The current culture for bowl food has emerged from a general loosening of table formalities that coincides with a growing appreciation of the comforts and practicalities of building entire meals in bowls. Where once dinner might be a medley of mains and sides, each with its own serving dish, and plate possibly too, bowl food layers the complementary components in one vessel, challenging convention while saving on washing up.
The dinner bowl, a dish proportioned to house multiple elements, is a new tableware category meeting the demand. Its growing presence in restaurants and at home tables comes thanks to the popularity of Japanese ramens, Hawaiian poké, and Korean compilations such as Bi Bim Bap; this alongside a resurgence of alternative grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth that lend themselves to being layered with vegetables and proteins in a vessel with walls to push against.
The call for texturally interesting, fully nourishing and satisfying vegan food is met in the Buddha Bowl, while similarly wholesome, layered non-vegan meals can be found in the Nourish Bowl. Propelled by nutrition-minded chefs and often associated with post-gym fuelling, bowl dining fits well with an ever-increasing desire to combine health and convenience at mealtimes.
Lightening things up, literally and metaphorically, isn’t the whole story though. There is comfort in the mix too. Evidence shows that while the content of bowl meals may be healthier, the perception is heartier if only by virtue of the fact that you feel the full weight of your food in your hand and the warmth of hot meals. Bowls breed informality and intimacy. They are cosy. They also bring a new kind of creativity to kitchens, the vertical plating adding new dimensions to play with. Bowl meals can be beautiful in themselves which only enhances the eating experience.
There is little that can’t be adapted to bowl service. Noodles and dumplings, pastas, porridge and stews are to be expected. Spiralised vegetables topped with grilled fish, spring and salsa verde; yoghurt and cereals, with chia seeds and açai; green matcha smoothie accompanied by buckwheat and berries, coconut and almonds; Freekeh, feta and green herbs topped with pistachios and pomegranate; these are all new bud-tingling combinations to play with. Conjure with the element of surprise that can come with concealed layers and the tantalising play of textures that can be introduced to the strata. Unify with toppings and dressings and bowl up.