Published On: Tue, Dec 20th, 2016

You Are What You Eat: Investigating Islington and Hackney’s 2016 Food Trends

Nicolo Gervasi reveals the up-and-coming food trends which have been sweeping the boroughs of Islington and Shoreditch this year…

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Whoever once said we eat with our eyes first might have been onto something.

Perhaps these words accurately foreshadowed the recent trend of brightly lit, unrealistically saturated, perfectly symmetrical food pictures regularly cascading through social media.

The myriad of Instagram posts grouped under the hashtag #foodporn indicate a change in consumer habits. Snapping, uploading and sharing are now just as synonymous with eating as biting, chewing and swallowing.

Although social media alone did not create the public’s widespread inclination for picture-perfect food, it certainly provided a platform for its cultivation: according to Waitrose’s annual food and drink report, a third of 18 to 34-year-olds in the UK shared at least one picture of their meals on social media in November.

Just like Twitter users include trending hashtags to engage in a larger conversation or gain visibility, ‘foodies’ are now on the lookout for buzz-worthy culinary creations.

Hunting for the next big thing, food enthusiasts and bloggers find plenty to dig their teeth into when they choose to dine in Islington or Shoreditch. While past trends have started to lose ground, eateries in these neighbourhoods have pioneered some of this year’s most popular edible obsessions.

When it comes to food, Shoreditch confirms its role as a hipster stronghold. Brick Lane Market gives visitors the chance to kill two trends with one fork: bubble waffles, a Hong Kong street snack resembling a cluster of bubbles and gourmet hot dogs, the latter dish a sophisticated twist on the street food classic.

Meanwhile, a variety of ice-cream-related food hybrids have taken over social media. The crone (pictured below), just to mention one, was created by Paul Hurley, owner of Dum Dum Donutterie at Shoreditch Box Park. This London twist on the American cronut– a croissant-doughnut hybrid – consists of a baked croissant doughnut cone overflowing with ice cream.

Lesley Sherman, better known by her Instagram handle @hngryldnr (Hungry Londoner), is one of the many users contributing to the online stream of aesthetic food – and collecting armies of followers in the process.

She says: “Food trends and food hybrids have definitely changed public perception of food. People aren’t easily impressed anymore so everyone needs to step up their game. Just as technology challenges people and constantly moves forward, people in the food industry are realising that food must do the same.”

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A 20-minute bus ride from Angel Station is enough to get hold of one of the most sought after desserts on Instagram: cotton candy soft serve. This trend was launched by Milk Train Café, where an ice cream swirl was first wrapped in a sticky cloud of candy floss to form the hit recipe.

The dessert has been shared over 2,000 times on Instagram (under the hashtag #milktrain) and regularly attracts hundreds of smartphone-yielding customers who are not intimidated by the café’s long queues.

The amount of traction generated by Instagram food trends speaks volumes about social media’s role as a tastemaker.

Jane Milton, food specialist and curator of seasonal food trend reports, has worked in the industry for over 25 years. She believes social media is capable of great things in the hands of food retailers.

She says: “I think all businesses, regardless of their size, have benefitted massively from social media. It’s one of the easiest forms of marketing out there, if you do it properly. It’s also a good way to reach out to consumers and have conversations with them. Small businesses can get away with doing most of their marketing through social media.’

Local restaurants and cafes have been adopting this cost-effective strategy, relying on trusty food trends to cater to the Instagram demographic. Miki’s Paradise, a pastel-coloured corner on Holloway Road, is one of them.

The restaurant was put on the map by yet another food craze: freakshakes. This Australian trend consists of heavy-portioned milkshakes topped with dessert pieces such as brownies and cookies.

Owner Kerem Soykök says he enjoys seeing customers’ reactions when they dig into his freakshakes: “Pictures don’t do them justice. Some people just come here to take a photo and leave without even tasting the food. I think it shouldn’t be that way. It shouldn’t be just for show.”

He adds: “We’re not doing professional advertising at the moment. We try to post regularly on Instagram and we’re active on Facebook.”

However, social media can prove both a blessing and a curse for food businesses. Kerem admits that, although he sees social media as a ‘unique opportunity to bring people in’, an Instagram-driven food industry puts pressure on businesses to keep reinventing themselves.

Instagrammer Lesley Sherman remains doubtful about freakshakes long-term survival. She says: “Like all trends, food trends come and go, depending on how specific they are. I think freakshakes are more of a one-time thing.”

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Milton has seen her fair share of vanishing trends, but she believes the good ones will be able to survive.

She says: “There will always be short term ideas, but there are also things that stay as part of the culture. Years ago there were a plethora of cupcake companies, several of which have since disappeared. However, cupcakes have stayed in all the high street bakeries and supermarkets.”

Are food trends a high-risk initiative for businesses who chose to catch on to them, then? Jane doesn’t think so: “You should never be a one-trick pony. If a product is doing well, businesses should always be looking for the next good thing. Food is a fashion thing.”

As constant renovation becomes a priority in the food industry, some local businesses are juggling timeless recipes with innovative creations.

Zia Lucia has introduced Islington foodies to the black pizza trend launched in Italy. However, the pizzeria’s menu still features all the classics. Islington-based pizza chef Simone Russo says vegetable charcoal, responsible for black pizza’s unusual colouring, not only gives the dish a chewier texture, it also adds some health benefits.

He says: ‘The charcoal is high in fibre, meaning it’s easier to digest as it prevents yeast from creating gas in the intestine.’

Still, it would be simplistic to solely blame social media for the food industry’s fast pace. According to Milton, things moved just as fast before the Internet.

She says: “Changes have always happened within food in a way that’s different from other products; social media has just highlighted them and made consumers more aware of them. I think anything that makes people interested in food is a great thing for all of us.”

Which innovative recipes have taken your fancy this year? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter, and watch the video below to find out more about local food trends in 2016…

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