What and how we eat goes in and out of fashion, just like everything else in our social culture - music, clothes, where to holiday, hair styles and so on. And it’s no surprise really, eating is integral to our lives, and what we have access to, as well as our individual needs, changes over time.
The trends seem to emerge in the big metropolitan centres – New York, Tokyo and so on. Newcastle has always been a little behind the bigger cities in terms of timing - it takes a while for things to filter down.
But you know what? I don’t think we should aim to be just another mini-Melbourne or sub-Sydney. And deep down, I don’t think most of us care about what they are doing. The food trends that catch on in Newcastle either take or they don’t because we have our own identity. If something is all the rage in a big city, that’s fine, we might give it a go, dip our finger in and have a taste, and then take it or leave it.
Oh, Melbourne’s got cool cafes and bars? Well it’s also got lousy weather so it needs plenty of indoor places to shelter its residents from the drizzle or wind. Inspiration is born out of necessity. And what we see in Newcastle is a group of people, a community, who embrace relaxed outdoor living, non-stuffy atmospheres and value for money. It’s about being thrifty for us, not being cheap. Our downtime is precious, so we’re not going to waste it on something we don’t like.
But there are some foods and current trends that we do really love. And while everything that’s doing the rounds at the moment may not last, it’s having its time on the sun and we are loving it while it’s shining.
Food from Uncle Sam
Burgers, fries, ribs, dawgs, chicken wings, slaw. Any of this seem familiar? Burger joints, smoky meat and eye-watering layers of beef, cheese, pickles and relish are popping up all over town. We’ve always loved our burgers, but the US version has more soft buns and juicy patties, less pineapple and fried egg. On top of the pulled pork, heart-stopping thickshakes and finger lickin’ flesh, you may have noticed a different structure to some menus. Long gone are the days of the listed entree, main, dessert. Instead you’ll be seeing ‘to share’, ‘burgers’, ‘starters’, ‘bigger plates’ and so on. The style of food is easy and quick which seems to suit our laidback Novo attitude.
...and South America too
Tequila! Fajitos, enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, ceviche, tortillas, salsa. It’s fresh, fun and time for a fiesta. For a long time our experience of south of the border was just Old El Paso, but now we are discovering that there’s more to South America than sour cream and guacamole. And this cuisine isn’t just for lunch and dinner – you’ll find huevos rancheros for breakfast and chipotle sauce bottles on a few cafe tables to slop on your scrambled eggs.
Pop-ups and food trucks
Another idea originating from the USA, food trucks are bringing the love to wherever you are. Especially if you happen to be at a market. The beauty of the food truck is it can provide you with a teeny snapshot of a region or country’s cuisine and make you feel like you’ve visited the place. It’s gotta be easy to eat while you’re strolling along so it’s often compact and portable. Think dumplings, think burritos and those glorious, wonderful bao.
Start your day right
Breakfast and brunch is a weekend institution. But what I’m always amazed to see is how many people partake in a midweek brekky out too. Bit by bit, the menus are getting more creative, but there are still the favourites: smashed avocado on toast (the bread type may vary and there may be the presence of some kind of cheese but the idea stays the same); eggs on toast; and big breakfasts. These days you’ll also find some kind of breakfast bowl with greens, haloumi, quinoa and possibly a poached egg. Savoury mince on toast and crumpets are also having a comeback. But did they ever really leave?
Sweet like chocolate
Doughnuts. Cupcakes. Churros. Gelato. Biscuits. Frozen yoghurt. The people of the Hunter have a serious sweet tooth. We also love anything freshly-baked going by the number of artisan bakeries and cake shops around. Perhaps it’s our country leanings – scones, pikelets and sponge cakes were the sugary domain of our grandmothers. Baked goods and sweet treats are part of our collective happy memories.
Coffee, coffee, coffee
The church of coffee isn’t going anywhere. Just when you thought we had reached cafe saturation point, another one opens up and a week later it has a loyal following boasting that this new establishment serves the best bean around. This is one trend here to stay for the long haul.
Pour me a good beer
I’m putting it out there that Newcastle has the best craft beer scene in the country. We love it. And by craft beer, I’m not referring to cans of Melbourne Bitter. Fresh, cold, draught local and national ales, thoughtfully and lovingly crafted and proudly on tap at so many of our watering holes. We even have festivals honouring the golden nectar. Let’s keep it that way.
Tofu scramble, fermented oats, quinoa, tempeh and raw cashew cheesecake. For all the burgers we are chowing down on, there’s another vegan or vegetarian-focused cafe opening that keeps meat off the menu. Some menus are more creative than others, but it’s refreshing to see such dining diversity.