Looking for menu inspiration? Take it to the streets!

Elote (Mexican street corn smothered in cotija cheese, butter and chili), bunny chow (hollowed out bread filled with curry, a popular street food in South Africa), kabobs, falafel and grilled chicken yakitori served on a skewer doused with peanut sauce – the list of street foods is endless. Almost every country serves up its own unique form of street food, whether it’s crispy crickets in Asia or crispy potato sandwiches called vada pav in India; this year, Datassential dove into it all in issues of Creative Concepts and International Concepts dedicated to street fare.

In the US, street foods are a menu category in their own right, taking the industry by storm as operators look to add a bit of authentic “street cred” to menus with globally-inspired street foods. According to Datassential MenuTrends, the word "street" has increased nearly 40% on menus over the past four years, with menu items like “street tacos” especially taking off, up more than 200% over the same time period. The versatile menu item can now be found at chains like P.F. Chang’s and Del Taco, where they are filled with anything from lobster and shrimp to carne asada.

Here are a number of international chains making waves with unique street foods, covered in our August 2016 issue of International Concepts: Street Food:

  • Yakitori Koubou, a Japanese chain with one location in the US (in San Diego, Calif.), focuses its menu on yakitori, a street food that’s ubiquitous in Japan. While it technically refers to chicken, yakitori is essentially any meat that’s skewered on a stick and grilled over a charcoal flame. As operators look for unique new street food-inspired preparations, they might look to yakitori, an item 66% of consumers say they would purchase at a restaurant or store (World Bites: Japan). The Japanese chain also offers snacks like torisenbei, or deep-fried chicken skin, the highest ranking street food item we tested in the issue (67% of consumers wanted to try it, outranking both a doner kebab and chicken tostada).
  • Old Chang Kee, a Singapore-based chain with over 90 locations around the globe, capitalizes on the huge street food culture in the country, bringing its signature curry puffs (a savory pastry with curried potatoes, herbs, spices, chicken and egg) to the masses. There’s plenty of other street food inspiration in Singapore as well – the first street vendor to ever receive a Michelin star is located in Singapore and specializes in Hainanese Chicken Rice, a dish that includes boiled chicken and rice cooked in chicken fat, which could make for a unique spin on traditional chicken and rice dishes US consumers are already familiar with.
  • At Kobe Sausages in Hungary, consumers will find a unique concoction called kolbice, a mashup of the Hungarian words for sausage and ice cream that consists of a bread cone stuffed with sausage, cheese and roasted onions. With its portability, fan-favorite ingredients (who doesn’t love meat, cheese and bread?), and striking appearance, kolbice could be primed to make the leap to the US.

Operators stateside are also adopting the street fare popular at international chains – and for good reason as over 60% of consumers said they would visit a street food operator. Here’s a peek at some of the places we covered in our December issue of Creative Concepts: Street Food:

  • Buku Global Street Food in Raleigh, N.C., specializes in globally-inspired street foods from around the world, offering everything from Colombian Pan de Queso with yucca and serrano to a Samosa Pot Pie with masala cream sauce and a curried pastry crust. The restaurant’s Baja Crab Flautas with jumbo lump crab, pineapple, cream cheese and mango-habanero salsa ranked highly, with over 50% of consumers interested in trying it.
  • Hawkers Street Fare, the “cult favorite Orlando restaurant,” according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, specializes in all the foods consumers would find at the hawker stalls that are popular across Asia. The mini-chain offers most of its dishes as small shared plates, letting diners try a variety of items from roti canai (a Malaysian flatbread paired with curry sauce) to Grilled Hawker Skewers inspired by yakitori. The chain’s Hawkers Baos (three steamed buns filled with a choice of savory ingredients) ranked the highest in this issue, with over 60% of consumers interested in trying the bao.

Renee Lee is a senior publications specialist at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For more information and to purchase our TrendSpotting reports covered here, contact Datassential Business Development Manager Susan Cohen at susan.cohen@datassential.com.

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