The Global Plate: New Ethnic Food Trends

Americans are more than comfortable with ethnic food! In fact, they embrace new flavors, demand never-before-seen ingredients, and expect cultural infusions into classic dishes. Younger generations before us valued the familiar, but today millennials push the dining scene to offer more of the unique. Tradition has not been lost – it has been expanded.

The top ethnic cuisines influencing the market today are Italian, Latin and Asian. These three cuisines are now regarded as standard in the American diet. Consumer interest is turning to newly discovered cuisines, regional options and fusion styles. Mediterranean food, with its seasonings and healthy ingredients is no longer a secondary cuisine, standing on its own. We see small Mediterranean chains opening everywhere. Korean is emerging with barbecue sauce, bibimbap rice dishes and bulgogi marinated barbecue meats. Dishes from Africa, the Philippines and Peru are also beginning to capture the taste buds of Americans.

Chefs taking notice of this cultural shift are paving the way with eclectic creations in both casual and fine dining restaurants. For example, Chinese food in America has gone through phases of adaptation. In the past, Chinese cooks have changed dishes to suit the American palate. Shrimp lo mein, chow mein, chicken and broccoli and deep-fried egg rolls were premium Chinese food. Today, chefs are adding more authentic flavors to their menus such as mapo tofu and salt and pepper soft-shell crabs. Diners are being introduced to the velveting technique of Chinese food preparation. Once customers come through the door they are now introduced to new more authentic flavors and meal preparations.

Consider Mexican cuisine. The experience at the Barrio Café combines ancient Mexican traditions with modern techniques. Traditional Mexican is prepared in a hole in the ground. Chef Esparza uses a combination of an upright and an offset smoker to mimic the ancient cooking methods. With meats wrapped in cactus pads, banana leaves or maguey, they go in the smokers, with a tin of water to retain moisture, and continue to sit in the smoke to form a bark. Methods such as this bring authenticity to the plate – whether at a five-star restaurant or a casual café down the street.

Palate post

The Global Plate: New Ethnic Food Trends

  • “It was the first affordable ethnic cuisine (Chinese), dotted across the country. That stigma of, “To be good, it must be cheap, “it is still very much with us.” Chef Chris Cheung
  • “Crab cheese wontons and egg rolls could be considered in the same breath as French fries and hot dogs as “American” food. Chef Tommy Lee
  • People are looking to explore new ideas, new ingredients and new preparations. When a restaurant offers something out of the ordinary, people jump at the chance to try it.” Chef Brian Hardesty, Guerrilla Street Food
  • “Consumers are finding themselves more interested in ethnic flavors, as they’ve been exposed to them more them ever via social media.” Chef Dale Beauchamp, Half & Half
  • “For many Americans, Mexican is the new Italian”. Chef Johnny Hernandez, La Gloria in San Antonio
  • “For me, there’s no denying the art of Chinese food is centered around technique and taste. Its origins speak to that. But it was affected by the need for volume and speed. Add to that a streak of racism against it and you have a stain on otherwise great cuisine.” Chef Chris Cheung
  • We are seeing more Indian burrito bowls as well as breakfast fusion offerings with Indian spices and seasonings. They pair well with breakfast meats and eggs.” Chef Stefano Cordova
  • “Hooray for Mediterranean meats such as shawarma, kafta and doner kebab. Flavorful spices, with rich meats, crisp produce and bold creamy sauces all fit the craving of Millennial and Gen Z consumers.” Dennis Smaala

THE PROS: What they are saying

mixologists can borrow from other cuisines to create inspired sips.” Flavor March 2018

  • Japanese spice blend furikake, also known as “seven spice” is found on 1% of menus, an increse of 268% over the past four years. NRN 5/18
  • Korean Bulgogi a dish consisting of marinated beef or pork, is found on 1% if menus, an increase of 73% over the past 4 years. 23% of consumers know about it and 12% have tried it. Datassential
  • Sandwiches are one area of the menu we are seeing a rising Indian influence. Naan is the fastest growing carrier and mentions of it on full service menus alone have risen 287% in the past four years. Savory jams have helped with the acceptance of chutneys. Brain Darr, Datassential 2018
  • Sauces from different cuisines are now used in unique authentic and innovative ways. Chimichurri is an excellent example as seen in avocado chimichurri. California Avocado Commission
  • More than half American consumers want to see moreAsian-inspired dishes on menus in this country. Datassestial 2018
  • Ehtnic cuisine also has great influence in the breakfast daypart. Shakshuka are Middle Eastern baked eggs. Shakshuka mentions are up 326% on menus over the past four years.

Data Essential 2018

  • Mexican Chilaquiles are up 36% on breakfast menus over the past four years. Datassential 2018
  • Spice manufacturer, McCormick’s 2018 flavor forecast highlights East African flavors, the Philippines and Peru. Seasonings such as ras el hanout and sumac from the Middle East are also becoming more popular on menus.
  • “Culinary spices allow for as much innovation on the cocktail menu as the food menu, offering bartenders endless options for innovation and creativity. With all the world spice blends being introduced including togarashi, ras el hanout, hasrissa and dukkah, globally

FACTS: Here’s what you need to know

Throughout centuries people have been coming from different countries to the United States. More than often native customs and languages are lost. There is one common language that remains and needs no translation, food. Originally the beloved foods migrants brought with them from different countries were frowned upon. Today, these ethnic foods and preparations have rapidly entered our culinary landscape. In our cities today are Greek, Peruvian, Mexican, Indian, Chinese only to mention a few ethnic cuisines. We crave that ethnicity and we crave the story behind it. The relationship between culture and cuisine continues to fascinate.


  • was also formally trained in the French culinary traditions. Both experiences have developed my cooking sensibilities and make it uniquely my own style. For example, my version of Seafood Sinigang may be prepared using bouillabaisse techniques.” Chef Don Cortes
  • “We’re elevating ingredients and dishes and taking them away from that cheap spotlight that Mexican food has always been.” Chef Diego Galicia
  • There’s no better way to convey ethnic flavors but through one of America’s all-time favorite foods, pizza. What a great way to express global flavor and of course our increasing fascination with heat. Flavor 3/2018
  • “Hooray for Mediterranean meats such as shawarma, kafta and doner kebab. Flavorful spices, with rich meats, crisp produce and bold creamy sauces all fit the craving of Millennial and Gen Z consumers.” Dennis Smaala
  • “More chefs are embracing their own interpretations of traditional cuisines. I realize that cooking defines a cultural practice. It is a crucial part of ethnic identity. However, culinary authenticity is subjective even for people from within the same ethnic background.” Chef Don Cortes
  • “I grew up in the Philippines, and the flavors of my country of birth are deeply ingrained in me. I was

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Tony Lagana

Chef Tony is a 42-year veteran of the food industry and is often known by his peers as “The New Product Guru.” Throughout his illustrious culinary career, he’s earned several notable titles and positions including Acquisition International’s “Most Influential Product Development Expert, U.S.” in 2019.

In 1997, Tony also founded Culinary Systems Inc., a group of culinary consultants that assist with culinary training, restaurant start-ups, concept development, and more. Since then, Tony and his team have generated over two billion dollars in sales for their clients in restaurants, retail, and manufacturing.

The strategic, technical, and culinary skills of Tony and his team can be seen on the menus of national chains, in the portfolio of national food manufacturers, and on the grocery shelves of products produced by major retail companies.