From the Street to Your Menu

An Appetite for Appetizers
Street food is all the rage, but you may be wondering how to adapt this trend from curbside to tableside. How can we capture the spontaneity and excitement of street cuisine on a restaurant menu? When it comes to street food-inspired fare, a winning dish is one that takes your customer on a “familiar adventure.” By that I mean introducing new proteins and sauces in well-known formats (such as sandwiches, burgers or tacos)—or pairing time-tested favorites with global carriers (think Philly cheesesteak eggrolls, Italian beef bao or BBQ chicken empanadas). This month I’d like to share some of my tips for creating craveable comfort food inspired by some street food classics.

Convenience is key.

The characteristic that’s universal to street food (no matter where in the world you may be) is portability. On a stick, in a cup or simply in an edible wrapper, street food is meant to be eaten on the go. Even if your operation does not skew towards carry-out or grab-and-go service, you can still pay homage to a street food experience through plate presentation. For example, put a twist on a familiar favorite by serving chicken tenders on wooden skewers instead of in a basket. Offer a choice of dipping sauces—such as sweet chili, cilantro-lime or gochujang—to put a global spin on this all-American classic.

For handheld items, be sure to consider the “structural integrity” of your signature street food creation. We don’t want dishes to fall apart after the first bite! Poppable snacks are perfect—think popcorn chicken served in a to-go style cup with creamy tikka dipping sauce. Or, use temperature to your advantage. Keep taco ingredients secure with cheddar melted over pork al pastor and crisp slaw in freshly griddled corn tortillas. And get inspired by the world of wrapped and rolled sandwiches beyond burritos—kati rolls and döner kebab can be enjoyed for sit-down meals as well as on the go.

Play up the nostalgia factor.

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Amusement parks, street festivals and fairs can all serve as jumping-off points for today’s elevated street food cuisine. For example, take turkey to the next level with hickory-smoked jumbo turkey legs dressed in a maple glaze. Or, crisp up turkey wings in the fryer—they’ll pair with any dipping sauce you can dream of! We all love a classic soft pretzel with gooey cheese sauce, but how about a warm Bavarian-style pretzel with smoked ham, Gruyère and whole grain mustard? Chicken and waffles continue to grow in popularity, so put your own twist on this dish. Serve a Belgian waffle sandwich with jerk-breaded chicken as a portable version of the patron favorite.

The non-commercial channel, specifically C&U, is a great place to look for inspiration. Foodservice directors are adapting the street food trend to meet the needs of busy students, who are interested in grab-and-go options with authentic global flavors. Bánh mì sliders, chicken tinga flautas and Korean BBQ burgers are just a few of the street food-inspired dishes that we’ve seen on campus—with potential to make an impact on restaurant menus, too!

Why West Liberty Foods?

We offer a range of flavor profiles across product formats, which makes our portfolio ideal for use in street food dishes. For example:

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  • Neutral flavored proteins can be customized and used in multiple menu applications that reflect different global influences. For example, try our plain grilled chicken strips with a Middle Eastern dry seasoning blend (such as za’atar) as the foundation of a chicken shawarma pita.
  • Pre-seasoned proteins speed up prep and service and eliminate some of the back-of-house guesswork. Use our porcini-Parmesan turkey meatballs to create a perfectly composed savory skewer with grilled squash and Brussels sprouts.

The mash-up of ingredients and influences makes street food one of the most exciting spaces for culinary innovation. Don’t be afraid to mix cuisines where it makes sense, experiment and have fun! Please contact me to learn more about how West Liberty Foods can help bring the street food trend to life on your menu.
– Chef Aliza

Sources:
Bret Dworski, “How operators are innovating around grab-and-go,” Foodservice Director, December 20, 2017.
“Flavor Find: World Bites” Flavor & The Menu, November 6, 2018.
National Restaurant Association, What’s Hot 2018 Culinary Forecast, 2017.
Patricia Cobe, “Grab-and-go gets more global,” Foodservice Director, November 13, 2018.
Technomic, “Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report,” 2018
Technomic, “Flavor Consumer Trend Report,” 2017.