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Food fads to follow

Updated: 2014-01-11 07:56
( China Daily)

Many visitors to the Middle Kingdom come especially to taste its many culinary delights. The China Daily food team spreads out across the country for a look at the hottest dining trends in China.

Pauline D Loh, food editor

In recent decades since the economy threw open its doors, food has again become central to Chinese society.

Whether it is official entertainment or a gathering of friends and family, dining choices are increasingly overwhelming. You can eat the world in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or especially Hong Kong, and dine out at a different restaurant each week for several years and not repeat a visit.

Food fads to follow

Independent restaurants with Michelin-starred chefs, hotel groups with signature restaurants proudly replicated in every city, cuisines from every corner in the world - they are comfortably settled in their niches and here to stay.

While the limitation of government spending has put a dent on the number of luxury banquets, the everyday gourmet still keeps China's burgeoning restaurant numbers rising. The only thing they fear is the natural elimination process by discerning diners. Only the fittest, the best, the most delicious will see another New Year.

Last year was a good and bad year, as our reviewers will tell you, but 2014 promises to be another bountiful period for growth, and we look forward to more epicurean surprises from both domestic chefs, and those coming to cook for us from abroad.

Trending in 2014

Younger, local talent in international hotel kitchens will be the next big thing. More and more fresh faces born and bred in China will showcase their talents in major hotel dining rooms. And at the grassroots, the most popular snack will surely be the President's set meal at Qing-Feng Steamed Dumpling Shop.

Ye Jun, food reviewer in Beijing

They say restaurants are the best barometers of economic climate. The past year has seen some dramatic changes, with the country's new leaders slapping a ban on excessive spending. The impact has seen high-end restaurants reduce the size of their operations, or simply close down.

Food fads to follow

Apart from the obvious factors - good food, good environment and good service - there are other elements for success. First, there must be the right group of customers. And these days, people are more willing to dine at middle- and low-end restaurants, where food is tasty and the bill more affordable.

Chefs need to be innovative, and produce new dishes that must appeal to the comfort zone - drawn from tradition to create a resonance with the diner.

The Chinese sages say "friendly feelings produce fortune" and that gregarious energy must exist not only between the service staff and diner, but also within food and ambiance.

Trending in 2014

Restaurants that understand their customers better and provide tasty food at affordable prices will continue to flourish. Those that pour their heart and soul into the food, decor and service deserve to be rewarded with good business.

Mike Peters, food reviewer in Beijing

Beijing's food scene for 2013, like any year, has had its ups and downs and ins and outs, as "Opening Soon" seemed to be the out-front message of more restaurant spaces in transition than usual.

Food fads to follow

I've been particularly keen on the wine scene, as countries like Spain and South Africa have pushed to carve out a bigger presence in the China market. A bright spot was Pinotage, the South African eatery in Shunyi that opened a second restaurant in Beijing's Sanlitun district.

Despite a generally terrific array of "foreign food" restaurants, Latin and African eateries still aren't as plentiful as we could wish.

Meanwhile, super chefs abound in the capital. Opera Bombana gets worshipful reviews when the namesake three-star chef visits from Hong Kong, and some grumbles about service when he's away.

Max Levy, who wowed Beijing with star turns at Bei and Apothecary, has reappeared in Sanlitun, serenely merging his two culinary origins - Louisiana and Japan - in the appealing cafe Okra 1949.

With these and other good signs, 2014 will be another good year to tuck in a bib in Beijing.

Trending in 2014

More upscale eateries from Taiwan, including the just-opened Peekaboo on Guanghua Lu. Look for new eats and nightlife around Liangmaqiao, and multifaceted new nightlife on the rooftops of some of Beijing's most popular hotels.

Donna Mah, food reviewer in Hong Kong

The Spanish/Mexican/Peruvian invasion continued in 2013 with the opening of a number of restaurants, many offering more casual tapas dining experiences and a few with high-end fine-dining. They all entered a competitive arena where the food not only has to be good, but the ambiance must be welcoming.

Food fads to follow

Quality and authenticity continue to be important, and diners are now more conscious about where their food comes from.

Menus often specify where the produce is grown, that meat is grass-fed and hormone-free, and that seafood comes from sustainable sources. Diners, chefs, and restaurant managers are much more aware of the need to use natural, safe and healthy ingredients.

Some restaurant locations have been "reinvented", moving from fine-dining to casual, cool and fun. Many Hong Kong diners are looking for places to enjoy good food, good company, and not having to spend a fortune for the privilege. This is something we look forward to seeing more of in 2014.

Trending in 2014

Relaxed dining with quality ingredients from reliable sources will continue to attract diners this year. Less formal dining rooms around town will be packed with groups chowing down on food that isn't fussy.

Rebecca Lo, food reviewer in Hong Kong

The past year cemented the dominance of the independent restaurant. It started with the highly anticipated opening of Catalunya, then the quieter dishes at French-Japanese fusion Serge et la Phoque. With no signage and right in the heart of Wanchai's wet market, Serge's inventive menu made us reconsider the definition of umami.

Food fads to follow

The 2014 Michelin Guide agreed, as four out of their five three-starred restaurants - Bo Innovation, 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo, Sushi Shikon and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - are independent.

In the end, it is the hole-in-the-wall places with no publicity department that offered the best eats in town. This is the year when comfort food dominated the stage.

It was often a matter of good timing: cheap rent, word of mouth and social media.

Metropolitain for bistro fare, Awakening Cafe for Reuben sandwiches, Chicken Hof & Soju for Korean fried chicken, Cafe Malacca for laksa, Shou Lamian for hand-pulled noodles, Teakha for chai and Ka Kee for homey Cantonese are places that I still return to because they are consistent and delicious experiences. In the end, that's what great dining is all about.

Trending in 2014

Celebrity chefs will leverage their stardom with additional outlets in key Chinese cities - such as Umberto Bombana's plans for Galaxy Macao. Comforting food in hidden corners of the city will underscore memorable dining adventures.

Lin Baiyu, food reviewer in Shenzhen

'One more?" The waiter of a Hong Kong-style restaurant asked me politely as I finished my last mouthful of the wonton noodles, the most traditional of Cantonese staples.

Food fads to follow

There are 1,000 variations and even more ways to cook this classic dish, and every one has his or her personal favorite.

It is the taste of childhood, and reminds the diner of home and hearth.

A wise reviewer once said: The simplest is the hardest. China's migrant population, such as those in Shenzhen, often misses the taste of home.

As I come out of my reverie, I look up at my waiter still standing there.

"Please, another bowl."

Trending in 2014

MMany restaurants and food stalls will focus on the simplest dishes that try hardest to replicate the tastes of various regional cuisines.

Food fads to follow

Diners enjoy their meal at Dadong Peking Roast Duck Restaurant's new Worker's Stadium branch in Beijing. Ye Jun / China Daily

(China Daily 01/11/2014 page12)