With outlets specialising in food bowls popping up ubiquitously in the Middle East, Catering News rounds up the key factors driving the trend.
Pineapple Express, Poke Poke and The Acai Spot are just some of the bowl-focused outlets that have opened their doors in recent years in Dubai.
Some venues, such as Poke Poke, specialise in the Hawaiian delicacy pronounced ‘poh-keh’ – fresh fish tossed in soy sauce, sesame seeds and rice wine vinegar on a bed of sushi rice – while others, such as The Acai Spot, focus on the Amazonian berry, acai, which is considered a super fruit, while offering some quirky options, such as Brazilian cheese balls (pão de queijo) in paper bowls.
Australian brand, Pineapple Express, which has a venue in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers and is exploring further expansion in the Middle East, offers both acai bowls and poke bowls.
“I believe the best types of foods eaten out of a bowl include anything quick, easy and appealing to the eye. The ingredients must also be fresh!” – Leigh Metzeling, director of Pineapple Express Australia
The outlet’s signature dishes are Posh Fish, a poke bowl containing salmon, truffle, ponzu, avocado, spring onions, burnt pineapple and wakame seaweed; and the Acai Nutter – acai, almond milk, banana, Raw cacao and organic almond butter topped with twice-baked granola, peanuts, cacao nibs and Raw chocolate sauce.
“I believe the best types of food eaten out of a bowl include anything quick, easy and appealing to the eye. The ingredients must also be fresh!” comments Leigh Metzeling, director of Pineapple Express Australia and Pineapple Express Head Office (MENA region).
According to Michael Whiteman, president of US-based food and restaurant consulting firm, Baum & Whiteman, the food bowl trend began with cold items such as fruit, grains and various yoghurts, however hot bowls have become popular recently. “There has been a movement toward serving hot proteins on top of cold greens and grains or hot proteins and hot vegetables or hot grains on top of greens,” he says. “One reason is that in the US, we have more extreme seasons, so warm food is required to satisfy changes in demand.”
For Marcio Saboya, CEO of The Acai Spot, Dubai, key consumer drivers for the food bowl trend are convenience and fashion. “I believe that some food started being served in bowls for convenience, however it is becoming fashionable now. I can see more and more restaurants using bowls,” he says.
Agreeing that convenience is a factor, Jeremiah Dupin, founder and managing partner of Poke Poke points out that it’s easier to combine ingredients in a bowl and their ability to be customized is also appealing. “I enjoy food in a bowl because it’s easier to mix it all together and to take on-the-go rather than food on a plate. People can pick their own options for whatever mood they are in,” he comments, explaining that Poke Poke offers more than 60 combinations of bowls.
Whiteman adds that bowls fit comfortably in the hand compared to plates and are particularly suited to fast-paced lifestyles. “It’s easier to eat from [a bowl], especially if you are dining at your desk, which at least 50% of US workers do every day at lunch time.”
He also highlights the primitive aspect of eating out of a bowl, which many people find satisfying. “There is a ‘zen’ sense about eating from a bowl that adds a cultural or moral significance to what otherwise might seem like an ordinary meal. This has something to do with the way a bowl fits in your hand and because it’s a more primitive implement.”
“Our bowls are photogenic, which customers find appealing for posting on social media and sharing with friends” – Jeremiah Dupin, founder and managing partner, Poke Poke
From a chef’s perspective, plating food in bowls is easier, quicker and according to Metzeling, promotes creativity. “Anyone can do the plating and it’s usually the staff behind the counter that have the most inspiration for the bowls. This allows for more creativity within the team,” she comments.
Plating food in bowls also eliminates problematic white space on a plate and can make the dish tastier and more visually appealing for all-important Instagram shots, according to the experts. “It’s faster and easier to create good-looking bowls of food rather than doing so on a plate that has a much larger surface area,” says Whiteman. “Chefs don’t have to deal with the white space of a plate and they don’t have to position everything just-so.”
Dupin adds: “Our bowls are photogenic, which customers find appealing for posting on social media and sharing with friends.”
As the trend grows and evolves, food bowl proponents have to keep looking for new ways to stand out. Pineapple Express will do so by introducing new flavours and ingredients to its bowls, such as pink pitaya (pink dragon fruit). “It has more antioxidants and health benefits than acai and boasts and electric pink colour,” says Metzeling. “Pineapple Express is also about to release a premium set of acai bowls and smoothie bowls that capture a new set of flavours and are Instagram-worthy.”
Similarly, Poke Poke is looking to bring in new ingredients such as proteins, marinades and bases, however the poke concept will stay the same.
Moving forward, the experts agree that the trend is here to stay, given the convenience, attractiveness and health benefits of bowls. “We have become smarter about nutrition and realise each of us is unique in how our bodies handle certain food,” says Dupin of Poke Poke. “With custom bowls, people can tailor them to specific needs versus fixed menu options at other restaurants.”
Metzling adds: “The trend has many years to go. In Australia, Amazonia, a leading acai company goes through 700,000 cases per month of 77 acai sachets, and this trend has been going on for more than five years now in Australia. I’m 100% sure that it will hit the Middle East in a big way.”