The reversal of food globalisation

Shopping malls all over the world are dotted with foreign restaurants from fast-food joints like Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken, to sit-down dining like Planet Hollywood and Ruby Tuesdays. Now the tables are being turned, as Middle Eastern food entrepreneurs expand their own chains overseas

Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food is popular because it has a homemade appeal that everyone likes

Ossie, Food stall owner

The UAE-based Just Felafel started in 2007 and now has 52 restaurants in 18 countries, including the US, Canada and the UK, selling the fried chick-pea delicacies. Likewise Man’oushe Street started in Dubai selling Man’oushe - Lebanese flatbreads traditionally topped with herbs, sesame seeds and olive oil. The range of toppings has expanded to cheese, minced meat and even pepperoni and the company currently working on plans to expand from Dubai (where they have eight branches) into the rest of the Middle East and Europe. 35 branches are planned for the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Different cuisines are being trafficked in multiple directions across the globe, dispelling the notion that food globalisation is a one-way street. And some “foreign” cuisines are so assimilated into local culture that restaurant concepts are now being re-exported from countries far from their point of origin. Wagamama’s is a Japanese chain that originated in London that now dishes up noodles and gyoza in Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand as well as Britain. Carluccio’s is the eponymous chain of the Italian-born Antonio Carluccio who works in London and offers authentic Italian to six countries in the Middle East as well as the UK and Ireland.

The expansion of such chains is perhaps made possible by a grassroots globalisation in the food market in which family-owned restaurants and food stalls are thriving, creating a growing popularity for the foods that they bring from their home countries.

Food globalisation
Exmouth Market in London offers a wide array of cuisines from different locales on its street food stalls

As cities the world over become more cosmopolitan the demand for cuisines from all corners of the globe grows, and while it once required a trip to a restaurant, such international choices are now an everyday event.

A walk down London’s Exmouth market at lunchtime reveals a selection of restaurants and food stalls that give hungry workers a choice of Japanese sushi, Vietnamese pho, Thai curry, Moorish cuisine, German barbecue, Spanish street food, and Mediterranean food, as well as traditional British fare. Ossie, the owner of Mediterranean Stop One, which sells Turkish food there, says street food has helped different cuisines to spread.

“The dishes that we offer here are different to the ones that you would find in restaurant. We offer ‘everyday’ dishes that are more suitable to eat at lunchtime than a restaurant dish would be.”

He adds, “Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food is popular because it has a homemade appeal that everyone likes. People like to try different things but sometimes they have limited time to eat, which means that they won’t necessarily go to a restaurant. With street food they can see it, buy it and take it back to the office. People can treat themselves to something different without having to make a special effort."