Thursday 29 September 2016

The humble bowl: We're in the midst of a culinary revolution that says 'everything tastes better in a bowl'

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 20/01/2016 | 10:47

Stella Forte with her Mixed Leaves Salad with Quinoa Goji Berries and Gillian Tsoi with her Tuna Spinach with Tomato, Avacado and Beetroot Salad.
Stella Forte with her Mixed Leaves Salad with Quinoa Goji Berries and Gillian Tsoi with her Tuna Spinach with Tomato, Avacado and Beetroot Salad.

Goodbye, plates. Hello, bowls.

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If you want a little prediction for the year ahead prepare for small bowl takeover in 2016.

It may not sound like much of a trend — goodbye, plates has more of a ring to it — but bowl food is where we are all heading.

“We are now in the age of the phenomenon I have come to think of as ‘things in a bowl’,” says the Los Angeles Times’s restaurant critic.

Nigella Lawson devotes a whole chapter of her book Simply Nigella to bowl food and admits: “If I could, I’d eat everything out of a bowl.”

Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow’s high-end lifestyle website Goop claims that wise people (for which read: affluent style leaders) say “everything tastes better in a bowl”.

You may think this is hard to get excited about, but you might have thought the same about coconut water and avocados on toast and look how that ended.

Actually, the bowl revolution is likely to be bigger than all of the above because it requires a shift towards bowl-friendly food.

Lawson writes (in Simply Nigella): “For me ‘bowlfood’ is simply shorthand for food that is simultaneously soothing, bolstering, undemanding and sustaining.”

She goes on to explain that she’s not talking about comfort food in the sense of nursery stodge but food that can be simply spooned or forked out of a bowl, “each mouthful satisfyingly the same as the one before”.

So bowl food is food that doesn’t need cutting or combining, dipping or twiddling around a fork; a risotto-style experience that’s as effortless and comforting as spooning Häagen-Dazs out of the tub.

Only this is 2016 so culinary trends are about healthy mindful eating first and foremost and bowls are the first word in healthy eating. It’s got to the point where if you want to serve healthy, nutritious, balanced food (especially during the day) you’re probably putting it in a bowl.

Lean proteins, greens, vegetables and whole grains are the classic bowl-friendly ingredients — nothing too chewy, nothing too unwieldy or bulky — and the bowl is a key part of the experience.

The blogger and author Sara Forte has written a whole book about bowl food, Bowl + Spoon, in which she identifies the bowl as the perfect vessel in which to create simple, delicious and healthy meals.

It’s the idea of a bowl containing a complete meal, just enough of everything combined in one manageable pot, that appeals to chefs and diners.

Nothing is avoided or pushed to one side. Everything “nestles against each other” in a marriage of flavours, textures and balanced nutrients.

Bowls put paid to picking at food, and they’re small enough that the diet-obsessed can relax and accept their perfect portion control. And, practically speaking, bowl eating has the edge on the old retro flat plate: just spoon and go, no need to put down your phone or your iPad.

This trend all started in earnest with smoothie bowls, which — a bit like avocado for breakfast — got the photogenic vote on Instagram.

From there via grain bowls and quinoa under poached eggs next to wafer-thin sliced radish and avocado, the world went bowltastic.

Classic bowl combinations are deliberately packed with nutrients so bowl food has a reputation like no other.

There’s often an egg in there, usually kale, or a big hitter on the superfood chart and the picturesque ratings, such as hot pink dragon fruit. It’s a bit like Net-a-Porter packaging — if it comes in a bowl you already feel confident about the contents.

Mainly, though (talking of Net-a-Porter), if you check out the pictures of bowl dishes you will quickly see that you get something seriously good looking in a crowded, colourful, intense hit that you just can’t get on your regular plate: less is more packed in and prettier.

This is lady-friendly food to show off to other ladies.

At the Egg Shop in New York City the bowls are called the Spandex (poached egg, avocado, quinoa) and the El Camino (poached egg, pulled pork, tomato, tortilla strips) and are as dazzling as they are popular to eat.

Poké, Los Angeles’s favourite new food trend by way of Hawaii, is bowls — basically — containing deconstructed sushi. It’s all bowls. Small bowls. You read it here first.

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