1. Dalgona coffee
If pandemic food trends were a solar system, the Dalgona Coffee holds pride of place as its Big Bang – the explosive fad that started it all.
This foamy whipped coffee’s viral spread on TikTok and Instagram in mid-March is no surprise – more than half the world had gone into lockdown cutting us off daily pit stops at big-chain coffeehouses. Along came this insanely simple three-ingredient coffee popularised by South Korean YouTubers (and named after a Korean toffee) that allowed us to play baristas in the comfort of our homes. Just a fork, a lot of patience and (freakish) upper body strength for vigorous whisking et voila – equal parts of sugar, humble instant coffee and hot water transformed into frothy cup of joe that was the envy of espresso machines.
Dalgona’s mainstream fame has also been a culinary bone of contention – the hand-beaten drink’s origin as a Seoul food has been beaten down by countries such as India and Pakistan, who have long savoured it as a street-side beverage called phenti hui coffee (beaten coffee). Whether it originated on the streets of Mumbai or in Macau’s Hon Kee Café where South Korean actor Jung Il Woo was spotted drinking it, the Dalgona Coffee helped turn an urban populace browbeaten by the pandemic into one full of beans.
2. Sourdough bread
This was the year that our stress levels were directly proportional to the loaves of bread flying off of supermarket shelves. And with the shutters down on bakeries, and stores running out of yeast (yes, this was also the year we hoarded toilet paper and yeast), resourceful home bakers found a saviour in the sourdough bread. It didn’t require commercial yeast and all you needed was to ferment a mixture of flour and water, called the starter, for about seven days. And guess who had all the time in the world? Suddenly, everyone was googling recipes for sourdough starters. Even those who didn’t eat bread on the regular – we’re talking celebrities – had their ovens working double-time.
Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, Khloe Kardashian and singer Pink all jumped on the bandwagon and here’s why: The systematic precision of the baking process and the single-minded focus it requires soothed frayed nerves. It’s why the hashtag #stressbaking was trending across social media platforms. Sourdough bread was carbs that could both comfort us and sustain us through an indefinite existence of isolation. In 2020, the sourdough bread was definitely the next best thing since sliced bread. It was the knead of the hour.
3. Banana bread
The world went bananas for this cake-like bread earlier this year – Chrissy Teigen, supermodel and social media influencer, went as far as using it to barter for romaine lettuce. The banana bread is to 2020, what carrot cake was to the panicked Britons during the Second World War. But the catalyst for our obsession with banana bread wasn’t a scarcity of sugar. It was panic-buying during the pandemic.
Fearing shortage, a lot of people shopped for fruits and vegetables in bulk and like time and tide, spoiling produce too waits for none. Luckily, mushy overripe bananas could be repurposed and that combined with the #stressbaking trend birthed a food fad we found solace in. As far as recipes went, banana bread’s simplicity made it a cakewalk for rank beginners who were daunted by baking. Pop a loaf tin filled with a batter of overripe bananas, flour, baking soda, eggs and butter into the oven and you were good to go.
In a time of furloughs and cutbacks, we couldn’t eat cake but we could eat banana bread.
4. Focaccia bread gardens
Somewhere amidst the doom bloomed one of the prettiest trends we’d laid eyes on. Pined for a gorgeous garden as you fought boredom and wrestled with your own mortality this year? Everyone else did too, and it gave roots to the trend of focaccia bread decorated with gardens. You didn’t need to be an artist to get artistic with decorating these. You didn’t need to have a green thumb to be tending to these edible gardens. You merely used the blank canvas the white dough provided, and got imaginative. Focaccia’s a great vehicle for this, being so easy to make compared to the grand project sourdough is.
So bouquet beauties flowered on focaccia - and subsequently Instagram. Cherry tomatoes and onions and bell peppers of all colours were made into whole flowers and petals. Green onion or herbs were the stalks of said flowers, while the leaves were basil or parsley. Olives were the centre of the flowers, and sometimes even served as rocks. Even parmesan was used as sand. You could use as many vegetables or herbs as you wanted, then bake it, Instagram it and wolf it down - it’s as cathartic to eat as it is to look at.
5. Cloud bread
Amidst all the heaviness the pandemic brought, this light and airy and pillowy bread flourished. We thought we’d baked all the bread we could, and then along trotted cloud bread – via the go-to resource for whimsical food trends, TikTok and Instagram of course. The bread would come out of the oven resembling a pastel fluffy cloud with a cotton candy texture - and tasting nothing like bread; at best it’s a meringue.
No chewing was required – it’d melt almost as soon as it hit your mouth. Made with just four ingredients - eggs, sugar, cornstarch and food colouring, the cloud bread’s gluten-free and low-carb aspects quickly gained it millions of posts and views and likes. You could make it blue like the clouds, or you could throw in all the colours and make it a rainbow. Unlike the walls of our homes during quarantine, this bread came with no limits.
6. Pancake cereal
This dirham-sized treat entered our lives when we were in urgent need of both comfort and creativity, and right after we had just looked up with hopelessness at the 95th recipe for bread. In essence, this viral trend meant if you want to have pancakes drenched in syrup or chocolate for breakfast, you could – just call it cereal, and you’d be excused.
Crispy on the out, fluffy on the in and oh-so-easy to make, these golden bites graced breakfast tables across the world for days on end at the height of the pandemic. Served with a splash of milk (if you wanted it mushy), some butter and syrup (if you wanted it classic), or some M&Ms and Nutella (if you wanted your affair with sugar sweetened). Soon, we were being invited to think beyond breakfast and beyond pancakes (what was time during quarantine anyway), and we did – 2pm chocolate chip mini French toast, anyone?
7. Pickled anything
When we found ourselves in a pickle with pandemic restrictions aplenty, what did we do? We pickled, of course. From cucumber to tomatoes to onions to jackfruit, everything was squeezed into a bottle and preserved. As people faced fears of food shortages and grocery runs, and tried to make their garden bounty last, the old-timey interest of pickling rose in popularity. So much so, stores ran out of mason jars and lids in some countries. Numerous new recipes cropped up. For a lot of us, this was a return to nostalgia and the favourite pickles of our childhood, from Indian mango pickles to American dill pickle.
All you had to do was layer your favourite vegetables and cover with brine, which is vinegar or lemon juice, water, salt and some sugar. Or you could ferment, in which case you just let bacteria preserve the vegetable for you – think sauerkraut and kimchi. And then you watched the jar for a few weeks – let’s face it, even that was mildly entertaining as we sat at home at all times. Then add to your curd rice or avocado toast or salads or tacos, and boom, you enjoy the fruits (but mostly vegetables) of your labour.
8. Nacho tables
We have TikTok user @stefherder and her family to thank for this party-food trend that combines all the things we’ve missed in this year of turmoil – outdoor communal eating, parties and cinema theatre’s concession stand nachos drenched in creamy cheese. Inspired by the seafood/crawish boil, the trend swaps seafood for nachos. What makes this trend a winner for us is it gives the cutlery a heave-ho, so you’re spared dishwashing!
Unlike the other pandemic food trends, this one is more about having a ball of a time than unearthing any culinary talent or giving your creativity an outlet. Entire dining tables are covered with aluminium foil or plastic sheet, heaps of nachos are then unloaded on to it, and an array of toppings follow. Your imagination is the only limit to how wild you can get with the toppings – douse it with queso or cheese dip, drench it in so much cheese that rivulets form, add diced tomatoes and onions or sprinkle it with jalapenos and minced beef for some kick.
It’s a great New Year’s Eve house party idea, just make sure to social distance.
9. Hot chocolate bombs
Chocolate globes that erupt to release mini marshmallows when plonked into a mug of steaming hot milk? Sign us up, please.
That’s exactly what the youngest of 2020’s food trends – hot chocolate bombs – do. Their popularity has seen a surge during the festive season, when a cup of hot cocoa is the preferred nightcap for the young and old alike. You’ve probably seen tons of Instagram stories featuring them set to a Christmas song this last week. We bet you a hot chocolate bomb that song was Mariah Carrey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas.’ Because suddenly, hot chocolate bombs were all that people wanted for Christmas.
And they make great gifts with good reason – chocolate bombs play to our need for instant gratification, include surprises, and their fleeting nature help people experience unadulterated child-like joy. Something we’ve been starved of this year. Why bother with the rigours of stirring in hot chocolate into milk and topping it with marshmallows when you can watch a brittle chocolate shell crack open and melt into a delicious glob when submerged in hot milk? The theatrics is why they’ve spread like wildfire on social media.
Shaped like a cake pop sans the stick, these can be customised to burst out candy, more chocolate, marshmallows, mousses and miniature confections of all kinds. There’s also options of multiple flavours such as peppermint, depending on what hits your sweet spot. The chocolate bomb is the explosive sweet ending we need and deserve to an explosive year.
10. Charcuterie chalet
We made it to the end of the year and thought it was all over as far as food trends were concerned – nothing could surprise us anymore. But over Christmas’s holiday season, everyone decided they’d had enough sweet, and suddenly savoury was the way to go.
Imagine the prettiest gingerbread house. Now imagine it made out of meat and cheese. That’s how you build a charcuterie chalet. Pretzels became windows, salami the tiles, crackers the door - all landscaped with parmesan and cream cheese acting as glue. Parmesan was also snow, goat cheese the snowman, and rosemary and thyme the foliage. A path to the little cabins was made with slivered almonds. Anything you’d find on a cheese board, basically. Your own little chalet in a winter wonderland – more fun to eat than to build. It wouldn’t last as much as your gingerbread house, but who’s waiting before consuming the entire chalet in one go? If the pandemic taught us one thing, it was how to eat our way out of it all.