Last year, Technomic’s research revealed Chinese, Japanese/sushi and Thai were three of Americans’ 10 favorite ethnic foods. Hot on the heels of that finding is this year’s big news: Ethnic flavor-focused breakfast items are among the top 20 U.S. restaurant trends identified in the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 culinary forecast.
This is due, in part, to an emerging generation of diners with diverse tastes, according to John Howeth, senior vice president of foodservice and egg product marketing at the American Egg Board.
“Millennials are very interested in food adventurism, and Asian food is a cuisine they enjoy exploring,” Howeth says. “Sushi, ramen, Korean barbecue and Vietnamese banh mi are influencing flavors at breakfast.”
You don’t have to create exact replicas of traditional Asian breakfast items to get in on the trend. In fact, it may be better to start with familiar ingredients and introduce Asian flavor profiles if your customers aren’t well-versed in ethnic morning meals. “Blending the familiar with the new is a great way to get guests to try new dishes and flavors,” Howeth says.
Using sauces such as Sriracha—the American version of which is the fifth fastest growing ingredient on breakfast menus, according to Technomic—and gochujang, a Korean fermented chili paste condiment that's become more popular in lunch and dinner offerings, is one way eateries can introduce new products without facing the risk of creating an unpopular item, says Technomic Managing Editor Lizzy Freier.
“If you see a cool and interesting ingredient in a breakfast sandwich, you know what [a breakfast sandwich] is, so it’s not too daring,” she says. “[Sauces] are an easy ingredient to add so the menu item doesn't seem too scary to consumers.”
Wicked Waffle in Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Maryland, offers a few options to entice consumers. The Peking Duck Waffle features shredded duck meat and crispy skin hoisin and plum sauce and the Wicked Wings and Waffle with Spicy Slaw offers up Sriracha syrup and spicy slaw.
As donuts have racked up popularity points, retailers are seeing success with unexpected Asian flavor combinations. At Glam Doll Donuts in Minneapolis, the peanut butter and Sriracha is a top pick. In Charleston, South Carolina, Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts treats customers to curried cocoa and Chinese 5 Spice donuts.
Tracking down ingredients for a traditionally influenced dish can prove challenging, though as Asian-inspired breakfast dishes become more commonplace—a scenario Freier expects to see within the next five years—ingredients will likely become easier to find.
In the meantime, determining which components are drawing consumers to Asian-themed lunch and dinner dishes may offer clues about which breakfast menu items will strike a chord.
“Because Asian foods are so loved by consumers, there is a huge opportunity for operators,” Freier says. “Any point of differentiation to get customers in the door is the biggest thing for restaurants—and, obviously, if they get people in the door earlier [in the day], they make more money.”