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Whether you want a Korean-Mexican mash-up, a bistro lunch, or just a good old burger – London’s gang of mobile street vendors has got it covered.
If you use Facebook or Twitter and you like your grub, then you will have registered the excitement surrounding London’s street food – eating kerbside has never been so good. Inspired by farmers’ markets and the traditional US taco truck, and spurred on by the recession, this new generation of street vendor is aggressively gourmet and tech-savvy, alerting customers to their locations using Twitter and Facebook. They see the food truck as an attractive opportunity, with its low start-up costs and creative potential and, although the goal is to be quick, convenient and cheap, they are decidedly anti-fast food.
The trend began in the US, and where US food trends go, Britain usually follows. Food trucks have been welcomed with open arms and mouths, even veering towards the mainstream as chain restaurants sniff the air. Larger operators including Wahaca, Jamie’s Italian and Byron have already bought food trucks.
Meanwhile, a group of like-minded British street-food vendors have set up eat.st, a website that provides a useful notice board for fans. The eat.st family includes traders such as Daddy Donkey (burritos); Eggonomics (posh omlettes); Bhangra Burgers (cumin-scented burgers); and The Ribman, who tears the sweet, soft meat off free-range Norfolk baby back ribs and serves it in a bun on Brick Lane.
‘Street food has struck a real chord with people,’ says Richard Johnson, founder of The British Street Food Awards and author of Street Food Revolution. ‘We have been asked to advise on the catering strategy for the 2012 Olympics, and we’re working with huge new shopping developments in Leeds and Liverpool. It makes the idea of food exciting again… and it’s affordable.’
There are downsides, of course. It’s not so fun munching in the rain – even if it’s the best pulled pork you’ve ever tasted. And you need to invest a fair bit of energy tracking places down. But the critics can’t get enough of it. The Guardian’s John Lanchester reported on US BBQ specialist Pitt Cue Co, declaring its pulled pork ‘astonishing’, and twice as good as that of Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa at a third of the price.
Petra Barran, founder of Choc Star (see below), and a key player in this growing sector, puts the popularity of street food down to authenticity. ‘People don’t want to be spun a marketing tale. They want to be able to discover things for themselves and they want to look into the eyes of the person making their food. There’s something magical about all of this,’ she enthuses, before handing over an exquisite walnut fudge brownie for £2 from the customised ice-cream van she found on eBay. Now that really is magic.
Owner Petra Barran was instrumental in kick-starting the gourmet food truck scene in the UK, thanks, in part, to her adventurous line-up of all things chocolatey. Don’t miss her Triple-Chocolate Malted Bliss milkshake topped with a Valrhona-dipped cherry.
Danny O’Sullivan’s mini-burger ‘sliders’ combine the hot and sweet flavours of Korea with casual American dining in a successful nod to the Korean-Mexican mash-up sensation of the Los Angeles food truck scene.
Yianni Papoutsis put Deptford on the culinary map when he opened pop-up restaurant #Meateasy in a disused pub and ran it alongside his roving truck.The roving restaurateur has now come full circle, having set up Meat Liquor in Bloomsbury in November 2011.
Summer sees the Pitt Cue Co trailer parked under Hungerford Bridge, but you’ll have to check Twitter to find its winter resting place. Try the hickory-smoked, slow-cooked pulled pork served with root beer beans, and red cabbage and parsley coleslaw.
Superior British bistro-style grub served from a shiny silver Airstream at street food prices, with sustainability the key.
This feature was published in the autumn 2011 edition of Square Meal Lifestyle.