World food is a way to appeal to customers

12 September 2023 by
World food is a way to appeal to customers

Britain's zest for cuisines makes putting world foods on the menu a winner for operators with niche regions in favour. Here's how giving your customers a taste of the exotic couldn't be simpler

Mayur Patel chuckles at the idea that Bundobust – where delicious, reasonably priced Gujarati food is served alongside high-quality beer in relaxed, canteen-style circumstances – might have been designed for the way Britain is now. "A few people have said that to me," Bundobust's co-founder says. "They say, if you were to think of what the trends are, this is what you'd come up with. All I can say is that it was genuinely very organic!"

Bundobust began 10 years ago when Patel and fellow Bradfordian Marko Husak put together a special food-and-beer event at the Sparrow, a bar in the city run by Husak. Since then, they've opened five restaurants, across the North and, this summer, in Birmingham too. And while Patel is surely right that Bundobust began and developed organically, it nonetheless reflects a number of key trends: value, vegetarianism and a laid-back atmosphere.

The diverse cuisines of India seem perfectly placed to deliver these trends, and not only because Britons are so comfortable with Indian food. Bundobust's food is Gujarati, from the province of Gujarat on the west coast of India. But another successful operation, Ranjit's Kitchen on Pollokshaws Road in Glasgow's south side, is Punjabi. Like Bundobust, it has built a loyal following based on quality, value, vegetarian grub and an easy-going atmosphere. On a Wednesday lunchtime earlier this month, it was buzzing with large groups, friends and families, enjoying aloo tikki and rotis, among other delights.

The truth is that, at a time when there's never been more choice available to the British consumer, factors other than simple culinary open-mindedness are now driving dining decisions. In a world beset by climate worries and financial strife, operators that can offer more than just superb flavour have a big advantage.

Great chaat

Patel's life has been spent in hospitality. Almost as far back as he can remember, his mum Kaushy was running Prashad, a Gujarati sweet and snack shop in Bradford that has now become an award-winning restaurant. Bundobust followed when he got together with Husak; 10 years on, 125 people (including managing director Menesh Modhwadia, hired last year) are employed across five sites, with more to come in the not-too-distant future.

The quality of the food is key. The fact that it's vegetarian, while significant, plays second-fiddle in terms of how Bundobust sells itself. "The signs are not bright green, and we're not trying to say it's really healthy, just that it's really delicious," Patel explains. "Being vegetarian is in our nature, rather than signalling what's on trend. But people are eating more healthily, more sustainably, more ethically, and that's really important."

There's a sense of playfulness about Bundobust that doesn't allow too much pomposity about vegetarianism anyway. Take, for example, its way of celebrating the impending Oktoberfest, which includes dishes such as currywurst koftas (vegetable dumplings served in a currywurst sauce) or kartoffelpuffer (potato and sauerkraut fritters spiced with fenugreek, fennel, chilli and ginger).

It's a healthy sign of how our perception of food from the Indian subcontinent has changed. The classic high-street Indian restaurant will hopefully always have a place in British affections not just because the food is often delicious but also because there's so much more to explore and enjoy.

"What I really enjoy is how regional Indian food in this country is becoming," Patel says. "When you look at the whole of India, it's fascinating the specialties every region has. And that's starting to be represented in Britain. Our most popular dish is bundo chaat, which is basically the same dish I used to make at Prashad. I remember being quite nervous about it and thinking, ‘Hang on, it's cold! It's got chickpeas and potato and yoghurt in it. Are people going to get it?' But they do."

The final piece of the jigsaw is value, although Patel points out that being a vegetarian restaurant isn't necessarily the advantage some might assume. "People say, ‘Oh, you've got it easy, right? It's just vegetables – your margins must be great.' And I'm like, ‘How much was your chicken in relation to a box of okra?'

"It's tough. We've not raised any prices since December, so we may have to soon. But it'll always be about quality and value."

Land of spices

It would be easier to list the cuisines you can't experience in Britain now than those you can. It's no wonder that demand for spice mixes is on the rise, according to Tasneem Alonzo, joint managing director of EHL Ingredients.

"Sriracha, ras el hanout and harissa are examples of spice blends that have gone from being relatively unknown in the UK to seasoning staples," she says. "We're expecting a similar pattern of availability and demand for seasonings such as Yemeni zhug, Ethiopian mimita and berbere, Emirati bezar and Moroccan chermoula." Other flavour trends she lists include Asian ingredients such as yuzu, kimchi, togarashi (a Japanese spice blend) and gochujang (a Korean spice paste). Korean food has enjoyed a big few years among British consumers, and that doesn't show any sign of slowing down.

Candice Caddell, campaign and brand executive at Bidfood, says two in five consumers are keen to try Korean food when eating out. "Its rich colours, unique tastes and customisable nature make it perfect to enjoy either individually on the go or as a sharing dish."

Another Asian option, bao buns, are now well established, according to Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods. "We've certainly seen strong interest, and it's one of the reasons that we're launching 30g KaterBake mini bao buns and Menuserve bao buns hoisin jackfruit, which are pleated-top bao buns filled with hoisin-flavoured jackfruit and vegetables," he says. "They're suitable for vegans and vegetarians, and ideal as snacks, light bites, sharing platters, starters, tapas and for buffets."

There's nothing the British like more than taking something delicious and putting it between two pieces of bread – but there are now many different ways of doing it. Mission Foods offers soft plain flour and wheat flour tortillas plus flavoured wraps (including chargrilled, tomato, red chilli and habanero). This September Mission will add sourdough pitta and Greek-style flatbread to the range.

"With Mintel research showing ease of eating as the sixth biggest consideration for bread and baked goods, carriers like wraps and pittas also offer the benefit of convenience," says Julie Stevens, head of marketing UK and Ireland at Mission Foods. "Consumer testing shows that Mission Foods' wraps and pittas score highly on this, as well as versatility. Mission wraps and flatbreads also score strongly in their ability to hold a variety of fillings well, guaranteeing a delicious and fulfilling experience for consumers every time."

Old becomes new

Like Indian food, Chinese food in a British context continues to evolve. Maria Chong, managing director of Lee Kum Kee Europe, suggests operators use their sauces to try something new – char siu sauce to make honey BBQ chicken, for example, or vegetarian stir-fry sauce for mushroom riso alla pilota.

"As the appetite for inventive options continues to grow, it is the perfect time to embrace fusion and elevate menus," Chong says. "Lee Kum Kee can provide the best products in the market and help chefs and foodservice professionals set new benchmarks."

Noodles never go out of fashion, but price concerns and competition mean quality is more important than ever, says Greta Strolyte, brand manager at Associated British Foods. "We have experienced wonderful product feedback from both traditional and contemporary Asian food operators throughout the UK," she says. "Our customers love our Lucky Boat noodle range for their superior taste and premium quality, and we offer a great choice of noodles, such as our authentic Thai products – rice sticks and rice vermicelli – which are well-known components of dishes such as pad Thai and Singapore noodles."

There are certainly now more options than any serious operator could get through in a lifetime, from the indulgent – Barnaby MacAdam of Santa Maria Foodservice suggests his company's new Loaded solution, which offers a range of downloadable recipes such as Korean BBQ fries – to the health-conscious, such as Dina Foods' Lebanese bread, confectionery and savouries.

Maple syrup is much more versatile than people give it credit for, according to Maple From Canada. The Canadian producers' body suggests trying vegan maple spring rolls or maple kombucha.

Major International, meanwhile, offers its gluten-free Mari Base range in 12 flavours, including Americana and Pan-Asian varieties, designed to make life easier for chefs.

World of change

One thing is clear: the British high street is changing fast, and the food available on it continues to evolve. You might even end up with a Bundobust near you one day; Nottingham is the next planned opening – perhaps next year – with other cities including Bristol, Cardiff and Brighton in the company's cross hairs.

"We want to offer up Bundos in more cities where they'd be appreciated," Patel says. "We don't know when, but there's a few cities that stand out. But I'll be honest: the focus right now is on the current estate, and to get them motoring for the environment we're all operating in." It's a sentiment that, no matter the cuisine, every operator can sympathise with.


Associated British Foods


Central Foods

Dina Foods

EHL Ingredients

Lee Kum Kee Europe

Major International

Maple From Canada

Mission Foods

Santa Maria Foodservice

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