City Limits Volume Nine: The Super Food Issue

The ninth issue of City Limits, our ongoing exploration of the ever-changing urban experience, heads off for some rather tasty drinking and dining around the world. And it's the perfect union. Food, after all, shapes cities, dominates our memories of cities, draws us to cities, makes us fall in love with cities. Let's go...


Food, glorious food. Cities, glorious cities. Bring them together and you’ve got just about the perfect recipe (that’s my last foodie wordplay, promise) for issue nine of our ongoing exploration of the ever-evolving urban experience.

We’ve covered so much fantastic ground across the City Limits series, but perhaps nothing gets us quite as close to the cultural centre of gravity as food (ok, drink also). The food sector shapes cities, dominates our memories of cities, draws us to cities, makes us fall in love with cities. And yet there are challenges, too. Cities consume A LOT of food. And despite all of that eating, by no means everyone has access to the food they should have access to.

So in this issue, we travel far, checking trends and innovations from Copenhagen to La Crosse. We travel back in time, noting how heritage and change rub up against each other everywhere from Singapore to Tokyo to London. And, naturally, we step into the future, imagining scenarios such as high end restaurants as community centres, and custom-tailored dishes based on your biometrics.

Thanks, as ever, to all of the Crowd team who’ve thrown their collective heart and soul into creating another brilliant issue of City Limits (name checks on page three). And if you’re not feeling hungry by the time you get to the end of this, you must be going down with something.

Check out the full pdf here.

Andy Crysell, CEO and Founder

KaIseki 2.0

How Tokyo’s restaurateurs are breaking the rules (and Japanese stereotypes)

Japan can appear like a country bound by socio-cultural rules. You can’t eat in the street, you can’t have tattoos, you can’t have conversations on the tube – the list goes on. And directions around how food is consumed is certainly no different. But as with wider Japanese society, where there are rules, there are always rule-breakers.

Enter a generation of chefs in Tokyo who are reinventing the extremely rule-bound world of Kaiseki – a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner of around ten or so beautifully presented plates (or mouthfuls, the portions are small). Kaiseki meals are made of the freshest seasonal ingredients and created with incredible skill and technique. A centuries- old culinary art originating in ryokans, nobility would stop at the regional inns and chefs would showcase the best produce from their region. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is still popular in Kyoto, the historic capital, and it is eye-wateringly expensive.

While the Kaiseki 2.0 being served in Tokyo might still be really expensive, it intentionally breaks away from how food traditions like these feed into the image of Japan as uber serious and traditional. These are some of the city’s best restaurants and show that Japan embraces the formality of Kaiseki dining but – like its people – is also fun, creative and a little bit wacky.

Zaiyu Hasegawa, who started working in a ryokan kitchen aged 18, is now owner of Den, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Shibuya. Here he takes his Kaiseki roots and subverts them with childlike joy – creating ‘Dentucky Fried Chicken’, a play on a KFC drumstick, stuffed with red rice, carrot and pine nuts, and served in a cardboard box with a kawaii yellow chick toy nestled inside.

But as we consider this energetic reinvention of Kaiseki cuisine in Tokyo, we are moved to ask why it’s still the traditional version of Japanese food that is exported to cities all over the world? Where are the goofy jokes at the restaurants with overly clean lines and overpriced food? Is this the version of Japan that people want: a version rooted in history, stereotypes and removed of nuance or individual expression? Just look at all the fun and creativity that’s being missed out on…

Krazy Kaiseki 

The Tokyo restaurants with a fresh take on tradition


Sushi Burger! Deli Fu Cious

Shinya Kudo combines a decade’s experience at various temples of fine dining with his love of fast food at this very fancy burger joint. He uses insider techniques from the sushi world, and applies it to kelp-aided, umami-infused fish burgers, or a hot dog made from conger eel, julienned cucumber and nitsume sauce (a traditional sushi seasoning). Meanwhile, (just in case we were in any doubt about the humorous heart of this restaurant), the name comes from the combination of the words ‘f***ing’ and ‘delicious’.

Fresh Out Of The Bin! Hoshinoya

A luxury ryokan in the heart of the city, Hoshinoya surprises with Kaiseki cuisine transformed with new sustainability techniques. The creativity comes from Noriyuki Hamada - he bagged the bronze Bocuse d’Or, an internationally-acclaimed competition - who aspires to make dishes that “maintain the spirit of Kaiseki, while being understood in today’s modern world”. He calls his style ‘Nippon Cuisine’, and is “fascinated by fish destined for the garbage”, creating new dishes as well as up-dating Kaiseki’s seasonality by foraging for ingredients.

French-Japanese Fusion! Terunari

Home to French-trained Kanichi Tokumoto, here he ignores seasonality and just serves whatever the kitchen is given on that particular day, adding unusual, French flair to Kaiseki staples: think sardines simmered with ume plum and ginger; tuna served with red konjac; aji (mackerel) layered with cucumber and a savoury miso tartar which packs an umami punch.

Diaspora Dining

Hongkongers in London mobilising their community and urban spaces through food

When people settle in a new city from another place, one way to create a community is with tastes of home. To gather at a favourite spot for comfort, familiarity, and perhaps most importantly, good grub.

Crowd DNA’s Jasmine Lo’s parents moved to Germany from Hong Kong in the early 90s. From there the family went to Japan, Sweden, back to Germany, and then France. Jasmine now lives in London where she seeks out the East and South East Asian community and “powerful moments when we find each other” in food pop-ups, supper clubs, and gatherings like @celestialpeach_uk’s ‘Congee Con’, where she’ll reunite with bowls of pure warmth.


When people settle in a new city from another place, one way to create a community is with tastes of home.

“Food, and all the chaos of conversation over a meal shared, is a direct link to where we came from, when we arrived, and how we might keep going,” says Jasmine. As someone who’s moved around a lot throughout life, food is one of those things that has eased her experience. “Food has created passageways. In some ways, this community around food is activism for me.”

Of course, there is the political context which has driven many Hongkongers to London, especially after China imposed sweeping new security measures on the former British colony two years ago. And it has encouraged many to creatively collaborate on food related projects like those visited by Jasmine. The desire for the shareable language of food has seen people move beyond brick and mortar constraints and into pop-up partnerships and even suburban gardens.

How the diaspora engages with food to help the transition from home to ‘home away’ is of benefit in other ways. It mobilises a diaspora community but also the cities, as new purposes are found for under-used sites, or new spaces. This keeps a city vibrant for all its inhabitants. After all, as food writer Jonathan Nunn puts it so eloquently: “True centres of London food culture can be found in ever more creative uses of space, eked out by the people who make up the city”.

“Food has created passageways. In some ways, this community around food is activism for me.”

Talk Of The Town

A semiotic analysis of how city sights and sounds are used by three food brands – even when made elsewhere

Food origin is important, but not always in the way we might think. Take how a brand can liberally add the sights and sounds of a city to bring rich flavour to their product story – an ‘identity’ powerfully leveraged, yet done despite not having originated from there or even been manufactured there. It’s both brazen: as with Dr Oetker, a German brand, based in the UK, selling Chicago Town Pizza; and bold, like Philadelphia Cream Cheese, produced in New York, and so- named because the city of Philadelphia speaks to high quality.

Here, through semiotics, we explore the ways three different urban cultures are coded into food brands (despite not being manufactured there), and how it can in turn, reaffirm, redefine or reimagine those cities.


A food brand that has New York City Literally stamped all over it

New York Bakery Co.
City Aesthetic – NYC
Product Origins – UK

New York City may be one of the most diverse and dynamic cities in the world, but there is a perception of it that remains unchanged: the city of opportunity. And the NYC bagel (arriving with the Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s) is an important part of that story. The UK-based New York Bakery Co. pulls out these familiar and traditional ideas of the Big Apple to give non-New Yorkers a taste of the city’s cultural identity.

We see:
Famous landmarks (hello, Statue of Liberty) at the forefront, to remind us that the bagel is an essential food item; as everyday as NYC’s most historical icon. − Use of primary colours and minimal design codes simplicity. The product, like NYC, speaks for itself.

Shots of oozing cheese and over-filled bagels bring to mind how in New York City no one bats an eyelid about indulging in pleasurable, messy, experiences.

We hear:
Uncompromising language like ‘“New York or Nothin’” because NYC will remain the NYC that we have always known (even if it’s written on a product manufactured in Yorkshire).

A restaurant chain dares to reinvent the Mexican city Oaxaca

City Aesthetic – Oaxaca
Product Origins – UK

The vibrant city of Oaxaca is widely considered the gastronomic powerhouse of Mexico. Wahaca, a chain restaurant in the UK, have branded themselves as an establishment that offers fresh and flavoursome food inspired by Oaxaca, allowing them to avoid calling themselves an authentic Mexican restaurant, or falling into stereotypical clichés of loaded nachos or chimichanga. Wahaca is an ‘anglicising’ of Oaxaca to bring it closer to the UK. Here’s how the chain redefines the codes of the famous city.

We see:
Familiar vibrant colours and dazzling vegetables brought to the forefront to code healthy indulgence (the opposite of loaded nachos…). Pastel colours and small, curated plates code lightness and a sense of opportunity to try lots of different things.

Food being enjoyed outside and in natural light codes refreshment – a familiar setting in Oaxaca, not so much in the UK.

We hear:
A welcoming language of community rather than imitation (‘You say Wahaca, we say Oaxaca’).

An edibles brand blends two cities together

Mammamia CBD – Italian Edibles, the Capri Collection
City Aesthetic – Italy
Product Origins – LA, United States

Simplicity and familial warmth are central to the popular image of Italian city life, as well as the arts, food and music. Meanwhile, Hollywood is a way to escape from humdrum life. The CBD brand Mammamia puts these two city codes together to present glamorous- retro in their products. It allows consumers to escape temporally, geographically and cerebrally.

We see:
Classic Italian culture mixed with LA stoner culture (eg Lady Gaga in the style of old Italian glamour, or Sophia Loren-esque in a cloud of smoke.

Or Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam holding a spliff) for cerebrally stimulating dreamstates.\

We hear:
The integration of Italy and LA (‘“LA Dolce Vita”’). Plus slogans about getting away from it all (“‘Escape with us”’ and “‘You must be 21+ to fly’”).

Seven Local Toasts

We called on our Crowd city-insiders to tell us what spirits (or other refreshments) to enjoy, and what they reveal about the spirit of cities around the world


1. Amsterdam
“Make it small, make it Pils, make it cold!”
Be a giant person with a baby beer – a compact 0.33l in a vaasje (“little vase”) – and definitely consume it in a ‘brown cafe’, crammed with old furniture, even older paintings, and lots of wood. The ‘brown cafe’ exemplifies ‘gezeligheid’ – or, cosy and convivial as our local tells us: “Brown cafes are our roots – they reflect how Amsterdammers are so grounded.” Irina Dimitriade, Amsterdam & Stockholm

2. Tokyo
“Do you want your ice shiny or coarse?”
The art of craft cocktails as practised by Japanese bartenders is a sight to behold, as they try to fine-tune famous cocktails. These craft cocktails are an expression of experimentation and innovation but also kaizen, which has deep roots in Japanese culture and is the premise of ‘continuous improvement’: about positive change for the better, even if only incremental. Jennifer Robinson, London

3. Cologne & Dusseldorf
“People take this sh*t very seriously.”
It’s crucial to make the right choices about beer in Cologne and Düsseldorf because it’s about civic pride. Cologne has a local beer called Kölsch, which is pale and comes in long, thin glasses. Düsseldorf has a black beer called Alt-bier (or simply Alt), which comes in short, wider glasses. So even the way it is served is distinct. You can literally not order Alt in Cologne or vice versa. Judy Lei Boyd, London


“Drink loyal, drink often,” La Crosse, Wisconsin

4. Kuwait City
“Is it really Ramadan without Vimto?”
The popularity of Vimto peaks during Ramadan season, say Aujan Soft Drinks, who produce the drink in the Middle East: and it’s all about family as reflected in the official slogan – ‘Sweet Togetherness’ – or when fans on Twitter post reminiscences about a Vimto cordial in a jug full of ice being poured in preparation for the end of prayers signalling that Iftar could begin. Jennifer Robinson, London

5. Singapore
“Time for a Butterfly Pea tea break?”
In Singapore, the unending customisation options for bubble tea (some stores offer 157 combos) speaks to identity, expression, personality, and even a sense of belonging. Cue the 3pm office rally for a bubble tea. Anyone for a Green Tea Heineken? Ariel Malik, APAC

6. La Crosse
“Drink loyal, drink often.”
In this midwest city in America, drinking tends to be a lot of whatever beer brand you are loyal to, and have been since you were first drinking. So you’ll throw back a Bud Light everywhere: at a backyard party, on the boat, in one of the many local bars, at your kid’s first communion… It’s an anti-pretension stance, and those who care about taste are frowned upon – IPA or wine drinkers are considered show-offs. Jake Renk, New York

7. Melbourne
“One for the road.”
Drinking in Melbourne is taken just as seriously as sports. It’s essential to be in the know about the latest Pet Nat, independent wineries, or gin or craft beer, because it gives you serious social cache. Whether it’s enjoying a ‘traveller’ or a ‘roadie’ – a drink on the go – sipping at a wine bar or venturing out to regional distilleries to enjoy a day on the green, drinking is about the social experience and community from getting together for a cold one. Jacob Cook, APAC

Food Equity

What goes on people’s plates is a measure of the problems facing our urban environments

People are going hungry, food is going to waste, and landfills are contributing to global warming. But though there’s a long way to go, there are striking solutions to some of these issues. Here we look at where things are getting better (or at least not worse)

Urban Vertical Farming

Saves space in densely populated urban areas and... is hyper-local, so can mitigate against supply chain crisis (as occurred in the pandemic); recycles water (urban farms require some 70-95 percent less water than traditional outdoor farms); and being grown near where people live means produce is fresher and more nutritionally rich (most shop-bought produce is seven to ten days old by the time it arrives in store).

Diverting Waste

Getting our heads around the problem of food waste... are apps that divert food from landfills (where it also emits methane and contributes to global warming) and onto people’s plates. These alert shoppers to food that’s nearing its expiration date and offer discounts, like Flashfood (recently featured in Fast Company’s Top 50 Innovative Companies) that gets shoppers to buy in-app and collect from dedicated fridges and racks set up in stores around cities.

Food Access

How to get a healthy meal to millions in cities who live in ‘food deserts’... by offering loans and grants to attract big stores in deprived areas. Other initiatives have been selling fruits and vegetables at a reduced price, signage on public transport indicating routes to fresh markets, or community food gardens. These community-driven solutions better address racial, economic and structural issues that limit access to healthy food. It has led to a change in language to describe low-income and low food access areas, to use the term ‘food apartheid’ rather than ‘food deserts’ because it acknowledges the economic and structural issues that limit access to healthy food.

Floating Farms

The solution for cities vulnerable to rising sea levels is... moored in a small harbour in Rotterdam (a quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level). It’s a futuristic three-story floating structure where a robot milks the cows and another scoops the manure. It was founded after Peter van Wingerden heard how the floods from Hurricane Sandy had crippled New York City’s food distribution system. It is a sustainable model, and not just because it cuts down on transporting food by bringing it much closer to the consumer. The farm collects rainwater and solar panels produce 40 percent of the energy the farm needs, plus the cows eat grass cut from a local golf course. Meanwhile, the cows “don’t get seasick” promises Peter.

Hunger For Tradition

Being trapped in the past threatens Singapore’s hawker food

Like many cities in the world, change has never been alien to Singapore. While Singaporeans have become rather desensitised to the speed of change, there’s one thing they are reluctant to see change in at all – and that’s hawker food. What started out in the 1800s as scrappy and unorganised street food sold by migrants, hawker food has since morphed into open-air hubs located at the heart of everyday life. Established hawker centres were built in the 1970s to formalise the cuisine.

Here in the bustling outdoor courts, locals and tourists get good, affordable food. Joining,queues for flavorful Singaporean specialities and Michelin-star dishes for under $10 (like the signature noodles with minced pork at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle stall) is an unmissable feature of the city’s culture and identity. Hawker food has become part of the furniture – and it’s perhaps unsurprising that Singaporeans tend to be highly protective of it.

But there’s been a real fear in recent years that hawker food is on the brink of disappearing due to factors like an ageing population, unattractive working conditions and the pandemic. The 2020 UNESCO inscription (that commits Singapore to protecting and promoting it to future generations) was thought to be a lifeline to the trade, but some argue this was a red-herring route to go down. While nostalgia is a strong driver behind the survival of traditions, the fixation with the pastncan sometimes do more harm than good.

In the case of hawker food, we can see that nostalgia is laced with complex socio-cultural expectations and generational differences. It traps Singapore’s hawker food in the past and threatens its future.

“Omg, my chicken rice is now 20 cents more.”

Hawker food is expected to never cross the invisible boundaries of class. Low prices over the decades have created an ingrained perception that it’s less ‘atas’ (Singlish for sophisticated and high class) and should always remain so. Increases in prices can create a feeling that it might be more ‘worth it’ to eat at a restaurant (ironic as most hawker dishes today still come under $6 while restaurants and international franchises are $15-25). Social expectation around price severely hampers its survival amidst inflation, with the immense challenge of being forced to remain ‘low class’ with low prices while maintaining a profit.

TikTok creators champion Singapore’s hawker food stalls with both celebratory videos and content to highlight the issues that are facing the chefs to survive in today’s tough economy

“This one doesn’t taste original.”

Apart from price, there’s also an expectation for hawker food to remain unchanged in form and flavour to live up to the concept of ‘authenticity’- as if it’s a timeless artefact. Changes in operation – from simplifying preparation methods to handing down to ‘the kid’ – are often met with uncertainty, cynicism and fear that the ‘authentic flavour’ will be lost. Meanwhile, younger hawkers who choose to venture out (eg with fusion food) receive little recognition as a part of the city’s hawker culture simply because they are not ‘traditional’. Again, the intense nostalgia surrounding hawker culture is preventing any type of innovation.

So what’s the way forward for Singapore’s hawkers stuck in a nostalgia trap? Of course, nostalgia is still crucial to the survival of traditions. But in the case of hawker food, it has made definitions too narrow to accommodate new joiners into the scene. This in turn threatens preservation. Cities change, tastes change. Accepting this will keep hawkers filling our bellies for decades to come.

The Feeding Forecast

We take urban food trends and serve up the next courses

The brutal force of digital will be the biggest disrupter of city food culture in the years to come. Simply put: it’s the impact of the industry moving to the three
Ds – digital, delivery and drive-thru. But these radical shifts won’t mean the end
or even negate dining-in culture in cities, and how sitting in a restaurant IRL builds community, connection and memories. Instead, let’s celebrate all the new, exciting taste experiences that the digital dining shifts could bring us.

Death Of The Restaurant

Rumours of the death of the restaurant are harder to ignore since Copenhagen’s Noma (of first- place rankings on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants fame) declared the “unsustainability” of a brick- and-mortar site, and closed in 2022. It will now deliver its Wild Rose Vinegar around the world.

Don’t turn the ‘Kitchen Closed’ sign over yet. Restaurants like Michelin-starred Quince in San Francisco are repositioning as high-end community centres. The Quince & Co membership offers education, community engagement and exclusive access. “Restaurants are really important to quality of life and community,” co-owner Lindsay Tusk reminds us.

“Restaurants are really important to quality of life and community,” Quince co-owner Lindsay Tusk


Uber Convenience Delivery

Ultra-fast grocery delivery businesses like Getir (the Turkish company who recently acquired UK’s Weezy and Berlin-based Gorillas) or Blinkit (having been acquired last year by Zomato, the leader in APAC) offer deliveries in cities in less than 15 minutes, transforming how urbanites shop.

Goldbelly (recently named Most Innovative Company by Fast Company) promises to deliver emotions not just our meals in minutes. They do this by shipping from ‘mom and pop stores’, emphasising regional dishes, and food delivery as an ‘edible hug’.

Micro Footprints

Fast food restaurants – a valuable ‘third space’ for rest in a busy city – are shifting to ‘micro- footprints’. Chipotle, Dunkin’ Donuts and Taco Bell have developed branches without any dining room at all (Chipotle’s in-restaurant sales are now just a third of its business). Meanwhile, perhaps the stickiest trend that resulted from the pandemic is the deepening of affection for restaurant drive-thrus (at 75 percent of quick service sales in the US, RMS, 2022).

What the drive-thru lacks in seating it will make up with the opportunity to give diners a truly amazing experience. In the summer of 2022, Resy and Amex transformed Brooklyn’s Skyline Drive-In into an interactive labyrinth of restaurant pop-ups. All adding up to a ten course drive- thru tasting menu like never before.

Digital Dining

The digitisation of dining will increase, but so will the opposite. At the Sydney restaurant, Contact Bar & Grill, a digital detox is coded into its brand: “We created Contact – a charming space for family and friends to make contact; connect, share ideas and experiences”, explains the owner, about how they ask guests to securely lock up their phones behind the bar.

The restaurant menu is a QR code or projected on the table, navigable via touch sensor. Information can be gleaned from where eyes linger to influence food offerings. Soon scanning a menu might be like scanning Instagram: sponsored content and dishes custom-tailored based on browsing history.

Or we could anticipate this future dining scene…

Location: Metaverse

Dress-code: Peak Avatar

Dining partner: At home, alone, waiting to meet your E-girlfriend

Setting: Ambient screen lighting

Aperitif: Personalised to the day’s weather conditions

Main course: A dish custom-tailored based on your biometrics

The Secret Recipe

Lessons from one London restaurant that hasn’t changed for 30 years

Everything changes. Kaiseki can be fun (pg4), the Singapore hawker food scene can break from nostalgia (pg12) and even the brutal force of technology can be resisted by the power of human needs (pg13). But some things remain the same, as diners eating at St. John in London will know.

Smithfield in east London is blink and you’ll miss it small. Just half a dozen or so streets. Despite this, it boasts two cultural landmarks with global reputations. The younger of the two, nightclub Fabric (est 1999), has had a chequered history. Increasingly, it resembles an ageing boxer chasing former glories. Meanwhile, St. John opened on the street of the same name in 1994 and shows no signs of relinquishing its status as a London dining institution.

It’s located in the East End, a part of London that over the last three decades has changed beyond recognition from gentrification, the property boom (and bust), and the vibrancy of artists in residence. When St. John was first established, this area was urban wilderness. “It was a wasteland,” co-owner Trevor Gullivar describes. “You wouldn’t recognise it.”

Not only has this part of London transformed since St. John first served its iconic Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad, but of course so has the city’s food culture. But despite the pivots going on all around, the restaurant itself is much the same. The walls are still painted stark white; it looks more like an abattoir than a former warehouse. The oft-imitated menu is written exactly the same way: just the names of two or three key ingredients – four if the kitchen is really pushing the boat out. The wine list still doesn’t acknowledge the world beyond the French border. And the place is still packed, day in, day out.

But some things remain the same, as diners eating at St. John in London will know.

So what can we take from the institution of St. John and apply to the next generation who may also wish for such longevity? What

can its success teach us about what service really needs to be included in city restaurants?

St. John’s enduring popularity has much to do with being unmoved by the success of other cuisines over the years. When it opened, most upscale London restaurants looked to France for inspiration. The culinary superpower baton then passed to Spain followed by Scandinavia. And now Mexico is firmly in the limelight. But don’t expect a tamale or a tostada on the St. John menu anytime soon. The restaurant has been inextricably linked with British food since its inception. Fads that other restaurants leapt on have also been ignored. A tasting menu? Or small plates? Perish the thought.

It has also always had that magic ingredient of a story behind the food: crucially, it was an early adopter of sustainable eating with nose-to-tail recipes. This simple way of cooking was unusual for its time, and it not only inspired curiosity but fame. ‘Pommies eat Squirrel’ was one memorable headline about St. John.

But the biggest tip from St. John? It serves to remind us that people want to feel like a restaurant is theirs, and either one to come back and enjoy time and time again or own the joy
of discovery.

And it’s this sentiment of joy that is the right place to come to the end of this issue of City Limits. We travel to cities to visit their restaurants, eat the street food, search for the joint where the first Chicago Town Pizza was baked (clue: not a city, not Chicago, nope not even the US, as our semiotic analysis of urban provenance on pg7 explores). We are happy to do the leg-work, the air miles, decipher the Google maps so that we can eat food that makes us feel emotionally connected, inspired, and yes, very much joyful.