Filled creatively, bao buns, wonton or eggroll wrappers and naan bread hold the secret to appealing menu mashups.
Given diners’ never-ending love affair with portable food, we are constantly on the lookout for new ways to wrap up . . . well, everything. Particularly for younger demographics, hand-held “mashups” offer tremendous potential for increasing sales and creating menu differentiation.
Globally savvy millennial and Gen-Z diners seek out comfort-food dishes, and for these younger generations such foods often have a global spin, much more so than for their older cohorts. That’s why three new global carriers are becoming increasingly popular. Bao buns, wonton or eggroll wrappers and Indian naan bread are on point to become the next wave of opportunity for handhelds.
Take a bao
Tender, fluffy and versatile, bao buns melt in the mouth and can be stuffed with an unlimited variety of ingredients. Their appeal as a carrier is primarily textural; while salty and slightly sweet, they’re essentially a blank canvas in terms of flavour. Bao buns are an ideal opportunity for sports bars; they’re snackable and a great alternative to tots and nachos.
There are many ways to update traditional bao-bun fillings. Examples:
- Thai chicken curry with pickled slaw and pork carnitas with pineapple salsa—the combo packs in bright flavours that balance acid and salt to contrast nicely with the slightly sweet bao bun.
- Shredded BBQ chicken, sweet slaw and housemade pickles.
- “Philly” bao with chopped sirloin steak, white American cheese, griddled peppers and onions and garlic aīoli.
Wonton and eggroll wrappers offer unparalleled opportunity to tap into the deep appeal of crispy, crunchy snack foods. Customized eggrolls create instant menu differentiation and are a snap to put together in advance. Examples:
- Croque-madame eggroll filled with of thinly sliced ham and cheese and served with a side of super-hot French mustard.
- Fried sirloin-steak and pepper-Jack cheese eggroll that’s split lengthwise with each half stuffed with lettuce, onion, tomato, salsa, guacamole and sour cream.
There are many excellent opportunities for putting naan—an Indian flatbread—to work as a carrier for contemporary handhelds. Naan is particularly enjoyable as a carrier for hand-held street foods, which lend themselves well to global mashups. Really, I’d be hard pressed to think of something that would not be delicious wrapped in warm naan. This means there’s a great opportunity for any restaurant to take something it already does well and put a fresh spin on it.
More hearty and chewy than pita, naan is soft and flexible, but sturdy enough to hold up to heftier fillings without falling apart. It crisps up nicely; pressed fold-overs work well (such as Italian style piadina) with thin layers of super-flavourful fillings and spreads. Brush naan with melted butter or ghee to add another rich layer of flavour.
There’s no shortage of flat-out delicious ways to use this flatbread. Here are just a few:
- Mini pizzas with toppings baked on a naan base.
- Burgers (especially lamb burgers with mint/feta/red onions, etc.) on a naan “bun.”
- Naan “tacos” filled with braised or grilled meats, veggies, cheese etc.
Cost-effective cross-utilization is one more good reason to add naan to your repertoire of global carriers: Leftover or stale naan can be cut into small, bite-sized pieces and deep fried until crispy-crunchy, then tossed with herb/spice mixture for croutons.
As with any culinary mashups, there are no real limits as long as you keep basic flavour profiles in mind. Take something you’re already doing well, and use condiments and extras to layer in flavours; two to three is plenty.