Should I eat it?: Food court trends, from cold-pressed juice to ramen
Mall food courts aren't known for being gourmet food destinations. But that's starting to change, as food courts cater to foodies who want healthier, trendier and more global foods.
Day 6 food columnist David Sax, author of The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes But We're Fed Up With Fondue, says food courts are the perfect microcosm for exploring new trends in food because they have to cover a broad base of appetites while aiming to excite people with new and interesting foods.
He took Brent on a mall food court tour to see and taste how high-brow foodie trends are showing up in food courts. They went to the Richtree Natural Market Restaurants at the Toronto Eaton Centre, a food court -- or food hall -- as they call it.
But are the trendy foods on offer worth a taste?
Pork tonkotsu ramen
David says there has been a revival of ramen in the past ten years, making the transition from an inexpensive, freeze-dried dorm room staple to an exalted higher-end food. "Restaurants like Momofuku popularized it, and then all these Japanese restaurants started opening up, charging $20 for a bowl of ramen, with lineups that were an hour long. And now you're seeing that shift to places like food courts," he explains.
Pork tonkotsu is a classic Japanese-style ramen, loaded with fatty braised pork, seaweed, braised greens, chopped green onion and a slow-cooked egg. The broth is traditionally made from scratch which can take up to 12 hours to make.
Should you eat it? Yes. "This on par with a decent place," David says of his food court ramen. "This is probably what you would get in a train station in some lesser prefecture of Japan."
As more and more vegetarian options appear on food court menus, the fast food world is seeing the emergence of a trend known as "muscular" vegetarian. David describes it as vegetable-based foods that carry a little more flavour and heft than a salad or a sandwich - such as a burrito with guacamole, guajillo chili, pickled onion and hearts of palm.
"The flavour is what matters. So you don't feel like you're just eating a salad wrapped up in something," David says. "It's satisfying, and that's the key. Everybody says - whether it's health people or chefs - that we should be eating a more vegetable-centric diet. But if you can't satisfy people with flavour - and purely with just filling them up - you're never going to be able to cross that threshold."
Should you eat it? Yes - although you might want to try swapping out the hearts of palm if you opt for a burrito. "Maybe braised fennel… or cauliflower, or something with some texture," says David.
The movement behind cold-pressed juice has been growing tremendously in recent years. Those who promote it believe it's healthier than typical juices because it's processed without heat, which keeps the enzymes in the fruits and vegetables intact. But the science suggests that simply isn't true, according to David.
"There's no proof that the enzymes actually transfer to your body and give you any benefit," he says. Plus, there's a downside to cold-pressed juice: "What you're losing is the fibre - which aids your digestion, and aid the absorption of minerals and vitamins into your body," A blended smoothie - which contains bits of banana, kale or other fruits - will give you all those benefits for half the price.
Should you drink it? David says no. "I'd say stick with the smoothie, forget the cold press juice, and save your money and spend it on something else healthy."