Malaysian foodies predict the new year's culinary trends

Artisan products, tapas-sized dishes, healthy eating, food trucks and an increase in delivery services are what our local food experts are expecting or wishing for in the year ahead.

Founder and editor of Eat Drink KL food blog, Sean Yoong, anticipates a drive towards artisan products, here defined as speciality food crafted by independent entrepreneurs.

"Homemade peanut butter and jams were just the beginning of that trend," said Yoong, who expects a greater variety to come in 2015.

"As far as the restaurant scene is concerned, some of us are hoping that small plates will be a big hit next year, such as tapas-sized dishes that customers can share a large variety of and graze on for dinner," he added.

Malaysia International Gourmet Festival (MIGF) chairman Datuk Steve Day also predicts that the tapas-styled approach will be adopted by a number of restaurants in 2015.

"I see many tapas-style restaurants sprouting up in the future, and with them, tasting portions," he said.

Nutritious and mindful food

Healthy eating is another food trend that Day expects restaurants to take on.

"At the moment, there's a war on sugar, and healthy eating is an up-and-coming trend among younger people," he said.

The woman behind The Yum List blog, Monica Tindall, said that she is pleased to see heightened awareness among consumers and better knowledge of where their food comes from, its effect on our bodies, the community and the planet.

"I'm pleased to see fewer restaurants selling shark's fin, and many more embracing vegetarian, organic, and locally-grown produce. Fingers crossed, this trend should continue," she said.

Tapas-style dishes are on the wish list of foodies for 2015 like this octopus from Ohla Tapas at the Intermark in Kuala Lumpur.

Both Tindall and Yoong have noticed a 'farm-to-table' movement (used to refer to a consciousness among chefs to use more local produce, rather than cutting out the middlemen) that probably started before 2014, but came to surface during the year, and they are hoping that the trend will continue to expand in 2015.

"A few restaurateurs in KL have latched on the 'farm-to-table' movement - focusing on local produce instead of imports, as well as supporting sustainable agriculture and food production," said Yoong.

"So that means seeing more free-range chicken on the menu and local snapper instead of imported Norwegian salmon, and even made-in-Malaysia mozzarella cheese," he said.

Tindall shared that some of the top restaurants around the world have adopted this concept, and "proudly celebrates locally grown, organic and sustainably-sourced produce".

"Many even attempt to grow ingredients themselves," she added.

Instagram-able dishes

Looking back at 2014, Yoong said that the biggest food trend were dishes designed for photo-sharing application Instagram.

"Many of the most popular new dishes were the prettiest ones that proved inescapable on social media," he said.

"From tiny bowls of Thai 'boat noodles' cutely stacked up on tables, to Danish-inspired open-face sandwiches crowned with cold cuts, to freshly-made waffles colourfully covered with ice cream, sauces, fruits and even flowers.

"If it looked too good to eat, it probably was a hit," said Yoong.

However, Day said that although presentation says a lot for first impressions, the taste of the dish is always more important.

"Presentation is important. But it's not just how it looks, but how it tastes. It's also who you are with that makes the experience great. The elements of importance are food, service, ambience, cost, and then presentation," he said.

Perhaps that is old-school reality for you, but when the social media hype subsides, one should better have substance - of the kind that Day is talking about - or the Istagram success would be reduced to only an "Insta-flash-in-the-pan".

Rise of Malaysian cuisine

Day predicts that Malaysian cuisine will extend its influence from streets and hawker centres into restaurants.

"I can see our local food being served in good restaurants as well as in hawker stalls. And I predict that more of these types of restaurants selling good local dishes will come up in Malaysia," said Day.

"We have some of the best food on the planet and if we serve it in nice surroundings, we can get top dollar for it.

"A tourist would like to go to a good restaurant and have nasi lemak in surroundings that he's comfortable with, where he can trust the level of hygiene," he said.

Rise of the chef

In the past, chefs were very much behind the scenes. "We now have chefs coming forward, so restaurants get more associated with their chefs," said Day.

"These days, people want to know who the chef is and so there's pressure for chefs to make an appearance on the other side of the hot plate, interact with guests and do more public relations work," said Tindall.

Cutting back in the year ahead

With the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on April 1, many in the food industry feel that it will result in consumers cutting back.

"Anything that's going to affect the consumer spend is going to affect the food industry as well," said Day.

"But once people get used to it, it's not going to be a problem; it'll just be like anything else," he said.

However, Day said that the industry is already starting to notice how people are not going out as often.

He has heard of those who have cut down top-end restaurant visits from three times a month to twice a month. "People are being a bit cautious," he said.

"Next year is going to be a cautious year, even though we're in a period of growth in the restaurant business, so I believe we will see fewer new restaurant openings."

More affordable dining out - and in

The number of affordable and casual mid-end establishments are predicted to increase in 2015. And we are talking about "the type of place you would go if you want to go out in the evening, but don't want it to be so formal or to have to pay a lot of money" said Day.

"It is about easy access, unpretention and fun. These are places where we enjoy the comfort, hygiene, convenience, price and good food. That is why there has been a mushrooming of cafes and bistros in Malaysia recently," he said, predicting the continuation of the trend.

However, Day also expects more international restaurants opening up in the year ahead.

In light of the cafe boom in 2014, Yoong said that "the tidal wave of cafes where peanut butter chocolate cakes and piccolo lattes are the highlights isn't likely to subside in the next few months."

As for fans of food trucks and delivery services, rejoice - Tindall believes they will continue to flourish in the year ahead.

"This year we've seen that you can get just about anything delivered to your door - from traditional restaurant delivery to locally roasted coffee, detox plans, fresh seafood, yoghurt, wine, and even personalised cocktails," she said.

From hawker to haute

Day said that Malaysia has witnessed an "amazing transformation" of the country's dining scene over the past decade.

"Just over a decade ago, hawker food ruled the roost and international food choices were limited. Now we have a dining scene teeming with hundreds of profitable top-end restaurants.

"Furthermore, we have witnessed the rise of the independents. Now more restaurants are located outside hotels than in them. How times have changed!" Day rejoiced.