Not sure about the lard and chicken fat comeback, but the rest sounds promising.

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The foodie forecast 2006: fish, fat and fun

By LUCY WAVERMAN

Although I eat at home frequently, I always thought I was in the minority. But new research shows that more people are eating in, for reasons that include health, money and the good feelings that come with sitting around a dinner table.

And what are these people going to be noshing in the new year? Here are the 10 top food trends for 2006.

Japanese pork

The rich fatty Wagyu beef from Kobe in Japan is the new standard. Not easily available in Canada -- there is only one producer (Pat McCarthy in Alberta, http://www.wagyucanada.com) and he breeds the Wagyu beef with Angus (still a good choice) -- it is meltingly tender and full of flavour. More breeders are choosing it in the United States, and top restaurants and butchers are snapping it up.

But the big prize meat right now is pork, especially Berkshire pork, which comes from Kurobuta hogs, prized in Japan for their flavour and juiciness. They are now raised in Ontario and other regions in small quantities. The meat is moist, tender, juicy and head and shoulders above any other pork I have tasted. Watch for it to come to restaurant menus before we can buy it readily at butcher shops.

Healthy

As dishes, techniques and countries go in and out of style, the biggest trend is to eating good food no matter what its provenance is. Cut trans fats out of your diet, eschew packaged foods for the fresh, cut down on sugar and eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Buy organic if you can, eat more fish than meat, have a glass of wine each evening and you will bring pleasure to your life.

Street food

In Asia, street food has always been the snack to eat. From crispy deep-fried pastries in India to vats of noodles in Hong Kong, street food celebrates a way of life. But here in North America it was dull and uninteresting -- until a few chefs hit on the idea for top-flight food carts in New York.

Now street food is a thing of beauty and New York celebrates it with the Vendy Awards for best carts. This year's competition was extremely close. The winner served amazing homemade bratwurst sandwiches with homemade pickles and mustards. Runners-up included a vegan cart that served dhosas.

Chinese regional cooking

Cantonese food has always been considered the most sophisticated and delicate in China by connoisseurs, but the explosion of modern, regional cuisine has brought the country to a culinary crossroads. The old and venerable styles are still alive, but the new tastes -- Shanghai, Beijing and Chiu Chow (a subset of Cantonese) -- are forging ahead with sophisticated Western techniques and pure flavours.

Good news: The new wave is beginning to appear in North America.

Japanese knives

Japan's other gift to North America is the wonderful knives it is producing. Knives are the big trend in kitchenware, and over the past few years the Japanese have cornered the business. They make very sharp, well-balanced knives in two different styles: multipurpose Western and single-purpose Japanese. The Western knives have two blades fused together, making them strong but not as fine, whereas the Japanese knives are made from one piece of steel, are very sharp and have a specific purpose, such as a knife only for cutting fish for sushi. The multipurpose santoku knife, a cross between a cleaver and a regular chef's knife, is already very popular.

Lemony herbs, fish and other It ingredients

Fish is the new darling of chefs and foodies. The quality and availability of different kinds make it a good choice for the table. As many breeds become endangered (Chilean sea bass for example), previously obscure ones are replacing them. We can now easily buy scorpion, wild striped bass, branzino, skate, orato, barramundi and escolar. Try skate for a real taste treat.

The hot herbs are lemony in flavour: verbena, lemon balm, delicate shiso leaves. Big spices include ras al hanout, smoked and unsmoked Spanish paprika and turmeric (which stops itching when rubbed on skin).

More key ingredients include blood oranges for colour, figs, pomegranates, persimmons, Spanish Serrano ham, yuzu and locally cured meats.

Canadian caviar

As Beluga becomes overfished as well as out-of-sight expensive (it is now banned in the United States), the delicious Canadian caviar is the one to buy. The true wild sturgeon caviar is hard to find, but it stands up to Russian caviar with its fine snap, crackle and pop eggs. Farmed Canadian caviar is also available, but it still needs some refining. Both of these caviars are expensive, but not in the range of Russian.

Fat

Lard and chicken fat are poised for a comeback. My grandmother always fried everything in chicken fat, and although this probably sounds horrific to most people, food scientist and cookbook author Shirley Corriher has a different perspective.

"Lard doesn't approach olive oil or canola oil as far as being good for you," she says, "but it is better for you than butter as long as it is not hydrogenated." Hello to great pastry once again. Perhaps McDonalds should never have given up beef tallow.

White on the table

The look for the table is minimalist but bold. Look for white, curvy pieces, and accent with the new floral patterns (think of your great-grandmother's china). Serve food that is bursting with colour.

Food blogs

Food blogs are proliferating all over the Web. The number is up to 1.5 million, according to Google. Many are just rants, but some of them have great information and are well-written. Check http://www.kiplog.com/food for a list of the best.