#DHRecaps | 2018 as the year of flavour

Regional meals, local ingredients, expensive dishes and exotic grains dominated the 2018 foodscape. But flavour was the ultimate winner

Thai rolled ice cream was a favourite of many in 2018.

If 2018 had an end-of-the-year, dishy-dish pageant, there would be 21 pretty-scrumptious things in the final list. First up is the one with a monosyllable for an identity. Oc. That is the name of a hot contestant. Actually, a slow one. The one that walks in snail’s speed. Why? Because oc is snail in Vietnamese. Snails ran up fast on the 2018 ladder. Freshwater and salt, big and small snails. Pan-fried with chilli, lemongrass and garlic. Simmered in a salty broth. Grilled over coals. Snails, snails and more snails. 

Vietnam to the fore

Another Vietnamese dish that 2018 puffed about was bun rieu cua. I do not know how to roll my tongue for this, but I can tell you that it is a fragrant soup made of crushed freshwater crabs, poured over vermicelli noodles, roasted tomatoes, crab meat and simmered pork, and topped with fresh herbs, chopped banana flower and bean sprouts, garnished with shrimp paste and a spritz of lime juice. That’s a lot of things in a dish but you need them all for that big bouquet of aroma in the 2018 favourite. 

Fat wallets, full tummies

In the list compiled by Australian travel website Traveller, the ritziest dish of 2018 is the $600 steak at Black Bar & Grill, The Star Sydney. Pay heed to the description on the website: “Off-the-menu, break-the-bank steak has its own private waitlist. Chef Dany Karam takes a one-kg, 28-day dry-aged wagyu rib-eye and grills it over glowing logs of ironbark, seasoning it only with Murray River pink salt. The taste is not so much beefy as savoury and vegetal — pure umami — with a lightly smoky back flavour.” Bring along the ‘Miss La-di-dah’ sash for this 2018’s best steak.

There are 18 others in the Traveller’s 2018 21-hot list. Of special note are aragostine from Italy, and organic roast lamb from Iceland.

Bacon jam
Unconventional jams were the order of the day in 2018

The headliners

According to National Restaurant Association, the new 2018 favourite meat cuts are shoulder tender, oyster steak, Vegas Strip steak, and Merlot cut. In 2018, street food staples such as tempura, kebabs, dumplings, and pupusas reigned supreme. While omelettes and waffles continue a good run, ethnic-inspired chorizo-scrambled eggs and coconut milk pancakes found countless takers. The regular cilantro, parsley, and thyme were being nudged out by almost-unheard chervil, lovage, lemon balm and papalo. Edging sugar out are savoury jams: bacon jam, tomato jam and hot pepper jelly. The other headline-makers were bold African flavours, Thai-rolled ice-cream, ethnic spices such as harissa, curry, peri peri, ras-el-hanout and shichimi, doughnuts with non-traditional fillings such as liqueur and Earl Grey cream, and healthy entrees for kids won over the common ‘Happy Meals’. Ancient grains such as kamut, spelt, amaranth and lupin have been around for thousands of years, but they made a comeback in 2018. The ones watching their weight stocked up on hemp, chia, quinoa and flax. 2018 also belonged to ethnic cheeses such as queso fresco, paneer, labne and halloumi. Mini things made maximum noise with bite-sized desserts.

Millets came to the fore in 2018
Millets came to the fore in 2018.

Yesterday’s news

The concept of turning vegetables into noodles (zoodles) is now classified as yesterday’s news. Traditional cuts such as the rib eye, T-bone and filet have fallen out of favour, so have bitter melon, algae in the meal, flavoured popcorn, offal, and drinks in mason jars.

Perennial favourites

This 2018 list included breakfast burrito and taco, shrimp cocktail, Mediterranean flavours (olive oil, lemon and basil), bacon, sweet potato egg breakfast hash and barbecue. This year, food science, too, has been working overtime to shatter myths, rustle new technology and find hidden food secrets of longevity and cure. American Chemical Society has reported about a newly discovered wild tea plant in China that contains little or no caffeine. This one comes without the explosive caffeine jolt and is packed with health benefits. Researchers now believe that a predominantly plant-based or vegan diet may be best for keeping type 2 diabetes in check and cephalopods could become an important food source in the global community. Hear, hear, food is going the AI way. Facial recognition is a big food-tech trend. Airlines are now experimenting with facial recognition technology that displays customer preferences for food (and their current mood) to attendants and storing those likes and dislikes for future flights. KFC is using this technology in a location in China to register dining favourites.

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#DHRecaps | 2018 as the year of flavour

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