully dipping their toes into the pool for the first time. This is in part due to the work of gourmet food companies that are attempting to make Indian dishes and flavors more accessible to the average American. Whereas one once had to visit a specialty grocery to pick up the staples necessary for preparing an Indian meal, today the average supermarket offers a selection of Indian ingredients and heat-and-serve dishes.

“It’s getting a little bit easier [to appeal to Americans], because people have become more adventurous in what they want to eat. They want new spice profiles. They want higher spice profiles. And Indian food provides that,” said Mike Ryan, Vice President of Marketing for Deep Foods, a manufacturer of Indian foods.