What We Lose When We Call Foods "Hipster"

March  8, 2017

Over the weekend, a friend messaged me telling me that a recent story of mine for Food52 was referenced in a Guardian article. How nice! I was flattered. My piece on the “turmeric latte” is mentioned in a paragraph about the rise of that very drink outside of India. I opened the tab, saw my name, smiled, and went on with my day. 

Only later did I stop to read the actual story. Written by Tony Naylor, the piece is titled "It’s Poké, Man: the Ultimate Hipster-Food Glossary." The Guardian is not exactly known for producing nuanced headlines, but I'm afraid the content of this glossary isn't much more inspiring. Naylor goes on to list 16 foods that are having their sudden moment in the sun, and he assumes a flippant tone in mapping these trends for you.

“The ideas are often ludicrous,” he writes of the culinary world. “Yet food’s appetite for the new is currently insatiable.” It's stuffed with similarly vague language that doesn't exactly make clear who the hipster is, and for whom this food has now suddenly become popular.

Shop the Story

The list has some gimmes, like the "unicorn" cake (a cousin of the rainbow bagel) and a cold brew-spiked gin and tonic ("Turbo G&T"). Quite a few of the other picks, though, raised my eyebrows. Sitting alongside the usual suspects are horchata, jackfruit, khachapuri, and poké. They're what a publication would've regressively referred to as "ethnic foods" in a bygone era.

Sing the glories of these foods all you want, but slapping foods like khachapuri with a hipster label feels obtuse and misguided. These foods are so much more than the opiate of the hipster. They’re foods with histories well before 2017, and the moniker “hipster food” disavows that fact entirely. It's downright confusing to see these foods grace the same listicle as the kalette, positioned as part of the same trend.

When it comes to the drink I wrote about in that piece Naylor mentioned, well, I was trying to hedge a finer point there: I’m Indian, but the "turmeric latte," called haldi doodh in Hindi, is a drink I never had growing up. The way this drink has made its stateside, dare I say “hipster,” debut reveals the distressingly simplistic ways we often talk about Indian food—as though it is a monolith. Apparently, that point fell on deaf ears.

There's a lot waiting to be written on what foods, especially those consumed primarily by immigrant groups in the West, gain sudden popularity among a certain crowd of moneyed, coffee-guzzling urbanites. Though Naylor's piece may seem like a throwaway bit of humor, its glib posturing doesn't quite land: An article like this doesn't do enough to situate these foods within the knotty dynamic of who co-opts these dishes, and how they’re packaged, framed, and re-sold to consumers at large. How do these foods travel from our mother’s kitchens to cafes in Bushwick? Who are the chefs and tastemakers who have popularized horchata, beyond the diasporic communities who grew up knowing it? These are, to me, the more compelling questions food media could address in 2017.

Does the 'hipster' label also make you bristle? Let us know in the comments.

Listen Now

On Black & Highly Flavored, co-hosts Derek Kirk and Tamara Celeste shine a light on the need-to-know movers and shakers of our food & beverage industry.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Laura Wehrman
    Laura Wehrman
  • Miiri
  • Smaug
  • Whiteantlers
  • E
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Laura W. March 9, 2017
Hi aside from the Guardian article not being well written, the title and the headline make some pretty lofty but also dismissive claims..."ultimate guide"..."obscure"...they miss the mark on so many fronts and I am not going to bore everyone with my unpacking of that article...yes to some on this thread, I realize it's a tongue in cheek article, but not everyone reads it as such sadly...unicorn cakes (and rainbow bagels!) are definitely a trendy item that need to get called out...but the haldi doodh is not...neither is poké nor horchata or many of the other's the adrenaline soaked consumption and throw away of foods and drinks deemed "trendy" but are just normal food to many me, that feels dismissive...they also totally paraphrased your article into one trite statement taken out of context...whatever...keep doin the do and I'll keep reading...thanks!
Miiri March 9, 2017
Jeez folks, grow a sense of humour! I'm not Reading Naylor's article as a dismissal of the history of food from various cultures at all, it's merely making a bit of fun of the constant search for something NEW and TRENDY (which of course can be a good thing). And seriously, if one isn't allowed to make fun of adults going crazy over rainbow coloured food, then I don't know what the world is coming to.
Smaug March 8, 2017
"Hipster" (like the apparently unsuppressible "genius") is not an adjective.
Whiteantlers March 8, 2017
"Hipster" is, to me, a pejorative like "yuppie." Your subjects are always thoughtful and it ticks me off that your turmeric latte article was shorthanded and stuck in such a fluff article.
E March 8, 2017
I've said this before but it bares repeating - the food of someone else's culture is not a trend or hip or cool. Now, can a point be made that x y or z is on every menu? Of course! But to call it trendy or hipster ... or more offensively, "ludicrious" as Naylor calls these food ideas, is taking something with profound meaning for a whole group of people and turning it into something like jorts or chokers or avocado toast or kale salad - a not so funny joke. Food can and should be fun, but it's not a punch line.
Alexandra V. March 8, 2017
Naylor came off a bit "color-blind" by undermining foods with hundreds or thousands of years history as "hipster". What is deemed "hip" is totally subjective and generalizing food or people in such a manner is not creative and a total cop out. That being said...menus that still have avo toast, and acai bowls need to step their game up.
Nora J. March 8, 2017
Articles like that are usually so superficial as to be nearly content-free (and oddly, they often attempt to be funny rather than informative and then fall flat and do neither.) It's troubling that something like that passes for journalism, sure.

But getting fussed that those foods are labeled "hipster"? I dunno, that word delivers the sole content in the article, if you take "hipster" as short for "trendy with young urban millennials." Because really, that's all the piece delivers: 1. these foods are currently trendy in places like Portland and Bushwick or at least seem like they should be and 2. now let me list the foods and make really stupid jokes.

The upside is that a curious reader will follow links or google and then find the interesting, substantial pieces about the food's history and cultural context, like yours. When there are no sites or writers delivering the good stuff, that's when we lose.
ChefJune March 8, 2017
Thanks you, Mayukh. I find it offensive when some unknowing self-pronounced food writer labels ethnic food as hip or trendy. I think oftentimes little to know research into the background of such foods has been done. It's just easier to give it a tag. Ugh.
Kartoffellöffel March 8, 2017
Perhaps you would have preferred the more old-fashioned terms used in years past, such at "trendy" or "faddish"? The terms are interchangeable when writing about foods that briefly become fashionable then fade as the next "new" (whether it's new or not) trend arrives. I live in Portland, which is pretty much ground-zero for "hipster" food fashion. Believe me, it's hard to keep up. Judging by the number of poké, ramen, and fried chicken sandwich places that have popped up, I'd say those trends have about peaked. Stand by for dumplings, tortas, sambal (so long, sriracha!) and marijuana-laced desserts!
caninechef March 8, 2017
I can't imagine any self respecting hipster being taken with unicorn cakes or rainbow bagels. But what do I know, I had to look up both items.
Kelley B. March 8, 2017
yes, always. also, it is wholly uncreative to label something "hipster."
ShelbyBelby March 8, 2017
Amazing article. I really appreciated your noting that a culture and their foods are not a monolith. Too often americans are in search of the most "authentic" restaurant, one with an already set image of being a hole in the wall, cheap eats type of place. I guess its better than them going to an elevated cuisine type of place with a white fusion chef.
But how do we move forward addressing the problems with previously disregarded ethnics foods now getting the spotlight? Food is inherently tied to politics as you cant seperate food from the lives of the people who are making the food, have grown up eating the food, and shape what it is today. Americans flock towards a culture's foods while still having no regard for the lives of the people who have produced the food (tacos and deportation). Its strange when the food you get made fun of eating in gradeschool is now the food in the spotlight. Soliel Ho wrote a really good article called craving the other if anyones more interested in this.
Heather |. March 8, 2017
if anything, the thing that stands out to me most is the misuse of the label "hipster," and i think "trendy" would be more appropriate. hipster is the opposite of mainstream (in my eyes), which immediately rules out the rainbow/unicorn trend (which is splashed everywhere) and the prevalence of poke (though, admittedly, i lived/live in asian dominant communities, where everyone and their grandma eats poke).
Heather |. March 8, 2017
i do think the article was a bit flippant about some of the mentioned items, but i'd also argue that the list/snippet format isn't that conducive to a full blown history of anything (that being said: they could have linked to other resources should anyone want to find out more).
Ashley March 8, 2017
Thank you for this article! This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. It really is infuriating when food with such rich histories, or even humble origins, are dismissed as a fad. As if the only thing that gives them any credence is the "hipster", white-woman obsession with whatever is new. I'm sorry your recipe was used in such an article.
Connor B. March 8, 2017