From the royal wedding menu to Nigella – why bowl food is so wildly popular

Serving food in a bowl has gone from Instagram craze to Meghan and Harrys menu. But is this concave cult mainly about the seem of your snack, or the taste?

Given the will he/ won’t he soap opera surrounding Thomas Markle, you might have imagined that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would be given a pass on the finer details of their wedding plans. But no. The news that the wedding breakfast will NOT be a sit-down meal( block caps the Daily Mail ), but will serve” trendy bowl food” to standing guests, was judged to be not just news, but news that needed translating for a bewildered nation. As if “Harkle”( what do you entail no one’s calling them Harkle ?) had decided to serve their guests by shooting Peperami at them from a Nerf gun.

Immediately, other news outlets began to worry about guests’ dry-cleaning bills. On Radio 2, etiquette expert William Hanson( who in 2016 was also expressed that” only dogs eat from bowls “) could be heard on Steve Wright in the Afternoon, sharing his dismay.” The bowl food thing that they have announced today isn’t brilliant. Bowls are not considered very aristocratic, very royal, everything would be plates ,” he observed, before conceding,” but if it’s the couple’s choice, it’s their bridal at the end of the working day .” How big of him.

Away from royal circles, bowl food- outside of soup and cereals, that is- has been a thing for a while. Or for several millennia, if you want to be pedantic. But the rise of bowl-eating was widely noted circa 2016, propelled by a new concentrating on healthy dishes- often layers of grains, pulsings, vegetables, protein, dips and sauces that merely work together when compacted in this appropriate vessel. It has also become a contradictory food category in its own right, stretching from acai and cacao nib-topped breakfast porridges to Hawaiian poke raw fish dishes. A raft of cookbooks duly followed( Bowl, The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl+ Spoon, Bowl Stories and Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Bowl Food ). And in Simply Nigella, Nigella Lawson jumped on the bandwagon, proclaiming:” If I could, I’d eat everything out of a bowl .”

If burrito bowls, sushi bowls and superfood Buddha bowls have little in common gastronomically, the bowl itself seems to convey a sense of comforting nourishment.” I love how gentle and nurturing it feels ,” wrote cook Anna Jones in this paper in 2016- the same year that Bon Appetit joked that bowl food is” at least 10% healthier than food on a plate “.

An acai bowl.’ The bowl itself seems to convey a sense of comforting nourishment .’ Photograph: Cecilia Carlegard/ EyeEm/ Getty Images

In fact, there is some academic expressed support for the intuitive feeling that food in bowls is good for us. According to Charles Spence, who studies the psychology of food at the University of Oxford, a warm bowl in your hand fosters you to feel content, while its weight and the way we perceive rimless bowls to contain bigger portions than they actually do, may foster us to eat less.” That weight is likely to stimulate your brain believe the food is more substantial and you are likely to rate it as more intensely aromatic than exactly the same food sat passively on a plate ,” Spence told the website Quartzy.

This concave cult is now firmly entrenched. At John Lewis, where bowls are far more popular than plates as gifts, there has been a 14% like-for-like increase in bowl sales in the past six months. Meanwhile, across Instagram and food blogs, the bowl appears to dominate as the crockery of option. It helps that, for amateurs, bowls are a naturally photogenic medium.” A plenty of bowl stuff has things sprinkled on, herbs and seeds”- as often insured on the now ubiquitous smoothie bowl-” which immediately stimulates things are so beautiful ,” says freelance food stylist Katy Greenwood.” With plates, there are things to think about. Do I go over the edge or keep the food within it? Do I need to show the bottom of the plate? With a bowl you’re just painting a picture on that top layer .”

Bowl food has become a standard menu option for high-end event caterers such as Company of Cooks. Photograph: Lia Vittone Photography

Do not imagine, incidentally, that the royal bridal bowls will be all chia seeds, blueberries and “activated” almonds. It may seem odd that royal cook Mark Flanagan is talking about serving classic British dishes in bowls, but for the past decade top chefs have been doing just that: pureeing, jellifying, shredding and dicing ingredients to create small intense dishes that you can easily eat with a spoon. Some find the lack of cutting and sometimes chewing in bowl food infantile, but ambitious cooks embraced this vehicle of delivery long before the clean-eating crew. It’s a trend that a self-identifying foodie, such as Markle, will undoubtedly be aware of.” I’m a California girl, right? I grew up with farm-to-table dining before it was sweeping the nation ,” she told Marie Claire in 2013.

Historically, Michelin-starred tasting menus would be punctuated by snacks “thats been”, essentially, canapes. But Dan Cox, former head cook at Simon Rogan’s Fera restaurant at Claridges, says:” Canapes are inherently hard to work with. Invariably, you need a dry base, then[ several layers] on top. It’s high labour and high risk because it can just all fall apart. With bowls, you do away with those problems .”

A sashimi rice bowl. Photograph: Pinghung Chen/ Getty Images/ EyeEm

Cox, who is also a potter and makes his own crockery, will shortly open a new restaurant at Cornwall’s Crocadon Farm. He loves how bowls have liberated dish design and are able to accommodate more liquid than plates, so you can bring in influences from dishes such as noodle soups and broths. And because they are all about layering ingredients( rather than build a plate around an elevated 3D focal point of expensive protein ), they are a good place to use uglier cuts.” Take oxtail, for example. It doesn’t look so pretty on the plate, so let’s get it at the bottom of the bowl and put three layers on top .”

Cox vividly recollects a garnished dish of fresh raw peas, mint petroleum and pea mousse that Rogan used to serve in delicate porcelain at his flagship restaurant L’Enclume in Cumbria.” That’s easy to do[ in the kitchen ], it’s self-contained and as the customer goes through it with a spoonful, they get all those different layers and exciting components, almost like a trifle. It’s like a voyage of discovery through the bowl. But if you tried to do that on a plate or on a little edible base it would be a mess .”

Given those factors- ease of service and creativity- bowl food has become a standard menu option for high-end event caterers.” Each bowl is generally four or five mouthfuls, and four bowls will be quite a lot per person. It’s substantial ,” says Matthew Harris, cook director at Company of Cooks, which has catered at the Baftas and the Olivier awardings.” You need somewhere to put your glass because it’s a stand-up affair, and lots of staff hovering around collecting the empty bowls. In the last six years, it’s become more widely known .”

But bowl food requires fewer personnel than a sit-down dinner, so it can still be cost-effective for the client( Company of Cooks dishes start at PS7. 50 ), and both the bowl format and serving them in several waves reduces pressure on the kitchen.” You don’t have several people fiddling[ with each bowl] as you might on a plate for a eatery ,” says Harris, who as well as the obvious risotto, serves dishes such as fillet of beef with artichoke and a mustard tarragon dressing in bowls.

A tuna poke bowl. Photograph: Plateresca/ Getty Images/ iStockphoto

Serving bowls at an event allows for great assortment, too.” We do different world cuisines. That’s what our well-travelled clients look for ,” says Gemma Bacon, head of event planning at caterer Rhubarb.” Often they want gluten-free, vegan or dairy-free alternatives too, and bowl food allows you to cater to those dietary requirements naturally .”

Its bowl food menu includes chargrilled lamb with spiced aubergine, minted yoghurt and flatbread, and salmon with a gin and cucumber jelly, sour cream and pickled samphire.

The growth of bowl food also reflects what, even in society’s super-rich stratosphere, is a growing passion for informality. We may not espouse the bowl with the glee of the Japanese( where slurping down the dregs is perfectly acceptable ), but, unlike at the dinner table, a bowl-food party allows people to circulate and, of course, avoid any particularly nasty guests. No wonder the royal couple are fans.

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