Thursday, February 18, 2016
Kuwait: The Future #FoodCapital 2030
I heard about this first on Kuwaitiful and would like to add my peanut gallery comments here on my own blog.
I have met several young Kuwaiti chefs who are incredibly enthusiastic and ambitious about their trade. I am hoping that this video will come to fruition. I think that successful businesses in Kuwait thrive on the stomachs of others; Anything food-related.
As you will see in the video, many of the restaurants are set in the Avenues. Many many restaurants in Kuwait and the GCC are owned by the same people (I don't know who did the video, but I'm guessing).
They also feature sweets and chocolates (both big business in Kuwait). For years now, mini-anything is selling. Mini-cheesecakes, mini-muffins, mini-cupcakes. Big business - especially catering to people who think that less equals less ("If I only eat a mini, I won't gain as much as if I eat a whole portion." - which is great until you eat all dozen minis). They're also cute, catering to the girlie crowd. Friend have a baby? Sweets! Friend pass her exam? Sweets! Friend get over bad menstrual cramps? Sweets! Whatever the excuse, sweets are here to stay.
Here's the thing: I haven't found much seasoning in any food group/venue here. I think the palate of Kuwait is mostly bland, not spicy. Real Kuwaiti food uses a variety of spice, but when you go to a restaurant, I've found watered-down versions that aren't really the same thing. And spicy here isn't spicy elsewhere. Some like it hot. Stop trying to cater to a bland audience. Don't be afraid to make a bold food statement and once you do; don't lower your standards to please a few customers.
Further, if I'm going to go somewhere with great ambiance and expensive food (speaking as an expat), I'm going to want an alcoholic beverage with it. Like at hotels in Dubai, Bahrain, and Qatar. I have zero problem with spending money/time at a venue where I can sit with friends and have a couple glasses of wine with a meal. When I spend the same amount of money for the meal without the alcohol, that irks me. And ask any Western tourist. Chances are that they are going to say, "Me? Go to a dry country?!" Yeah... so tourism from those markets isn't much of a good bet.
What about variety? There are too many fast-food, family-style restaurants in Kuwait to count. There's a new one popping up every week. This country has totally turned me off to hamburgers, for example. I've had hamburger overkill. Hamburger saturation. Stop talking to me about how much better your hamburgers are. How about a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich shop (or any other type of authentic Vietnamese restaurant? Ethiopian? Kuwait has some of the best seafood anywhere, but where can you find an authentic crab house that serves steamed/spiced shrimp and maybe a clam bake? (Make it easy for people to take the whole pot back to the family or for outings.)
I gotta say, though, when I first got here in '96, there were only 2 sushi restaurants and now look at Kuwait. Sushi is mainstream. Maybe there is hope for other types of food.
And people here do lack entertainment and places to meet. Which is why mainstream coffee shops can get away with selling a cup of coffee for the equivalent of US $10.
And on that note.... Here is a business concept for you....
When I first got here, not very many people rode motorcycles. Now there are thousands of them (male and female) and there are many motorcycle clubs and events. Why is there not one motorcycle bar? (Serve non-alcoholic beer on draft ...until... when...). Simple food. Simple surroundings. A place for people to gather. Everybody's got the gear in Kuwait, but they are using Starbucks as their meeting place. I've never seen that in any biker movie in the West. Picture this: The scene for a biker movie in Kuwait; Muscly tough guy biker in full regalia (leather jacket, chains, slicked back hair, torn jeans) walks up to the barista and orders a tall skinny cappuccino with a shake of chocolate on top. Emmm... not quite the same affect.
Anyways, I digress because I'm on a roll....
But I've got to say, the most successful places are going to be the ones that have the best overall dining experience. Good service can't be overlooked and at the moment, most local restaurants aren't providing consistent quality of service to go along with their food. If you can afford a fine dining experience, you want good service. You get bad service even once and you may not go back. Maybe someone should start a training center specifically for the restaurant business in Kuwait. (On the flip side, I haven't heard anyone call me, "Sirmaam" lately, but then again, I have only been working and going home recently, so I don't have the data.)