When you think of exotic foods, a type of meat that isn’t normally consumed comes to mind, like snakes. Other times, it’s insects, like fried locusts. Because those foods aren’t a common sight on the dining table, they tend to trigger fear in you. It’s as if eating them will induce a crawling sensation in your stomach, and cause you to be sick. Well, that apprehension isn’t strange at all, even in travelers who love trying out a country’s local cuisine.
Food anxiety, the intense worry about eating unfamiliar food, is real, and it can strike even experienced travelers. If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant that sells only exotic food, food anxiety is going to be a problem. If it’s that bad on travelers, how much more will it be on people who never tasted foreign food?
On the bright side, your peculiar menu will definitely catch attention and may even be a hot topic for a period. People love checking out new restaurants, and if they find that you serve unusual dishes, they’ll have something exciting to post on their social media. You can expect a flood of Stories and great testimonials from your customers.
But once the excitement about your new business wears off, you’re going to have to tackle some people’s food anxiety again. Of course, you won’t be trying to cure it; you just have to ensure that they won’t spread nasty remarks about your food. People are easily swayed by their peers’ opinions, after all. If someone says your food is gross, their friends and family are going to believe them.
That said, here are some crucial pointers before selling exotic and unusual dishes in your restaurant:
1. Don’t Automatically Label Foreign Food as “Exotic”
Exotic food has no exact definition. It can be food that’s not native in your country or food you find unusual or unfamiliar. Chicken feet, for example, may seem exotic to you, but to people who commonly see them sold in the streets, it may just be a weird snack.
Hence, if you’d like to serve, say, Filipino food in your restaurant, don’t claim that those dishes are exotic. Just say that they are Filipino food. If you want to serve actual exotic Filipino food, deviate from the country’s everyday dishes like adobo. Instead, consider “balut” (fertilizes duck egg), “soup number 5” (ox or bull genitals), or chicken heads (grilled chicken heads on skewers).
2. Choose a Location Where The Residents Love International Cuisine
Location is a major success determinant in a restaurant. If you’re serving exotic and unusual dishes, you can’t build your restaurant in an area where the residents prefer fine dining. You need a place filled with people who are eager to try new and unique food.
In a study made by YouGov, it was found that Filipinos are the most likely to appreciate international cuisine. Since exotic food has diverse origins, your Filipino-American customers will be intrigued by them. Choose a location with a dense Filipino-American population, preferably somewhere in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Avoid locations where the harshest food critics live.
3. Include Must-try Exotic Foods in Your Menu
Some exotic foods are pretty popular. International travel and food websites post articles about them often. Play it safe in your new restaurant and offer those must-try foods. Though it’s tempting to launch with something unknown right away, it won’t help if it triggers food anxiety.
Must-try exotic foods include Cambodia’s fried spiders (tarantulas), Canada’s prairie oysters (bull testicles), Scotland’s Haggis (sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs), South Korea’s san nak-Ji (raw octopuses), and Japan’s Fugu (pufferfish). Be careful with the last, though; Fugu may be toxic if cooked improperly. In fact, you need a special license to be able to serve it. Hire an experienced licensed Japanese chef to ensure your Fugu’s safety.
4. Show Off Your Restaurant’s Cleanliness
Food anxiety can also be triggered if you have misgivings about a dining place’s sanitation. If you’re about to eat some exotic foods in a place that doesn’t look clean, your stomach can be upset even before seeing the food. So no matter where you sell – be it on the streets, in a commercial building, or in a standalone structure – show off your cleanliness and sanitation practices. Obtain anti-bacterial food handling materials from reputable providers such as elakeside.com. According to their website, they support retail, catering, and meal delivery businesses. Seek them out or any other businesses like theirs to ensure that your materials will handle your ingredients safely.
Before you open, provide some facts about your menu on your social media pages. It will help ease people’s food anxiety. Offer some free samples, too, because people would appreciate small bits of an unfamiliar food first, instead of consuming a whole serving right away. You might not be able to cure your customers’ food anxiety, but at least, you’ve given them an assurance that your place and food are clean and safe.