Best business ideas for 2024: Third culture cuisine  

Anyone with even a passing interest in the UK’s culinary scene will know that most food trends rise and fall as fast as a soufflé. But third culture cuisine looks set to stay in 2024.

One day, some hot new chef (or more likely TikTok) is putting tinned fish centre stage, once a staple of budget dining, and the next day we’re lapping up caviar with doritos. In fact, this ‘ironic’ lowbrow/highbrow combination is a whole trend in itself.

But a food trend that really lingers on the palette is a rare thing indeed. That’s why third culture cuisine deserves more attention.

Jump straight to the relevant section or read on for the full details on starting a third culture cuisine business.

Third culture means an identity born from the fusion of an individual’s parent’s culture and the culture they were raised in, and the food they create is the natural product of growing up in these diaspora communities.

But fusion is a potentially misleading word. Forget fusion food (a term that has been floating around since the 1970s), which, while it has occasionally produced interesting results, has more often been a gimmicky attempt to jam two distinct cuisines together. Authenticity is the core ingredient of third culture cuisine: wonderful recipes and ideas stirred up by chefs that have been raised with two different food cultures, and that understand how to bring together their complementary elements.

Let’s tuck in to why third culture cuisine is a great business idea for 2024.

Why is starting a third culture cuisine business a good business idea? 

If you’re still struggling to imagine what third culture food is exactly, picture a kimchi, egg and cheese-topped croissant, sesame uni ramen carbonara, or chicken wings with Nuoc Mam lime caramel. Is your mouth watering yet? 

If that sounds indulgent, that’s because that’s often the point. The chefs behind these recipes are combining the most comforting and nostalgic food memories from their cross-cultural heritage to develop something new and delicious. Unsurprisingly, the resulting edible creations often lend themselves to the kind of tantalising imagery that’s destined to drive hype on Instagram and TikTok.

While UK consumers might have unwittingly encountered its products, third culture cuisine as a concept is more widely understood in the US, where recent cookbook releases are helping to put the idea on the menu. For example, Jon Kung’s Kung Food: Chinese American Recipes from a Third-Culture Kitchen was published in October 2023, containing recipes like chow mein topped with jerk chicken and a Sichuan pepper-spiced lasagne.

But we do have our own homegrown third culture food talent. Last year also saw the release of Gurdeep Loyal’s Mother Tongue, with recipes that fuse elements from his British-Indian heritage, such as Coconut Crab Crumpets and Kasundi Keema Lasagne Rolls. And in 2022, Ixta Belfrage, a protégé of Yotam Ottolenghi, released her debut cookbook, Mezcla, featuring Piri Piri tofu over crispy orzo, sweet and sour celery salad, and prawn lasagne (another lasagne?!) with habanero oil.

Third culture cuisine growth trends

You might be wondering whether starting a food business during the ongoing cost of living crisis is a smart move.

Well, according to CGA NIQ’s December 2023 Consumer Pulse Survey, most UK consumers appear to be led by their stomachs when it comes to making cost saving decisions: 41 per cent of respondents would prioritise eating and drinking out if their disposable incomes were to fall in the next 12 months, far higher than clothing (35 per cent), home improvements (33 per cent) and international holidays (27 cent).

And 67 per cent said that restaurants and pubs are the treat they most look forward to. In fact, the Eating Out Market Report 2023 from Lumina Intelligence found that the eating out market is set to grow by 5 per cent (vs 2019) between now and 2026.

What about those restaurants at the more premium end of the market though? Research from Savanta found that, while 60 per cent of customers have cut back their spending on eating out, they are more likely to accept high prices at premium restaurants and be shocked by rising prices at restaurants perceived to offer value for money.

The appetite is there, then, so what can you do to satisfy it?/p>

What third culture cuisine business idea opportunities are there?

Innovation, bold flavour pairings, nostalgia and comfort are the hallmarks of third culture cuisine. It’s no surprise that lasagna pops up in all three cookery book examples: it’s one of those indulgent, classic dishes that’s versatile enough to act as a foundation for all sorts of inventive ingredient combos.

A word of caution: be careful if you’re starting a business that’s been inspired by food cultures that are not your own. There’s nothing wrong with inspiration, but the beauty of third culture food is that it’s the authentic product of people whose culinary creations are a direct result of the flavours and recipes they’ve been exposed to growing up in a diaspora community. We all have our own inherited cultural influences, of course, and who’s to say third culture cuisine couldn’t be produced by two people from distinct cultures coming together to combine their food heritage?

As long as you have a strong foundation, the food world is your proverbial oyster. A restaurant or café serving up unique third culture creations is the obvious way to go, but there’s definitely scope for a retail business selling third culture inspired ingredients or ready meals.

Bear in mind that food businesses rarely exist in a single sphere. Be prepared to build a following through social media, with drool-inducing imagery and video, while putting the hours in at a street food market. Starting a pop-up is actually a great way to test and promote your concept before you commit to a full launch, which is especially important if you’re doing something brand new and unfamiliar to consumer taste buds. Once you’ve built some hype you can perhaps start thinking about getting products into retailers or writing a cookbook.

Or perhaps you’re passionate about food but not a great talent in the kitchen. There are still many ways to indulge your love for third culture cuisine. For example, you could stage events to promote new food businesses or start a website and ecommerce store selling products and ingredients.

Who else has started a third culture cuisine business recently?

Check out these three third culture food businesses that have all launched within the last few years. 

Could there be a business that better embodies third culture cuisine than Third Culture Deli? This plant-based deli and cocktail bar on East London’s Broadway Market serves Italian American classics with a twist.

The founders have combined a shared love for fermented foods with their diverse backgrounds to develop dishes that are “neither here nor there”, including fermented tofu arancini, confit delicia pumpkin, and a range of intriguing vegan sandwiches.

Kentish Town’s Panadera, a Filipino bakery, is another brilliant concept. Its creations include panko chicken and mushroom and corned beef hash sandwiches, both served with prawn crackers, Hong Kong French Toast (made with slices of Filipino milk bun and slathered in jam and mascarpone cheese blended with coconut), and some truly delectable doughnuts.

And in South London, we have Ghanaian-British chef Akwasi Brenya-Mensa’s Tatale, which combines pan-African flavours with influences gained from global travel. Dishes include the Tatale signature chicken burger, with jollof couscous and cassavas bravas, and plantain cheesecake.

Small business expert opinion

Nivi Jasa, co-founder of Third Culture Deli, says:

“London is like this awesome mix of people from all over the world, and it was even more before Brexit! We’ve got all these foreigners adding some spice to the scene, literally. And let’s face it, traditional British cuisine can be a bit on the bland side. So, immigrants are bringing in these bold, flavourful dishes from their homelands, making the food scene way more interesting. Plus, nowadays, everyone’s mingling with different cultures. Whether you’re dating someone, came back from travelling, or just got a diverse crew of friends, you’re bound to pick up on different tastes. That’s now bleeding into the way we cook, breaking down barriers and making us less scared to whip up something new. It’s like a food revolution – a tasty mix of home comfort and global flair.

“Third Culture Deli is the meeting point between our love for food and the melting pot that is our cultural backgrounds (I’m Italian-Albanian and my cofounder Angela is American-Taiwanese). With this in mind, we create flavours and dishes that are neither here nor there – in the best way possible. Using that as a blueprint, we can design a food and drink menu where classics are revisited under a TCC lens. A good example would be our Tiramisú, where we kept the dessert part but swapped the caffeine element of the coffee for: Pandan and Matcha, or Chai, or Thai Tea. Another good example is our Pandan Syrup being used in a latte, as an alternative to classic caramel and sweet syrup that you usually can find in other coffee shops, or our Black Sesame NYC Cheesecake.

“Flavours need to be bold, people need to get excited, both visually and flavour-wise, as there’s already a lot of competition out there for basic food (i.e. coffee, savoury) so if you want to stand out from the crowd, having a unique offering will pay back!”

Henry Williams

Henry Williams

Henry Williams is a freelance journalist specialising in small business topics, such as Making Tax Digital.