When we celebrated the normality of ‘post-Covid’ life and anticipated new food and beverage trends in China in 2022, who would have guessed that the country would see a repeat of 2020? The Covid-19 pandemic has left indelible marks on many industries, including the comestibles sector. Even so, 2022 has seen many new consumption trends and products pop up across the nation. While some were just a fad, others have lasted and may get even more popular in the coming months.
“The picture from the big market is positive, as the government lifts Covid-19 controls, F&B reopens, and people start to travel,” Liu tells RADII. “The global economy still faces big challenges in 2023, but China, with its large population base, hopes to encourage everyone to spend more with the help of the government.”
We’ve listed several experts’ insights and our predictions for what the food and drinks scene will look like in 2023.
As China only got rid of its zero Covid policy in December 2022, the country is facing its biggest Covid-19 wave to date. To fight the virus or strengthen their immune system, many are turning to healthy food and/or abiding by special diets, which include going plant-based, and adhering to the Food Guide Pagoda, a food pyramid used in China.
“[There will be] more emphasis on vegetable ingredients,” says Shanghai-based chef and writer Jamie Pea. “Meanwhile, Michelin-starred restaurants in China are looking for inspiration from China’s rich botanical world, not only to introduce novelty, but [also to] pay homage to this land’s rich and beautiful resources. We will see more indigenous mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and old-fashioned, village-raised poultry.”
Nutritionist and sommelier Zhu Ziying tells RADII that her 2023 plans include writing a cookbook that will derive inspiration from different international cuisines as well as wu xing, the traditional Chinese philosophy that classifies natural phenomena into five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth.
“It’s a way to heal our body and mind,” says Zhu, who rarely orders takeout, but prefers cooking for herself. Even when preparing one-person meals, she follows the food pyramid, and cooks three to four dishes to acquire enough nutrients.
We can safely assume that 2023 will see a proliferation of healthy diets and products.
After years of lockdown, it’s only normal for people to crave in-person interactions, which brings us to food events and socialization during mealtimes.
Zhu started a community called Cooking Skill Exchange (CSE) seven years ago to cook and eat with others in a shared kitchen. Things came to a halt during Covid-19, but Zhu plans to revive the community this year, and to introduce themed events and a potential podcast.
Apart from CSE, Ziying also runs a public WeChat group called Yummyhunter, which arranges for its members to visit different restaurants in Shanghai every week — all the better to try as many dishes as possible.
In a nutshell, 2023 will see more food pop-ups and social events revolving around dining out and fostering new friendships.
Since facing constant lockdowns and other Covid-19 restrictions, many food and drink specialists in China have opted to scale down, and to rely more on takeouts and food delivery.
According to the 2023 White Paper on Chinese Food and Beverage, small businesses with less investments, flexible operations, and simple products are opening across the country. If a store takes off, its owner may then open more branches with slightly different menus, but one thing remains constant: each establishment will remain small to reduce risk.
As such, it’s safe to presume that food and drink establishments spanning no more than 100 square meters and accommodating 30 customers at most will take over the streets of China.
It would seem that many Chinese diners are growing tired of big chains and wanghong or ‘internet-famous’ eateries. According to a report by Chinese lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, posts about traditional Chinese food went up by 227% in 2022 compared to the previous year.
The same report also indicates that Xiaohongshu users are actively seeking out greasy spoons and regional specialties, such as Nanchang mixed rice noodles and Hainan coconut chicken.
According to Eddie Zhou, an associate professor at the Institute of Chinese Food Studies, intangible cultural heritage delicacies and time-tested eateries will receive more attention, or even become the next wanghong trend in 2023.
In 2022, the number of tea-related posts on Xiaohongshu rose by 532% compared to in 2021.
While coffee has become trendy in the 21st century, fueling the growth of nighttime coffeeshops in Macau and cafés in rural China, tea has made a comeback in recent years. We’ve seen the proliferation of modern teahouses, herbal drinks, and even a new tea-drinking ritual called ‘boiling tea around the furnace’ or weilu zhucha (围炉煮茶) in China.
Pea, who agrees that tea appreciation will continue to grow in 2023, says, “You can enjoy flavor and creativity in a ready-to-go cup. Liquid desserts, gulp-able culture. Liquid culinary creations are a big and important way to push boundaries.”
We witnessed a DIY trend in 2022, which encompassed making soap from soapnuts, giving Disney toys makeovers, and mixing convenience store cocktails. Ready-to-drink cocktails and cocktail deliveries have also mushroomed across the country.
Some shops even send their customers full cocktail kits, which may include drink ingredients, servingware, snacks, games, and LED lights for that Instagrammable shot.
A case in point: Peddlers Gin from Shanghai launched three flavors — their original gin and tonic, a pineapple fizz, and a grapefruit concoction — of ready-to-drink cocktails in 2022. Ordering a complete set of the bottled cocktails gives you complimentary glassware, a tote bag, an ice bag, and a bottle stopper.
“I think [this year’s hot item] is a more relaxed, low-alcohol, relatively inexpensive product. In terms of specific flavors, I think fruit flavors will remain dominant,” concludes Liu.
Cover photo designed by Zhuohan Shao
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