Food trends often centre around a single ingredient or innovative cooking technique. However, it seems the latest global food craze is not so much about the food but how it is served.
Food bowls have grown in popularity in the United States and United Kingdom, and are now rolling into many of the UAE’s trendiest restaurants and cafes.
Over the past five years, data collected by Technomic – one of the leading food research and consulting firms in the US – suggests that food bowls have grown in popularity by nearly 30 per cent rise as an entrée.
“Bowl meals are definitely a trend with traction,” Technomic’s managing editor, Aimee Harvey, recently told the New York Post.
It is thought the trend is being driven by global shift toward healthier eating. Bowls are often packed with healthy ingredients and usually contain at least one health-boosting super food.
“The bowl trend is definitely all about healthy and wholesome ingredients put together in a colourful and beautiful way,” says Candice Walker, the acting head chef at The Sum of Us in Dubai.
The restaurant added six bowls to its menu a month ago, including a confit lamb and quinoa salad bowl, a kimchi bowl, and The Sum of Us bowl, which is filled with feel-good ingredients such as roasted cauliflower, black rice, spinach, pumpkin seeds and beetroot hummus.
“Our bowls are all about fresh produce, diverse grains such as buckwheat soba noodles, quinoa, buckwheat, pearl barley and freekeh, and unique dressings that give it different textures and flavours,” says Walker.
Bowls are also more convenient than food on a plate. Poke Poke Dubai, the UAE’s first poke restaurant, whips up customisable bowls with fresh ingredients in a fraction of the time it would take to order a meal at a traditional restaurant.
Poke (pronounced poh-kay) is a centuries-old traditional Hawaiian raw-fish salad, which has burst onto the global culinary scene in the past two years. Modern poke restaurants serve the raw fish with a variety of healthy mix-ins and sauces. They also offer alternative protein options, including chicken and tofu.
Poke Poke Dubai’s bowls have been a hit with foodies since the shop opened in February. Jeremiah Dupin, one of the partners in the business, says the variety is endless.
“We have more than 60 mix-and-pick ingredients,” he says. “You could eat at Poke Poke every day and never have the same bowl. You can pack a lot of flavour and easily mix it into the bowl – and bowls are easy to take on the go if the foodie is in hurry.”
Such is the popularity of such food, that Poke Poke will open a delivery-only outlet in JLT in two months and another branch in Dubai’s Galleria Mall.
“Most of our options can be considered healthy,” Dupin says. “I think that’s why people are drawn to it. People are tired of all the burgers, kebab shops and other restaurants that don’t give them much control over their order.”
Trendy restaurants across Abu Dhabi and Dubai are onto it too, with many revamping their menus and devoting entire sections to bowl food.
Nolu’s Café, which has outlets in Al Bandar and the Galleria Mall in Abu Dhabi, recently added a build-your-own bowls section, to their menu, where customers can pick a grain, a protein, a dressing and four healthy toppings for Dh70.
Home-grown concept Common Grounds, in Dubai (from the same company behind Tom and Serg and The Sum of Us), just launched a new menu devoted to bowls at its JBR location.
“There is a trend for healthy foods right now and bowls is one of them,” says Sumi Payne, general manager of Common Grounds, JBR. “Most places have the option of building your own bowl so people have full control over what they’re eating. It began with poke bowls from Hawaii, and restaurants and cafes around the world are following suit with their own version.”
Even big chains are getting in on the act. SushiArt Arabia introduced donburi (which translates as “bowl”) options to its menu last year and added poke bowls on its 2017 menu.
“Bowls answer the fast-paced needs of our society,” says Nadim Majdalani, chief financial officer and business development director of SushiArt Arabia. “One of the reasons behind the popularity of food served in bowls is the option to gather protein, whole grains, vegetables and sauces into one dish that is nutritious and healthy, providing a unique combination of flavours and textures.”
Don’t underestimate the power of social media’s influence.
“The variety of colours and ingredients make bowls so visually appealing,” Majdalani says.
Dupin adds: “People eat with their eyes before their mouths. Bowls are popular on social media because they’re photogenic. You can mix and match an array of colourful ingredients that will appeal to many people.”