Food Trends, Defined

There are so many, many food trends happening right now. I feel like that girl who arrives at a party just after the playlist ends. Or that person who's new to a group and frantically trying to figure out who everyone is and possibly remember one or two names next week. Just when I finally grasp one it becomes "so last year" and is hardly available on menus anymore, or has become hard to find in grocery stores. Do you ever feel like you fumble through the annals of your cookbooks or favorite food blogs without the slightest idea what the foreign-sounding foods actually are? Or let's talk about menus for a minute. How are you supposed to know that you'd like to make a given recipe or order a certain dish if you're not sure what it actually is? Maybe it's an ingredient - a spice mix, a dairy product, a flavoring - maybe it's an actual dish you're unsure about. I'm here to highlight a couple of the things I keep coming across which, at some point in the last year have caused a Google search or a blind tasting; some with happier results than others! It probably doesn't seem super cool to admit you have no idea what something is when basically all the world is talking about it, but I'm a believer in getting real answers to avoid awkward moments. Like when I finally found out that #nsfw had nothing to do with fashion week.

tempeh - tempeh is tofu's healthier, glorified cousin. Why healthier? Because while tofu is made by curdling and coagulating heated soymilk, tempeh is made from cooked, fermented soy beans pressed into a mold. Fermented foods are super foods. And you can read all about it in this article by Alernative Daily. In the meantime, tempeh is much like its spongy cousin in terms of use!
alt. translation: what people order when a soy-hater is listening and might understand the words, "tofu" and burger"

za'atar - a Middle-Eastern spice staple starring ground sumac mixed with sesame seeds, thyme, salt, and possibly a few other spices or herbs
alt. translation: "Where's your favorite spice market in Tel Aviv? Oh. You haven't been?"

labneh - full-fat yogurt, strained overnight to make it thicker and more tangy. 
alt. translation: I forgot to put away the yogurt last night so here's some improvised veggie dip.

hawaij - Yemenese spice blend with a hefty dose of ground cardamom, black pepper, cumin, and cloves often used on meats, vegetables, in stews, and even in rice or (if you're Molly Yeh) hot chocolate!
alt. translation: a classy blend starring a spice almost none of your friends will correctly identify the first taste

bahn mi - a kind of Vietnamese sandwich, traditionally of some variation of pork adorned with fresh cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro, and shredded radish, often served on a baguette or flat bread-style wrap with spicy mayonnaise.
alt. translation: What they tell you they're serving when making a real dinner was just too much work.

soba - a thick, chewy Asian noodle made of buckwheat flour. See also, udon.
alt. translation: "My noodle-vocabulary is cooler than your noodle vocabulary, so I won't just call these noodles. What a waste of my knowledge."

confit - a French method of preparing meat (most often goose or duck legs) which cooks the meat by submerging it in oil or fat and frying it over low heat, then storing meat in the fat to cure. Originally a method to preserve meats, now to create a velvety, melt-in-the-mouth texture to meats. The full process is described extensively at Serious Eats.
alt. translation: a method for creating fat-inception

kimchi - a Korean condiment made of vermented vegetables and spices, most notably napa cabbage, radishes, scallions, or ginger.
alt. translation: Sauerkraut fights in the Pacific theatre

sushimi - not to be confused with sushi, sushimi is plain and simplly very fresh (raw) fish sliced thinly and served without adornment.
alt. translation: perfect breakfast for your resident Gollum

What food trends have you stumped? Do you have any embarrassing, "I didn't know what this was and made a gaff" stories? I want to hear all of them, so let's chat about it. You might spare me further embarrassment by educating me now in this very safe space where we can all admit, "Yeah, I didn't know that."


  1. Bookmarking. I'm not into trends, but I am into new things . . . because if I don't like what we have, I live on dairy and sugar.

    "perfect breakfast for your resident Gollum" Yes.

    1. Oh my goodness - I totally agree about if you don't plan well, you'll live on dairy and sugar. Ugh. The struggle.

  2. You mean sumac isn't poisonous? Huh. It looks poisonous to me.

    Now "bahn mi," on the other hand, sounds quite good!