Fashionable foods

Is it my imagination, or is every meal now being served in bowls?


I’m no foodie, and my unsophisticated palate can hardly be considered discerning, but I have noticed that bowls are no longer reserved for soup and cereal. They’re also for noodles, meat, seafood, sandwiches, cake — for anything, really.

There are restaurants devoted exclusively to bowl-eating, and I know this because I walked past one in Toronto a few months ago. It was packed and noisy, an open-air place which looked very stylish, and had we darkened the doorway my husband and I would have brought up the median age of diners by at least a decade.

Turns out that bowls are the main attraction for those seeking the latest and healthiest restaurant dishes. There are Buddha bowls, burrito bowls, harvest bowls, smoothie bowls, poke bowls (I had to Google that one – it’s a bowl of raw, chopped fish). I read that there has been an almost 30 per cent spike of bowl entrees in restaurant menus in the United States during the past five years. So I’m not imagining this influx of bowl dishes, but having me jump on the bowl bandwagon – putting something in a bowl just for the sake of making it a bowl dish when a perfectly-functional plate would be just as practical – will take longer than five years.

Of course bowls are just the latest in a long and ever-changing list of food trends, where people hail a food as the new superfood, or people rediscovering a food that has gone out of style over the years. Green tea. Black tea. Chorizo. Ancient grains. Those buzz words that people hear on Dr. Oz.

These “fads” are also a sign of our particular time and place in history. It is a time of plenty in well-developed nations where grocery store shelves are stacked to the ceiling with a dizzying variety of consumables and obesity has become a continental epidemic. Most of us no longer worry about where our next meal will come from, only how it’s prepared and delivered. I suspect that in past eras and in other regions, the vessel that holds food is not nearly as important as the contents’ ability to quiet a grumbling tummy.

I heard a good one the other day: skyr. That’s a food, by the way, one of those foreign ones introduced to the North American market with the idea that anything imported must be healthier. It’s a dairy product that looks like yogurt but tastes milder. And then there’s kefir, which is a thinner but still protein-packed yogurt that you can drink. So from thinnest to thickest it goes kefir, skyr, Greek yogurt. Don’t expect me to ever try the two first ones, though; I already gave up the fruit-at-the-bottom kind because it was too fattening, that’s the last yogurt-related sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Another fad that has caught on is fermented foods, which are all the rage these days. I had a friend who knows her way around the kitchen, try to talk me into trying a mug of kombucha.

“Kom-what?” I asked, showcasing the full immaturity of my palate.

“Kom. Bu. Cha,” my friend replied, in a tone reserved for children learning their alphabet. “It’s good for your gut.”

I’m sure she was right, and that it has to do with the various biotic-something or others, and I’m sure the alcohol content would have picked up for any slack the herbs and fruit left behind in the flavour department, but I think it does without saying that this chicken nugget connoisseur could never consume something she can barely pronounce.

Same thing with kimchi, which is a fermented Korean cabbage that’s very popular, and edamame, which are immature soybeans in the pod, steamed and salted. And don’t even bring an avocado in my general vicinity.

I’ve always been pretty skeptical about experimenting with chic food and drinks, and now I just let them run their course without giving them a second though. Like clothing, food fashion is cyclical. It’s only a matter of time before we go retro with fried chicken, fruit cobblers, and chocolate-covered caramel candy bars.

Or at least that’s what I tell myself. That’s the comeback I’ll be waiting for.