How we ate in 2016

So 2015: We seem to have calmed down a bit since the heyday of the freakshake.
So 2015: We seem to have calmed down a bit since the heyday of the freakshake. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

In 2015 we were all about bone broth and butter coffee. Artfully decorated smoothie bowls filled social media and kale continued to pop up in bizarre places (way to ruin a perfectly good vegetable by turning it into a "super food"). There was also an extreme push towards sugar and lard. Think deep-fried doughnut ice-cream cones and freakshakes that looked like they were made by a two-year-old let loose at the Sizzler dessert bar.

In 2016 we seem to have calmed down a bit, understanding fried chicken topped with a Snickers-stuffed cronut is good for Instagram likes but not the waistline. Instead, there's new appreciation for an elegant tart, perfect creme brulee, or beautiful rare-breed bird. Could balance be restoring to the food force? Here's hoping and here are nine things we've been eating, drinking and ordering this year.

1. Have your hatted food and Netflix too

Home delivered food isn't new – the first phone call ever made was by Alexander Graham Bell ordering two-for-Tuesday Domino's. "Two pepperoni pizzas and a 1.25 litre bottle of spruce beer, please." But in the past six months home delivery has surged in popularity thanks to aggressive marketing from Foodora and UberEATS and many respected restaurants are signing up to the new meals-on-two-wheels services (see: Esq., Brisbane; Acme, Sydney; Supernormal, Melbourne). Is this a good thing for the hospitality industry? Or the environment? Probably not. It would be an awful world if everyone stopped eating at restaurants and stayed at home to binge on Narcos and nachos. On the other hand, there's a lot of joy to be had alone in bed with a plate of Acme sandwiches and a hangover. Argh. The dilemma!

2. Blue is new

From  Melbourne cafe Matcha Mylkbar's headline-grabbing blue algae latte to the electric blue Spanish wine Gik, blue dominated summer selfies across the Mediterranean. Rainbow bagels with stark streaks of blue were big in Brooklyn for a few months, while naturally blue wild scampi caviar has been spotted from Gerard's Bistro in Brisbane to Igni in Geelong. This blue mood might just continue into the new year.

Zoe Annabel and her invention, blue algae latte.

Zoe Annabel and her invention, blue algae latte. Photo: Simon Schluter

3. Winner winner, rotisserie dinner

The spit-roasted chook has migrated from country charcoal chicken shops to fancy city diners. Melbourne rotisserie king Philippe Mouchel is flipping the juicy bird again at Philippe restaurant and Estelle's Scott Pickett is spinning whole Milawa chickens at his new Queen Vic Market deli and wine bar. The same heritage-breed chooks are slow-cooked over charcoal a few blocks away at Henrietta's while Sydneysiders can't get enough of the rotisserie chicken Mercado and The Paddington. The rotisserie's popularity is linked to wider availability of ethically farmed, rare-breed chooks in Australia and French-style spit roasting is the perfect way to showcase the majesty of birds that haven't spent their life on a factory floor.

4. Beer-based cocktails

Refreshing and often lower in alcohol than regular cocktails, beer-based cocktails have been skyrocketing in popularity. Newtown venue Doris and Beryl's Bridge Club and Tea House has cocktails that incorporate sour beers in the place of citrus elements, while 4 Pines' Underground in Manly has a menu of beery cocktails, including a superb coffee stout martini. In Melbourne the House of Crabs does a deadly Lagerita that goes down a treat.

5. Salad cake days

Part art form, part trick to get kids to eat more vegies, the salad cake went viral in 2016 in Japan thanks to food stylist Mitsuki Moriyasu. Photogenic, delicious and healthy, what's not to love? Well, maybe the intense preparation time and difficulty in obtaining the necessary soy-flour "bread" needed for construction, not to mention handcrafting flowers out of capsicum and mushroom. Making these intricate cakes is probably not an option for many time-poor parents trying to sneak broccoli onto the menu, but it's certainly a visual food craze to swoon over.

6.  Currently undergoing reconstruction

For at least the past five years in fine dining if you ordered say, a cheesecake, you could never be sure what would arrive on your plate. More often than not you would get a pile of crumbs, a dollop of mousse and maybe a tangy raspberry foam on the side. This year has helped us believe what's written on our menus. Now, when we order a lemon tart there is a significant chance it will be presented as a slice of tart. Sausage rolls look like recognisable bakery treats. Creme brulees are back in pots instead of smeared artfully across a large plate with a sprinkling of crushed toffee. Food has been reconstructed instead of deconstructed.

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A lemon tart presented as a lemon tart, not as deconstructed smears.

A lemon tart presented as a lemon tart, not as deconstructed smears. Photo: Rohan Thomson

7.  Aquafab-ulous

It's unclear who discovered this one. Did a vegan became angry and take it out on their chickpea water? We will never know. But it turns out aquafaba is a legit animal-product-free substitute for egg whites. Yes, that viscous liquid  you drain from tins of legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas, can be magically used in everything from meringues and pavlova to mousses and nougat. Vegan-friendly recipes abound online – just remember to reduce the aquafaba to a similar consistency to egg whites then wait until it's back to room temperature before you whisk.

Aquafaba can be whipped like egg whites into meringue.

Aquafaba can be whipped like egg whites into meringue. Photo: Matthew Mead

8.  Moonshine river

Whiskey is pretty cool, yeah? So cool that everyone with access to grains and a barrel wants to make their own. Fair enough, except whiskey takes a few years on wood to become whiskey and a start-up distillery will be chasing a return on investment before then. Hence, you have Australian distilleries like Ironbark, Belgrove and Archie Rose bottling unaged white whiskey. Legally made moonshine, more or less, and it's excellent by itself or in a cocktail. Beer baron Young Henrys is marketing its Nightsweat hooch as straight-up 'shine and you can enjoy it in a cherry-cola creation at Reverends in Brisbane. Meanwhile, Surry Hills' Harpoon Harry serves Melbourne Moonshine in a sweet tea julep.

9.   Hyper-realistic meat substitutes

Can plant proteins really trick carnivores into enjoying a meat-free burger? That's the question several high-profile US chefs (including Momofuku's David Chang) have been testing out this year. The Impossible Burger that "bleeds" like beef is made from nothing but vegetable matter, but is deliberately engineered to trick the senses of meat lovers. It is a world away from those anaemic tofu sausages served by well-meaning uncles to vegetarians at family barbecues. It's easy to label this kind of soy-based sorcery as a parlour trick, but with a growing population and finite land for livestock, a fake-meat future is very real.