Published in Jul-Aug 2023
When it comes to food (ultimately, it always does), Gen Z are increasingly mirroring their open-minded global outlook, culinary curiosity, and a desire for cultural fusion. As Gen Z opens up, a diverse range of gastro-experimentations are creating a melting pot of flavours and fusions. In Pakistan, India and the Middle East, Gen Z is defining evolving food trends and redefining traditional cuisines by infusing them with international influences together with a preference for healthy, sustainable and globally-inspired choices.
After all, the social feed is fast turning into a gastronomic feeding frenzy. Given Gen Z’s adventurous palette and an appreciation for diversity, the popularity of global foods is getting a new lease of life. From Japanese sushi to Mexican tacos, from Mediterranean falafels to Korean bibimbap, young people are being driven by a desire for cultural exchange and the influence of platforms that showcase food from around the world. In other words, if you can’t fly to the country of your dreams, then taking a bite out of their culinary export is the next best way to travel.
For instance, cultural fusions and adaptations can be seen in the combustion of Korean and Mexican cuisines, in dishes like Korean BBQ tacos or in the incorporation of Arabic spices in Indian biryanis. Closer to home, street food is rising in popularity with (hygienic) food trucks and pop-up stalls offering a wide array of traditional favourites together with innovative dishes at ubiquitous chaiwalas. Nutella paratha, anyone? Additionally, the influence of Western fast-food chains has introduced a fusion of flavours, combining traditional Pakistani spices or selected ingredients with modern, fast-food formats for a ‘glocalised’ flavour.
Even for the vegans and vegetarians in India, Gen Z is asking for more plant-based alternatives and vegan dishes with a twist. Examples of such flavours can be observed in dishes like butter chicken pizza or paneer tacos, reflecting a desire for cross-cultural experimentation. To our west, the Middle East is witnessing a renaissance with its influx of international residents who are giving rise to a gastronomic revolution. While traditional dishes like hummus, falafels, and shawarmas remain a constant, Gen Z is adopting global food trends (right across neighbourhood supermarkets) with fish-free sushi, poke bowls, bubble tea and other mix-n-match, artisanal and craft creations that are available for (g)astronomic prices.
While it’s important to note that individual preferences may vary, Gen Z, like any generation, have a diverse range of preferences. These include an appetite for convenience where fast-casual dining outlets must also offer healthier alternatives to traditional fast food. This applies to snack culture too, where chips, popcorn, protein bars and fruit snacks are coupled with ingenious combinations to create intrigue and delight. If that weren’t enough, there is even a category for social media-inspired food where Gen Z’s love for all things visually appealing, driven by social media trends, capture an unfair share of ‘likes’ thanks to rainbow-coloured bagels, photogenic smoothie bowls, matcha lattes and over-the-top milkshakes – including that wiggly Japanese Soufflé Cheesecake that every home cook is baking and selling across Pakistan. And that’s on top of a new breed of chefs who are infusing Pakistan with culturally divergent cuisines from across the world.
But the thing to note is that all this means nothing without the right social ingredients. Which is to say that these trends are increasingly underscored by a growing emphasis on health, provenance, transparency and sustainability. Gen Z appears more inclined towards natural, locally-sourced and plant-based options. This translates to choices that lead to foods that are organic, authentic, gluten-free, or free from artificial ingredients. They actively seek out brands that align with their values, such as those that promote ethical farming practices, animal welfare, reduced food waste, or in support of fair trade. Gen Z’s awareness of the environmental impact of their food choices is reshaping the industry and driving the rise of eco-conscious brands and industries. For instance, the arrival of “eco-tricity” (environmentally-sound electricity) is one example of how the status quo is being reshaped in an entirely different category.
As Gen Z continue to shape the culinary landscape with their exploratory and conscious choices, they are making it clear that food trends are not just about satisfying cravings, but also about creating awareness for issues that help make the world a little better, and the future taste more palatable.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is Chief Creative Officer & CEO, The D’Hamidi Partnership, a worldwide partner agency of WPI.