Street Food Trends 2023/24: Three Asian plant-based interest areas for UK foodservice

With UK street food trends continuing to evolve, Egg Soldiers' Insights Lab reveals three lesser-known, plant-based examples from Asia with UK restaurant menu potential
Multiple street food dishes cooked on woks
Street food trends in the UK continue to diversify, with regional and lesser-known staples from across the world increasingly finding favour among younger consumers seeking exciting, convenient and diverse eating experiences.

Driven by Millennial consumers' adventurous streak when it comes to food choices, and Gen Z's flexible, on-the-go approach to eating occasions; street food is now a mainstay food concept across UK foodservice, with broader Southeast Asian, African, and South American street food staples among the latest to enter the spotlight.

Here at Egg Soldiers' Insights Lab, we've made UK street food opportunities one of our focus areas as brands both big and small seek out ways of maximising their food offers amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

It's a topic we're more than prepped to cover for brand-specific food trend reports and during bespoke client ideation sessions, with 'New Wave' Asian Street Food' taking centre stage in our free whitepaper, 'UK Hospitality Food & Drink Trends to Watch 2023/24'.

This month, we thought we'd showcase some of our broader thinking, with the team breaking down three vegan street food opportunity areas from Asia for businesses seeking to resonate with plant-based audiences, outlining potential UK menu applications in 2023/24.

Okonomiyaki, Japan
Vegan okonomiyaki (Image: @zaccharybird)
What is it: Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake made with cabbage and spring onions cooked on a teppan (traditional iron griddle) and served with a variety of toppings.

Versatile, quick to make and with cheap base ingredients, okonomiyaki can be enjoyed on-the-go, or even at brunch, with British PM Rishi Sunak one of the latest to discover the joys of okonomiyaki during a trip to Japan in March.

Why we're interested: Okonomiyaki, which is widely considered a 'soul food' in Japan, translates to "cooked as you like it". And while traditional versions are built from wheat batter made with eggs, plant-based binders are not hard to come by these days, allowing chefs to develop Insta-worthy, comforting, flavourful plant-based versions, establishing a new, globally-inspired street food dish on menus.

Authentic okonomiyaki is served with Japanese mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce (the latter often a mix of Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar), with the duo criss-crossed across the pancake in what is a signature look.

When turning both sauces vegan, you might look to umami-boosting miso paste or kombu powder to help layer Japanese mayo flavours in a plant-based version, and silken tofu to boost creaminess. And for a vegan okonomiyaki sauce, tamari can be useful when replacing the fish sauce found in a typical Worcestershire sauce, while dried mushrooms can deliver the earthiness of an oyster sauce (or you could always buy in branded vegan versions of the pair).

Topping opportunities are entirely down to the chef, with pickled sushi ginger, shredded nori and mushrooms ideal for more Japanese-leaning iterations. Or you could go in a totally different direction, with the likes of avocado, vegan cheese and plant-based bacon turning a vegan okonomiyaki into a recognisable plant-based brunch item (riffing further with your own sauce base combo).
Food Trend to Food Concept

What to expect:

  • Understand the state-of-play with Asian-inspired chicken with an expert-led overview, innovator examples, and a spotlight on potential opportunity areas for the UK market.

  • Journey with us through fried/breaded chicken seasoning opportunities, exploring viable retail applications and digesting analysis.

  • Discover a brand-new retail seasoning concept as an example of our 'trend to concept' methodology, with the team discussing ingredient builds and suitability for the UK market.

  • Understand possible range expansions, backed up by AI-led product concept showcases.

Karipap (curry puffs), Malaysia
Karipap (Image: @woon.heng)
What is it: A street food staple across Southeast Asia, curry puffs are deep-fried or baked pastries containing curry and other fillings. The curry puff is said to have been created in Singapore in the 1800s to satisfy British palates that brought over the Cornish pasty.

Karipap is the Malaysian version of the curry puff, with a chicken and potato curry filling a common feature across iterations.

Another Malay version of this snack is known as epok-epok, which doesn't always contain curry and is smaller in size.

Why we're interested in it: Blending influences from the British Cornish pasty, the Portuguese empanada and the Indian samosa; karipap is ripe for picnic and on-the-go occasions, and potentially as part of a bar snacks menu, with a few tweaks to the pastry.

Obviously abandoning chicken (seeing as this is for plant-based audiences) and avoiding non-vegan, butter-based pastry; karipap's aromatic, complex, slightly spicy potato curry filling, dovetailed by peas and carrots, could well be housed in lighter puff pastry, away from the baked shortcrust 'Cornish' style - which could be seen as thick and heavy - to deliver a globally-inspired, flavourful snack enjoyed either with a beer, or as the start of a meal (alongside the likes of olives).

Karipap's smaller cousin, epok-epok, could be a way to go here. And, with epok-epok, your filling horizons broaden.

There is already evidence of karipap's popularity in the West, specifically NYC - a solid precursor for many UK food entries - at Southeast Asian bakery Lady Wong which, according to a BBC article from March, usually sells out of its popular vegetarian karipap by 2-3pm.

Fuchka, Bangladesh
Fuckha platter at Tong, NYC (Image: Scott Lynch)
What is it: A classic Bangladeshi street food, fuchka is a deep-fried semolina shell filled with a mixture of mashed potatoes, chickpeas, onions, cucumber, lime, coriander and green chillies in a chaat masala blend.

Why we're interested: Fuchka is one of those 'unintentional' vegan opportunities - a certified street food sensation with flexible filling opportunities and memorable sauce.

That sauce - traditionally a tangy tamarind number - is where the magic happens. Fuchka shells have a signature hole at the top, allowing for the sauce to be poured directly, producing an convenient, flavourful one-shot bite.

Such access takes fuchka beyond the majority of 'dippable' street food snacks, unlocking myriad opportunities for chefs to flex their creative muscles with bold, complex sauces that hit as intended. In terms of menu delivery, fuchka could be an appealing differential as part of a sharing platter or mixed starter, potentially served with multiple sauces for consumer experimentation.

As current examples of 'fuchka in the West' go, look no further than the Bangladeshi street food cart, Tong. Said to have been the USA's first fuchka food cart, Tong has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame over the past few years, opening a first permanent location in Queens in 2022 following rave reviews.
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