Middle Eastern cuisine is poised to take over America, and it reveals a huge change in how people like to eat
Facebook/Hummus & Pita Co.
Facebook/Hummus & Pita Co.
- Fast-casual restaurants serving Middle Eastern food and Mediterrean food are suddenly everywhere.
- Although Mediterranean food and Middle Eastern food are different, they have a lot of overlapping flavors.
- Cava and Roti are just a few of the chains that have been rapidly growing across the United States.
- Whole Foods predicted that Middle Eastern cuisine would be one of the top culinary trends in 2018 because of a growing demand for fresh, healthy, and flavorful food.
Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants seem to be popping up on every corner.
Taïm, Cava, Hummus & Pita Co., and Roti are among the fast-growing restaurants that have been serving fresh Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food in a fast-casual style, with more and more national chains and local businesses hopping on the trend all the time.
Middle Eastern cuisine has been rising in popularity in recent years, and Whole Foods predicted it would be one of the top food trends of 2018. According to Whole Foods, hummus, pita, and falafel are "entry points" into Middle Eastern food, and spices like harissa, cardamom, and za'atar will likely start popping up on menus more and more.
Though Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food are distinct from one another, "Mediterranean" is often used as an umbrella term to describe both. For example, flatbreads, roasted meat, and hummus are generally considered stables of both types of cuisine.
Leila Hudson, associate professor of modern Middle East culture and political economy at the University of Arizona in Tucson, explained to QSR magazine, "Mediterranean is a much more popular selling point. People generally understand what that means."
Tamim Shoja, who owns SKWR Kabobline in Washington, DC, told QSR: "We did a lot of research, and what kept sticking out was how many restaurants represented themselves as Mediterranean when they were not. I came to the realization it was a marketing thing. Mediterranean is something that is approachable."
See how Middle Eastern food is taking over:
Taïm, an Israeli chain operated by chefs Einat Admony and Stefan Nafziger, has three locations in New York and two more coming soon.
To aid in its expansion, the founders of Taïm have partnered with an investment group spearheaded by Chipotle vets Phil Petrilli and Bethany Strong. On the menu are a variety of falafel dishes that you can order on a pita or platter. It also has salads, fries, sides, and smoothies, all generally priced around $8 to $12.
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food is packed with flavorful spices and fresh veggies. The Mediterranean diet is said to be one of the healthiest diets because of its focus on vegetables, proteins, and whole grains.
At Taïm, one of the main sources of protein is chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus and a staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. The use of these proteins may help contribute to these fast-casual chains' popularity because they can appeal to a growing number of consumers looking for plant-based options instead of meat.
Rich and flavorful Middle Eastern spices like harissa, cardamom, and za'atar are becoming more and more popular. Taïm has a harissa falafel made with Tunisian spices.
Other restaurants, like the Greek-inspired fast-casual chain Cava, package and sell their Mediterranean-inspired dips and sauces at places like Whole Foods. Cava sells traditional hummus, harissa hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, a feta cheese dip, and more.
Cava has more than 60 locations across the US, with even more locations opening soon.
Though Taïm is Israeli and Cava is Greek, the menus are pretty similar, with lots of falafel options, fresh vegetables, pitas, and dips made with spices like harissa and red pepper. The prices are also similar — at Cava, a pita costs $8.95, while a salad or bowl is $9.87.
Although Middle Eastern food and Mediterranean food are distinct from one another, they have a lot of overlapping flavors and ingredients, including pomegranate, eggplant, cucumber, parsley, mint, and tahini, which is made from sesame. They also have flatbreads and roasted meats in common.
Hummus & Pita Co., another Mediterranean chain, has a huge menu with different types of hummus, pitas, platters, and bowls, with prices to rival Cava and Taïm. Prices range from $5.95 to $10.95.
The chain has three locations in New York, with more coming soon in Connecticut, Colorado, New Jersey, Michigan, and California.
Nanoosh, yet another popular Mediterranean restaurant with four restaurants in New York and one in Germany, has a mix of salads, soups, platters, and wraps that use fresh herbs and spices from all over the region.
Nanoosh has a ton of spreads, including a shakshuka spread, tahini, and tzatziki.
Roti Modern Mediterranean has over 30 locations across the US.
Everything is served as a rice plate, sandwich, or salad, and there's no shortage of sides and sauces to mix and match, including a tomato and cucumber salad, couscous, tahini, and a roasted red pepper sauce.
On top of all the fast-casual chains, in New York City at least, it feels like there are new, independent Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants all over the place.
In SoHo, for example, there's one block that has a Taïm, Cava, and a new local Middle Eastern restaurant called Dez, all just steps away from one another.
Eden Grinshpan, the chef at Dez, told Business Insider that she loves that "Middle Eastern food is really meant to be shared."
The fast-casual dining industry grew 550% from 1994 to 2014, according to data from Euromonitor. And, it's expected to be worth as much as $66.9 billion by 2020.
Stephen Joyce, CEO of IHOP parent company Dine Brands, told Business Insider that the company plans to acquire a new fast-casual chain by the end of 2018. He also mentioned that he was particularly interested in Mediterranean, Spanish, and Mexican chains.
With the rapidly growing fast-casual market and growing demand for fresh, plant-based foods, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fast-casual restaurants are poised to take over.
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