The food trends that had a hold on us in 2021

Hot pot, dumplings, baos, speciality coffee and everything else that we couldn't get enough of this year.
Updated 05 Jan, 2022 04:43pm

If 2020 was about baking banana bread and whipping up dalgona coffee, 2021 has definitely been about getting over gimmickry. Substance over putting on a show. No burgers being dunked in a cheese fondue, anything Cheetos and Lotus was swiftly shifted to the side as if it never had a hold on our collective consciousness for all of last year. Did we then have any food trends at all? You bet we did.

Trend 1: Enter even more coffee

This week alone, we have had three places launch new coffee menus in Karachi — The Verge, Drop Coffee Bar, and Eatalia.

“Coffee consumption is evolving because people are moving away from ready-made, instant mixes and becoming more aware of how to brew it at home,” says Mahwish Aziz, owner of Sugaries bakery who also recently launched a coffee menu.

“Every time someone wants to do something in the beverage industry, they are told ‘forget it, people here only drink tea’,” says Faisal Shams, owner of a specialty coffee roastery in Pakistan called Nomad Coffee Studio. “But the innovation boom coffee [this year] saw has been massive.”

Rose Latte at The Verge
Rose Latte at The Verge

As a trend, this is likely to continue into 2022.

Shams also foresees baristas becoming as celebrated as chefs are right now. “That’s what happens around the world already but here, baristas are waiters who are given the additional task of making coffee without proper training. That is going to change.”

Vietnamese Iced Coffee at Basic
Vietnamese Iced Coffee at Basic

Another popular coffee entrant was the Vietnamese Iced Coffee at a bao place called Basic.

“Coffee appears to offer a stronger ‘kick’ and a bigger ‘rush’,” says Aziz, explaining why more people are turning towards the beverage this year.

Trend 2: The joys of baos and dumplings

If people were moving away from food that looked over-the-top and excessive, what were they moving towards? From the looks of it — baos and dumplings. Both of them “bite-sized” (compared to our usual grub anyway), something one could have on-the-go and often sporting sharp flavours — baos with their sauces, and dumplings with their accompanying chilli oil.

Bao Bae's bao
Bao Bae's bao

A food truck selling baos called Bao Bae originally started off with one truck and then expanded to having two at different locations while also operating a takeaway from their head office. Another bao place called Basic, which was riding off its popularity from Karachi Eat 2019, set up shop in 2021.

Basic's chicken bao
Basic's chicken bao

We also saw a dumpling shop open called Mariyah's Den, after seeing a multitude of home-based businesses have that as their main offering, including Noori Chan’s and 23rd Baker Street.

Dumplings by 23rd Baker Street (left) and Mariyah's Den (right)
Dumplings by 23rd Baker Street (left) and Mariyah's Den (right)

“I think in my case, people have gone crazy over the dipping sauces and order extra to have with noodles and even daal chaawal,” says Maha Yousufi, owner of 23rd Baker Street.

Trend 3: Black Forest made a comeback because nostalgia is in

Black Forest — a cake that defined our childhood and birthdays for so many years that it eventually had people saying, “oh no, anything but that cake”. Nobody then could have foreseen it as a massive food trend in 2021. Suddenly you had restaurants claiming to have “reinvented Black Forest”. Not only were there the usual chocolate and cherry compote cakes with whipped cream, there were also puddings, cheesecakes, tarts and even gelato! I’m pretty sure I also saw a black forest pavlova this year. This as a trend had a good run while cherries were in season but it remains to be seen whether it will gather the same momentum next year.

Black Forest cake at Test Kitchen
Black Forest cake at Test Kitchen

“The Black Forest cake is an all time classic and a favourite but what could have made it extra special in 2021 may have been the presentation,” believes Angelika Schwarzbäcker, who runs a home-based business called The Bran Culture. “The Black Forest cake that I offer as a dessert bowl was loved too.”

Trend 4: DIY but different

While DIY kits saw a brief yet forceful upsurge in 2020, this year saw the concept explored a bit deeper. Frozen beef patties, spreads, sauces, pickles, breads — anything that can help people assemble a meal at home but with them having the option to choose their own components.

Sauces from So Good Sauces and Dipitt
Sauces from So Good Sauces and Dipitt

Some of the more popular businesses that emerged were Farm Jars Co. who make hummus, labneh and babaganoush, So Good Sauces who ventured into bottled sauces like honey mustard, thousand island, keto mayo etc and That Guy Arif, another popular home business from 2020 that expanded their menu into chicken sausages along with their original offerings of burger patties and pickles.

Cottage cheese from The Cheese Factory
Cottage cheese from The Cheese Factory

Trend 5: Muhabbat Ka Sharbat

An aeronautical engineer selling a watermelon and milk-based drink called ‘Muhabbat Ka Sharbat' (the drink of love), a mother and son duo running a macaroni stall on Burnes Road, an elderly woman selling channa chaat in Kharaadar — this year was as much about exploring good food as it was about supporting the community behind it.

Muhabbat Ka Sharbat
Muhabbat Ka Sharbat

Anytime someone saw a food stall or truck that could use more business a post would go up online and would garner shares and comments from people committing to support the trucks and stalls in question. The Muhabbat Ka Sharbat stall ended up being backed by a brand and was able to operate out of a proper outlet after it went viral.

Watermelon and milk-based Muhabbat Ka Sharbat
Watermelon and milk-based Muhabbat Ka Sharbat

Trend 6: Hot pot becomes a crowd-puller

Even when the lockdown restrictions were lifted for indoor and outdoor dining, people were a bit reluctant to venture out unless it was Xander’s — a popular restaurant that currently has three branches in Karachi. What did bring scores of people to the yard was hot pot. A dining experience that usually features a simmering pot of soup or broth and is served with condiments of your choice that can be “cooked” in it. You are likely to see dumplings, egg noodles, mushrooms, prawns, bok choy, tofu and various dipping sauces that can all be cooked in the hot pot.

Wang Wang's hot pot
Wang Wang's hot pot

While you still have people who are sceptical about “paying for food that they have to cook themselves” you always find hot pot places like Wang Wang completely packed. This year also saw older restaurants like Tao and Cocochan add hot pot to their menu along with newer restaurants like Big Tree House.

Wang Wang's hot pot
Wang Wang's hot pot

Trend 7: Top it off with bone marrow

This was the year the nallii descended on burgers after making a brief appearance on biryani plates last year. We saw places like 8oz and Burger Lab experiment with their own variations of bone marrow burgers, and The Verge already had their own take of it on their menu when they opened two years ago. Is bone marrow the addition that the beef burger scene needed to be exciting again?

The bone marrow burger at 8oz
The bone marrow burger at 8oz

We just know that nothing beats a classic cheeseburger — yet. 2022, are you up for the challenge?

All photos by the author