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Street Food and Food Halls: The Lure of Authenticity in Ethnic and Regional Cuisines

Caroline Wu
May 19, 2023
Street Food and Food Halls: The Lure of Authenticity in Ethnic and Regional Cuisines

There was a time when cuisines were simply known by the country of origin - Chinese, Mexican, Italian, etc.  But as Americans' palates have become more adventurous and interest in regional cuisines has exploded, we are now seeking more authentic flavors - Sichuan, Oaxacan, or Neopolitan are taking their place.  

One chain that is bringing many consumers the authentic tastes of their grandmothers' family recipes is the chain Hawkers.  A haven for Asian street food, one Yelp review on its website enthuses that “Eating at Hawkers is like going on an adventure across the globe. No, but really, tour the menu, bop to the music, and have a drink. You’ll want to stay a while.”  Rooted in culture, but with some fusion flair, menu items include Roti Canai and Seoul Hot Chicken Baos.

Their Yo2Y growth has been impressive, albeit some has been fueled by new location openings.

Mercado Little Spain by Jose Andres at Hudson Yards is another example of the appreciation for jamon iberico, gambas al ajillo, and churros con chocolate.  Styled after the mercados of his hometown, Jose Andres has curated a wonderland of food from Espana.  As you enter off 30th St., you’re transported into a food hall of discovery. Turn right and there is a wine bar for cozy drinks, turn another way and there is an enticing leg of ham waiting to become paper-thin slices that melt in your mouth.  In the midst of it all is a cute grocery section with olives and oils aplenty.  Looking at its YoY traffic, it would appear that native New Yorkers and tourists alike agree. Visitation is up, likely followed by happy bellies.

Let’s not forget one of the original masters of authenticity - Eataly.  Did you know there are 40 Eataly stores around the world, with the majority concentrated in Italy? The NY Times originally described the concept as a megastore that "combines elements of a bustling European open market, a Whole-Foods-style supermarket, a high-end food court and a New Age learning center.”  Here in the states, there are half a dozen to choose from when you get that craving for tagliatelle alla bolognese or a divine tiramisu.  Eataly had a strong Q1 YoY stateside, though it softened a bit in April.

Kitchen United MIX is another new concept with locations scattered around the US.  It bills itself as the nation’s first “multi-restaurant ordering” platform.  Guests can use Kitchen United Mix’s innovative technology to order for dine-in, pickup, or delivery from independently operated brands. At the recently opened Santa Monica branch, 7 brands are open with the rest opening over the coming weeks. Guests can Mix and match their meal by adding food from multiple restaurants in one simple order, making it convenient for individuals and groups to enjoy variety without having to compromise.

In addition to food-hall like locations, Kitchen United also offers to-go options inside grocery stores, such as a Ralphs in Westwood, CA and a Kroger in Dallas, TX.  A third format - The Mix Market Outpost - is available in multiple locations in NYC and offers convenient food pick-up/dine-out.

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Caroline Wu

Director of Research,

Caroline brings expertise in retail, CRE, entertainment, media, CPG, and tourism, and specializes in synthesizing broad datasets into actionable recommendations for growth. She has worked as the US Director of Consumer Insights at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, VP of Retail Insights and Intelligence at Omnicom, and Senior Director at Kantar. Caroline holds an MA in Sociology from Stanford University and a BA in International Relations from Stanford University.

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