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Food fads worth traveling for

10:01 AM, Sep 12, 2013   |    comments
The cronut. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
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By Christine Sarkis, SmarterTravel.com

The most memorable food fads combine familiar favorites in unorthodox ways, cooking up new unions that run the gamut from weird to wonderful. We've been hot on the trail of these treat trends that inspire people to weather long lines, pay high prices, and even resort to the black market for the chance at a taste. From cronuts to crookies, and umami burgers to Japadogs, these latest food fads are worth traveling for, so pack a fork and hit the road.

Cronut
For now, the cronut reigns supreme in the world of fanciful food fads. All other fads measure themselves against the breakout popularity of this doughnut made with croissant dough. While some insist that this deep-fried croissant has been around for decades, trademark rights go to Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City, where people endure long waits and pay $5 per cronut (with a limit of two per person). If the wait is too long and you're willing to spend more, score one on Craigslist, where cronuts sell for around $30 each. You can find plenty of similar attempts (all with different names on account of that whole copyright thing) in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Singapore, and other cities around the globe.

Umami Burger
Umami Burger's namesake sandwich brings new life to ground beef with the addition of "Umami Master Sauce" in every patty. Topped with shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, a parmesan crisp, and "umami ketchup," this is definitely not your father's burger (and if it is, congratulations on a delicious childhood). The restaurant chain also serves up a burger topped with house-made truffle cheese, another with four types of green chiles, and one smothered in blue cheese and port-caramelized onions. Umami Burger developed its fanatic audience in Los Angeles before expanding to the San Francisco Bay Area and now New York City.

Townie
The Townie: not the crux of an '80s movie about college-town tensions, but something you can eat! In London, mash-up-dessert veteran Bea Vo (inventor of the "duffin," a doughnut-muffin) has taken London by storm with her brownie tart, the Townie. Created at the urging of the Evening Standard newspaper specifically to challenge the supremacy of the cronut, the Townie winningly combines a gooey dark-chocolate brownie with a flaky tart crust. If only all battles were this tasty.

Crookie
Part cookie, part croissant? That's right. You can find the crookie-made by packing crushed Oreos into croissant dough-at Toronto's Clafouti Patisserie et Cafe. Its origin story is strikingly similar to that of the Townie: Local magazine challenges pastry chefs to come up with the next cronut, and, voila, a sweet, addicting Frankenpastry is born. Yelp reviewers call the crookie "heavenly" and say, "It was kind of like eating a chocolate croissant but a gajillion times better." And with mentions on Good Morning America and in The Daily Mail, this is one food fad getting plenty of buzz outside of its native Canada.

Frozen S'mores
World domination by cronut was not enough for New York City's Dominique Ansel, so he's come up with another hybrid dessert that already has people lining up for a taste. Building on two summer favorites-ice cream and s'mores-the frozen s'more features a vanilla ice cream center wrapped in a chocolate wafer and covered in marshmallow. Served on a smoked willow branch and torched to order, it's got the nostalgia-inducing superpower of Proust's madeleine, conjuring up lost feelings of childhood summer camping trips for anyone hardy enough to brave the bakery's long line.

Ramen Burger
Ramen burgers-ramen noodles grilled to bun-like perfection and then filled with typical accompaniments like fish cake and pork-have long been street foods in parts of Japan. But it took the vision of Japanese-American ramen aficionado Keizo Shimamoto to pair the crispy-noodle-bun concept with a beef patty, a soy-based sauce, and plenty of scallions, and elevate it to food-fad fave. Currently only available in limited quantities at the Saturday Smorgasburg market in Brooklyn, Shimamoto recently told TODAY.com that he'd like to eventually open restaurants on both the West and East coasts.

Japadog
Japadog first emerged as a food fad during the Vancouver Olympics, when the food cart won over athletes, spectators, and celebrities willing to wait in long lines for its Japanese-style franks. Since then, Japadog has maintained cult status by growing slowly and maintaining its commitment to quality dogs and bold Asian-inspired flavor combinations. Think Kobe beef, grated daikon radish, bonito flakes, and ume (plum) sauce. And with veggie sausage and a deep-fried bun filled with ice cream on the menu, Japadog is playing to all tastes. With three food carts, a trailer, and a shopfront in Vancouver, its heart is still squarely in the Canadian city. But last year, Japadog opened a location in hot-dog-capital New York City.

Bantam Bagels
The idea for Bantams-mini bagel balls that are filled instead of topped-came to its originator in a dream. At the West Village shop, find lox, tomato, and red-onion cream cheese inside an everything bagel ball and bacon-cheddar cream cheese with maple syrup inside a cheddar-and-egg bagel ball. Or treat yourself to the Cookies & Milk Bantam, a brown-sugar-and-walnut bagel ball filled with sweet chocolate-chip cream cheese. Even though Bantam Bagels just opened last week, these stuffed rounds have made quite a splash already, with write-ups in national publications and cameos on the Today Show.

Gourmet Popcorn
Popcorn is ready for its time in the spotlight. No longer content to wear simple robes of butter and salt, the snack food has been getting serious upgrades as of late, with accoutrements ranging from dark chocolate to sriracha sauce. Like Cracker Jacks on steroids, dressed-up popcorn is taking the country by storm, and the Specialty Food Association named it one of 2013's top 10 food trends. You can find artisanal popcorn shops around the country, gourmet popcorn bars at weddings, and all-popcorn cookbooks in case you want to invite the fad into your own kitchen.

Halo-Halo
In its native Philippines, halo-halo (pronounced hah-low rather than hay-low) isn't a mere passing fad, it's a classic summer treat. In the U.S., though, the dessert that chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain called "oddly beautiful" is just starting to catch on. Halo-halo, which looks like a Technicolor ice cream sundae, contains some combination of sweet preserved beans, coconut meat, yam, flan, jackfruit, plantain, ice, milk, and ice cream. Find halo-halo at Filipino restaurants and some ice cream and boba-tea shops.

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