For many Kiwis, it seems a meal cannot begin without them first taking a photograph of the food on their cellphones and sharing it on social media.
Instagram and international travel have both changed how we eat, and the Restaurant Association of New Zealand says restaurants are rising to the challenge.
Times have changed from when people would head to restaurants based on reviews in the paper or a friend’s recommendations. These days, for some, it depends on how good the food looks on a social media post.
“Kiwi consumers are hungry to explore new flavours and restaurant concepts,” said Marisa Bidois, the association’s chief executive.
Some restaurateurs and chefs have changed the way they produce meals to make them more “instagrammable” with some going the extra mile to make their restaurant interiors smartphone-worthy as well.
At the newly opened Besos Latinos Ceviche Bar on Halsey St in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, the furnishings and displays are sourced and made by Mexican rural communities in Michoacan, Jalisco, Puebla, Oaxaca and Guerrero.
Two interior designers from Taller Lu’um flew from Mexico for three weeks for the fit-out.
On Ponsonby Rd, the owners of Khu Khu have launched a new trendy vegan Thai restaurant, taking the once hippie cuisine to one that caters for upmarket vegetarians.
Across the bridge, plans are under way for Auckland’s first Burmese restaurant that serves traditional Burmese cuisine that looks good on Instagram.
Bidois said this was being driven by increased international travel along with influence from the diverse range of multimedia content.
“Hospitality is a creative industry and restaurateurs are also looking to bring innovative flavours and global inspiration to their establishments and this is being reflected in the diverse range of eateries opening up around the country,” she said.
“We have certainly seen our membership diversify over the years.”
Bidois said migrants were also influencing the styles of cuisines being served at restaurants.
“Many restaurateurs are opening up establishments hero-ing the cuisines of their own culture,” she said.
“Latin American cuisines are certainly starting to feature including Peruvian and Colombian as well as premiumisation of some of our more established cuisines such as Chinese and Indian.”
Also trending, she said, was a focus on indigenous ingredients and flavours of the Pacific.
“We are also seeing . . . the opening of a number establishments with a focus on Māori cuisine over the last couple of years, using classic Māori cooking methods, such as earth ovens and steam cooking, to create dishes like paua porridge, hapuka tartare with horopito and boil-ups of Michelin-star quality,” she added.
Luis Cabrera, owner of Besos Latinos Ceviche Bar, also owns Besos Latinos that serves traditional Latin American dishes in the Elliot Stables.
Cabrera said his new restaurant-bar was taking a whole new approach to food presentation and set-up.
“Our menu is focused on seafood, and cuisine from Latin America mainly Peru, but we know how important it is to make our food look as good as it taste,” he said.
Cabrera claimed his restaurant to be the first ceviche bar in the country, and also the only restaurant to have a single-barrel ultra-premium tequila Patron labelled with its own name.
The restaurant interior is also being designed so people can take pictures and share on social media.
“Every glass, plate, lamp, chair, table, decoration have been hand made and are unique pieces made for us by folks in Mexican rural communities,” Cabrera.
Michael Khuwattanasenee, who owns vegan Thai restaurant Khu Khu, said he started the restaurant to capture the “new wave of vegetarianism and veganism”.
“Vegan food is no longer hippie food but is now in demand by people who are young professionals and trendy, and this is our target market,” Khuwattanasenee said.
The menu include corn fritter Thai red curry, eggplant and kumara green curry, Thai green papaya salad and crispy daikon.
It also serves a range of kombucha, with flavours ranging from lavender, ginger to blackcurrant.
To launch his restaurant, Khuwattanasenee invited social media influencers and food bloggers to sample his food.
“I designed my menu not just based on having the right nutritional balance, but also based on how colourful the ingredients are,” he said.
“Without big advertising budgets, I know how important it is to get our restaurant noticed when pictures of our food is shared on social media.”
Yangon chef May Hla Hla Yee, 63, is trialling some Burmese speciality dishes at her daughter’s cafe on the North Shore, and is planning to open the city’s first Burmese restaurant in 2020.
Dishes at her Constellation Cafe on Rosedale Road include Burmese green tea leaf salad, ginger salad, fish cakes and Burmese chicken curry on coconut rice.
A mother-daughter combination sees traditional Burmese meals being plated to look good on a smartphone camera.
The curry served at the restaurant is made from Yee’s mother’s secret recipe, a dish she has been cooking to feed survivors of Cyclone Nargis that slammed Burma in 2008.
“For about 10 years, I’ve been cooking this traditional Burmese curry to feed the people rebuilding their lives, and I feel honoured to share this special dish now with people in Auckland,” said Yee, who migrated to NZ last year to be with her daughter.
“I think we Burmese are also the only ones to eat green tea leaves, and it is special also for me to introduce our traditional salad made from fermented green tea leaves.”
The salad, prepared with fermented tea leaves, also includes crunchy beans, peas, garlic and sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Melissa Koh, a food photographer and blogger, said there was definitely a growing trend that restaurants were creating dishes that catered to Instagram.
“People no longer just eat with their mouths but also with their eyes. Usually, a meal cannot start before people take out their smartphones and take pictures,” said Koh, who uses the name Melicacy on Instagram.
“Dishes that uses bright colours and dishes that are unique or look exciting are usually what I look for.”
Lifestyle blogger Jasmine Yang shares food pictures both on her Flowerful Life page on Instagram and also on Chinese social media sites like WeChat.
Yang said more restaurateurs are also coming to the realisation that producing meals that look good for social media “cuts across cultures”.
“It’s no longer about just food reviews that is written in a single language, but pictures that are shared across social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, Line, Kakaotalk,” Yang said.
AUT University Master of Gastronomy student Nishita Chandra said the changing tastes had a lot to do with the rapidly changing diversity within Auckland’s population.
“A lot of different ethnicities have made Auckland their home and are keen to share their culture and cuisine with other people,” she said.
“People are becoming more open to trying out new cuisines and varieties of food that give them exposure and help then understand various cultures through the cuisine.”
The rise of social media, she said, had also influenced people to accept new cultures and explore a more global palate – either for the experience or just “to show the world”.
eVouch – Sponsored
It is common to hear that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, for Restaurant Association member eVouch, a picture is worth a thousand sales.
eVouch is a local company that aims to support restaurants to capitalise on the growing foodie scene in Kiwi social media. CEO Eugene Yao stated, “The power of social media marketing lies in its ability to have a constant presence and to remain at the forefront of customer’s minds.”
Their new app provides restaurants a platform in order to access a growing agency of local social media influencers. This boosts engagement higher than that of sponsored Instagram ads, but at a fraction of the cost.