By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation Weekend
SET BACK from the chaos of downtown Bangkok, the restaurant Haoma sits on a serene patch of Sukhumvit Soi 31 and boasts a lush backyard garden and an aquaponics system that allows pla nil (tilapia) fish and edible plants to grow together.
This is a green destination where the zero-waste principle is pursued and all the ingredients have been raised free of pesticides and antibiotics. Its own produce ends up on diners’ plates and the dish called Cured Wheel, which offers 15 different herbs grown in the backyard and the fish, is a particular favourite.
Misshapen fruits and vegetables regarded by supermarkets and other retailers are given a new lease of life in special menus called Perfectly Imperfect at Greyhound Cafe until August 31.
Instead of ending up as fertiliser or worse still, simply thrown in the garbage, the restaurant has joined with the Royal Project to bring overlooked produce such as portobello mushrooms, sweet potatoes, passion fruit and baby carrots to such beautiful dishes as salads with imperfectly shaped greens, and stir-fried spicy ugly portobello mushroom with minced pork and herbs.
Before entering the dining area of Taan restaurant at Siam@Siam Design Hotel Bangkok, diners can study the wall bearing the portraits of all the local food suppliers who help stock the kitchen. On the menu, too, the ingredients of each dish are accredited to their origins, complete with the distance from Bangkok in kilometres.
Charna restaurant offers ingredients from a network of local producers.
The idea behind Charna at Siam Center is also based on a happy supply chain – all the ingredients come from a network of local producers certified as environmentally and ethically responsible. The menu even has QR codes for the main producers that, when scanned, reveal more information about them.
These are among the increasing number of restaurants in Thailand pursuing the admirable trend of procuring ingredients from sustainable local sources rather than importing what they need.
“Locally grown produce that includes storytelling, concerns over food waste, artisanal and hand-crafted food and home-made desserts are among this year’s food trends. Diners today are increasingly interested where the food comes from, how it’s grown or produced and what ingredients are used. They want to learn more about the produce and the producers and are willing to pay for its real value,” said Phanumas Zaw-raksa, executive chef of Unilever Food Solutions during the seminar Trend Watch for food entrepreneurs on Wednesday.
An increasing number of restaurants in Thailand are pursuing the trend of procuring ingredients from sustainable local sources.
Over the past year, Unilever Food Solutions has been conducting global research on changes in the lifestyle of consumers by looking at the popular keywords people use to search online as well as online conversations.
“In Thailand, in addition to the interest in the local table, we have spotted four key trends. Plant-based protein menus with vegetables are the stars and along with smaller portions of meat, continue to be on the rise. Beyond pleasing the palate, a multi-sensory experience can make dining out special.
The rise in the popularity of the vegan diet plays a significant role in the demand for plant-based protein.
“Serving food in a bowl rather than on a plate can create a homey atmosphere. The afternoon tea set is still popular in Thailand thanks to its healthy benefits and the variety of choices available and is crafted with creative twists,” Phanumas added.
Underlining the trend for hyper-local food production –meaning food grown, processed and consumed at the community or neighbourhood level, is new bakery Baan Baan by Baker Gonna Bake in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Pak Chong district. Like Haoma restaurant in Bangkok, this small cafe occupies a 15-rai plot and grows a variety of plants and vegetables. Its philosophy is based on zero waste.
Craft Bread in Bangkok sells artisan breads crafted from whole-wheat and 100-per-cent organic flour, natural honey and olive oil and guarantees that no milk, butter, eggs, additives and preservatives are used. It’s made fresh loaf by loaf to order.
“I’m a sort of carnivore, so I give credit to the 101 Mahaseth restaurant in Bangkok whose Isaan-style dishes highlight local beef. The taste of locally grown coffee beans is second to none and the Root Cafe is one of the places offering a cup brewed from premium Thai beans. People today don’t look just for tasty coffee. They also want to learn about the unique characteristics of the beans. It is about the experience and high-quality coffee is considered an artisanal beverage produced by artisanal means,” says Yod Chinsupakul, chief executive and co-founder of the popular food website Wongnai.com.
Vegan diets or simply reducing the consumption of animal products is on the rise and menus based on plant-based protein are gaining in popularity.
A packet of Beyond Meat burger patties are displayed on a store shelf in New York./EPA-EFE
Take the California-based vegan burger start-up Beyond Meat, which made a sizzling Wall Street debut in early May, more than doubling its share price. Backed by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the California-based firm had valued itself at about $1.5 billion (Bt47.7 billion) at opening on the Nasdaq exchange, according to Agence France-Presse. It uses peas, fava beans and soy to make steak, sausage and minced meat alternatives and uses beets to make its burgers bleed.
Fast food giant Burger King recently launched a plant-based version of its signature Whopper in US stores in a nod to vegans. It’s made up of mostly soy and potato protein, and features coconut oil, sunflower oil and heme – an iron-rich protein that simulates the texture, colour and taste of actual meat.
A plant-based 'Impossible Whopper' sits on a table at a Burger King restaurant in Richmond Heights, Missouri./AFP
According to Agence France-Presse, Nestle has also announced plans to introduce plant-based burgers in Europe – under the Garden Gourmet brand – and in the United States under the Sweet Earth label. Its competitor Unilever in December bought Dutch brand De Vegetarische Slager (the Vegetarian Butcher) to cement its presence in the expanding sector.
During the seminar in Bangkok, Chaowalit Yimprasert, executive sous chef with Unilever Food Solutions, presented several dishes that satisfy this growing trend. Among them were cauliflower chia crust pizza with a dough made of cauliflower, chia seeds, black pepper and a batter mix, as well as benedict with tofu and beetroot sauce, and cream of tomato soup with walnut pesto.
“I’m actually a non-meat eater and chickpeas are among my favourite foods. Trends let us know how the world is moving but more important is what you personally can do. Take the trends just an accessory that may integrate with your creation,” actor-turned-chef Phol Tantasathien told the seminar.
Serving food in a bowl rather than a plate gives off a homey feel.
Saying goodbye to plates and serving food in bowls takes account of those trends.
“The food bowl has been trending on social media since 2016. If you search Instagram with the hashtag #bowl, you will find over two million pictures along with 2.2 million pictures with the #acaibowl tag featuring fruit smoothie bowls topped with a variety of grains, fruits and superfoods.
“This trend soared after the wedding reception of Prince Harry and Megan Markel last year when guests enjoyed various options of canapes served in hand-sized bowls, allowing guests to stay standing and mingle while they ate,” Phanumas noted.
For those who want to join the bowl game, he suggested starting with preparing an American breakfast served in an attractive bowl.
“It gives a homey feeling and allows diners to customise their meals. Another benefit is the reduction in the quantity of tableware,” Phanumas added.
Set in an enchanted forest ambience, the dimly lit, temporary Wang Hinghoi restaurant in Bangkok offers a multisensory experience by allowing diners to see the natural lights of hundreds of fireflies.
The multi-sensory experience is one of the key trends in drawing in customers. In Bangkok, Wang Hinghoi is an enchanted-forest restaurant featuring semi-enclosed rooms with ecosystems that allow hundreds of real fireflies to thrive. The restaurant will dim its lights at around 8 or 9pm, allowing guests to see them. Like the 18-month lifespan of the firefly, the temporary restaurant is designed to run for the same period and will close in September.
“The most avant-garde, multi-sensory restaurant is Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet in Shanghai that serves only 10 diners a night over a 20-course menu. The dining room which has a single table and bare white walls is transformed throughout the meal by lighting, projections, sounds, and scents and temperatures to create a unique culinary journey linked to the food at the table,” Chaowalit explained.
“Look no further than the comeback of the bubble tea craze in Thailand. A glass of brown sugar bubble tea topped with brown sugar sauce, bubble jelly and caramelised creme brulee can create a multi-sensory feeling too through different layers of textures and aromatic flavours. It is also pleasing to the eye and begs to be photographed though at about Bt150 a glass, it isn’t cheap,” Yod added.
An afternoon tea set with flavoured or infused tea crafted with new textures and sensory experiences is also gaining in popularity.
Tea is still trending and chef Chaowalit says that afternoon tea served with flavoured or infused leaves crafted with new texture and sensory experiences is increasing in popularity.
“Trends may call attention, but the most important factors are ‘tasty and value for money’. Achieve these and customers will keep on coming back,” Yod advised.