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East meets West

Asian Breakfasts

An Emerging Breakfast Trend Rises in the East

In its annual survey of American Culinary Federation chefs, the National Restaurant Association found ethnic-inspired breakfast items were among the top 20 “hot” food trends at U.S. restaurants for the second year in a row. Among ethnic cuisines, Korean came in at No. 2 and Southeast Asian earned the No. 3 spot, making it easy to understand why Asian-inspired breakfast items are getting more attention.

Accordingly, food manufacturers have been ramping up their production of Asian-inspired breakfast foods. Items like Earnest Eats’ Hot & Fit Asia Blend Cereal with mango, green tea and sesame seeds, and Tarté Foods’ line of Asian yogurts are only two recent examples.

Many additional indicators support the growth of interest in Asian cuisines:

  • Americans are getting serious about healthier dining and less processed foods, both being hallmarks of Asian cuisines.
  • A full 9 percent of menu items in Mintel’s menu item database are some type of Asian cuisine.
  • 2013 Mintel research shows 70 percent of consumers have eaten some type of Asian food away from home in the past month.
  • And finally, the number of Asians in the U.S. population rose 43 percent between 2000 and 2010. That’s a pretty clear message for restaurant operators.

There are scores of recognized Asian cuisines ‒ 30 within China alone ‒ so items beginning to appear on conventional American breakfast menus tend to be Asian-inspired, vs. strictly authentic. Hoisin and soy sauces, mango, cilantro, ginger, garlic, basil and lime are some of the Asian flavors increasing in frequency in breakfast dishes, while menu components appearing more often include:

  • Sriracha (Thai) ‒ spicy sauce often used with fried eggs, seafood and meats
  • Congee (China) ‒ watery porridge, sweet or savory, with meat, vegetables and herbs
  • Kimchi (Korea) ‒ garlicky fermented vegetables Pho (Vietnam) ‒ soup of noodles, herbs and meat; toppings can include cabbage, chilies, peanuts, bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, garlic or lime
  • Miso soup (Japan) ‒ usually soy- and fish-broth based, other ingredients are seasonal

Items like Sriracha and pho weren’t even part of American food discussions five years ago, but Mintel says Asian cuisine is now among the top geographical claims on fast casual menus. Sriracha visibility has gone truly mainstream, with Bruegger’s Bagels menuing a Sriracha Egg Sandwich and Subway offering Sriracha sauce on any sandwich, morning, noon or night.

Flavors and item components are being used in both traditional American items as well as in fusion applications:

  • Poutine: hand-cut fries, two eggs and cheese curds topped with pho gravy; Mushroom Congee made with shiitake mushrooms, ginger and soft-boiled egg. (both at Ba Bar, Seattle)
  • The Tokyo Ome-Rice: an omelette with tomato, green pepper, onion, mushroom, broccoli and chicken breast, sided with teriyaki glaze and garlic fried rice. (Uncle Mike’s, Chicago)
  • John’s Breakfast: house-made kimchi, sautéed veggies on brown rice and sunny side up eggs. (Tasty & Sons, Portland)
  • Bib Im Bop: steamed brown rice layered with sautéed spinach, steamed bean sprouts, spicy kimchi and two eggs, sided with hoisin, soy and house-made spicy guajillo sauces. (Tweet, Chicago)

Truly authentic Asian breakfasts are rare at non-Asian operations, but not impossible to find. Cassava, a restaurant in Outer Richmond, California, offers an item called Japanese Breakfast, including koshihikari rice, ichiban dashi miso soup, “onsen tamago” poached egg, Meyer lemon “kosho” natto and daikon wakame salad. It will be a while before that one shows up on Denny’s menu. More likely to land there would be kaya toast, made with the coconut egg jam popular in Singapore and Malaysia, which is usually paired with a soft-boiled egg drizzled with soy sauce. Straits in San Francisco and Mud Hen Tavern in Los Angeles already have it on their permanent menus.

As Technomic’s 2013 Breakfast Trend Report notes, 39 percent of consumers aged 18 to 24 and 46 percent of those aged 25 to 34 are looking for more ethnic items and flavors to be offered at breakfast. The emerging trend toward Asian breakfast influences is right in line with their wishes and, once again, Millennials are in the forefront of culinary evolution.

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