By Kara Nielsen, Culinary Trendologist
I just love the food hall trend. You know, the one that has been rippling out from our urban capitals to smaller cities for a good 5-6 years now? It’s incredible how many of these places continue to open yet it makes sense from a trend point-of-view. So many of today’s consumer food drivers play out in the stalls and communal dining areas of these new, or newly updated, food halls.
Let’s start with that big 21st-century food demand: Local. For me, hitting a food hall is one-stop shopping for absorbing a local food scene. Signature foods of a region are always available, such as West Coast oysters at Hog Island Oyster Bar in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Often popular chefs or restaurant groups have outlets in food halls, like Ivan Ramen at Gotham West Market in New York. Provisions typical to a region are also on offer like unique styles of cured meats and farmstead cheese.
A sense of place is also often reinforced by the actual structure in which these halls are created, such as 19th-century industrial buildings that are retrofitted for boutiques, eateries, kiosks and communal seating. The Source in Denver houses a brewery, liquor store, two restaurants, a bakery, a butcher and coffee bar in an 1880s foundry. This kind of urban development appeals to the current interest in resourcefulness and repurposing, not to mention cool design.
Millennials aren’t the only cohort to appreciate huge variety under one roof, allowing for the easy expression of personal preferences. Most halls are open morning till night, eliminating the need to stick to usual daypart dining. Breakfast for dinner; snacks for lunch; coffee, juice or beer anytime are some of the ways diners design their own eating experience. And so many foods to choose from! Retro fried chicken sandwiches, wood-fired pizza and Indian vegetarian dosas are just a starting point. For local residents, food halls offer a different meal at every visit; for out-of-towners, a smorgasbord awaits (that’s my approach anyway).
Exploring global flavors is also part of the thrill. Food halls can offer a range of international fare so there is no need to commit to a whole meal with small bites, snacks and affordable meals available. At Ponce City Market in Atlanta, one can sample South African biltong, Indian chaat, Sichuan stews, Mexican sandwiches, Middle Eastern kebabs and Korean steamed buns. Oh, and ramen, New England-style fish sandwiches and Italian salumi.
Some halls take the global theme farther with explorations of one cuisine, following in the footsteps (and great success) of Eataly, Mario Battali’s Italian food emporium that kicked off this trend. In Chicago, restaurateur Richard Sandoval opened Latincity featuring Latin American food and drink. Le District serves French-inspired fare in lower Manhattan. Famed Danish food influencer Claus Meyer recently opened the Great Northern Food Hall in New York’s Grand Central Terminal with five food pavilions serving a host of Nordic specialties including smørrebrød, baked goods and porridge.
And, finally, the global food hall to end all food halls: Anthony Bourdain’s much discussed Bourdain Market is still to come. The opening date for the market said to feature vendors from the many places in the world Bourdain has visited was recently moved from 2017 to 2019. So just hold your hawker-loving horses - this trend ain’t over yet.