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Sugar Street Review guest blog post – Beirut Street Food

1 May

Thanks to Will Dobson of Sugar Street Review for sending over this ode to Beirut. Ever since my stint in Tel Aviv, 2003, and hearing tales of the magic of this neighbouring city – and the parties to rival Tel Aviv, I’ve wanted to get me a bit of that….

If at Eat St. the aim is to normalise good food, then we need only
look at Lebanon for inspiration. Not only is good food appreciated
there, it’s inextricably linked to the culture. It’s a way of life or,
to quote from Kamal Mouzawak, founder of Souk Al Tayeb, the first
organic farmers’ market in the country, ‘food is the best expression
of our tradition.’ As Beirut becomes more and more international –
it’s a city with a passion for sushi perhaps only rivalled by those in
the US, outside of Japan of course – what is wonderful is that they
still embrace their own culture through their cuisine.

Among the smart Italian and French eateries in Downtown there are
still any number of elegant and upmarket restaurants serving
mouthwatering Lebanese fare, while areas such as Bourj Al-Hamoud and
Mar Mikhail reflect the large influx of Armenians who fled their
homeland after the genocide. However, for amazing street food, then
Hamra, buzzing with students, international journalists and Western
tourists still leads the way.

Bliss Street, in the heart of the area, offers a wonderful
juxtaposition. The American University of Beirut, founded back in 1866
sits on the one side, looking like something straight out of Orange
County, with elegantly modern buildings, leafy passageways and views
over the Mediterranean. On the other are open shop fronts selling
manaeesh, freshly cooked on a saj (a convex-dish shaped griddle)
topped with za’atar, jibneh or nutella. This Lebanese style ‘pizza’
make a wonderfully fresh and flavourful snack, such a contrast to
ubiquitous kebab vans which cater for students here. Meanwhile, the
delightful scents of flavoured tobacco, mixed with burning charcoal,
freshly brewed coffee and jasmine, redolent of spring, waft down the
street.

Of course though, the food isn’t merely limited to this one street.
Everywhere you turn you seem to be greeted with another place to eat
and choosing can be tricky. However, every taxi driver seems to
recommend Barbar as the place to go and it’s easy to see why. This
Beirut institution is completely utilitarian in décor and serves
fresh, simple and tasty fare which epitomises what makes Levantine
food so special. As well as the ubiquitous mezze selection (including
fantastic fries), it’s the grilled meats which steal the show. All are
cooked on charcoal, imparting a delicious smokiness, and they’re
delicately spiced, subtly enhancing the natural flavours of the meat.
The lahme meswi (grilled lamb) is served with little cubes of fat
which just disappear in the mouth, while the spatchcocked chicken,
marinated in garlic and lemon, is succulent, juicy and delectable.

Lebanon is a country trying to come to terms with its past, struggling
to move forward from the atrocities of the Civil War. Reminders are
dotted throughout the capital, none more striking that the gutted
shell that was once the Holiday Inn, opened in 1974 as the most
luxurious hotel in the region and left ravaged as it become the focal
point of the fighting. However, as Beirut rejuvenates itself, nothing
promotes all that is good about this wonderful place more than their
cuisine.

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StrEAT guest blog post – Monster trucks and munching pre-historic grubs

25 Apr

Guest blog post from Navina Bartlett of StrEAT

I love the UK’s street food movement so much. And I love what Petra’s been doing. She’s one of the visionaries, one of the ‘slog your guts out’ type people, who are passionate about street food. I wanted to find out where this movement was first cultivated, so I decided to head across the pond to check out Off the Grid first hand.

Off the Grid is the San Francisco equivalent of Eat.St – but on a much bigger scale.


Wow – pretty massive

Founder Matt Cohen and his team have been running regular food truck gatherings for over three years now. And they’d just mailed the spring schedule for the first weekly Fort Mason shindig when I arrived.

                                         Matt Cohen

Friday night shenanigans include a congregation of over 30 independent food vendors from countries like Peru, the Philippines, Mexico, India and Korea. Crème brûlée experts and purveyors of gourmet cupcakes are thrown in for good measure. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in and was lucky enough to have local blogger, @garysoup, as my knowledgeable guide.

Let’s start with the trucks. The bigger the better and they’re ALL custom wrapped.

Little Green Cyclo is a Vietnamese beast of mammoth proportions, with 27 items on the regular menu + another 10 specials available on and off. I personally opted to share a Masami lemongrass grilled pork banh mi with my new bezzie mate Dave (more about our fated paths crossing in the StrEAT blog post out next week).


Look at Dave next to that monster truck

Some of the other ‘big guys’ at Off the Grid include well loved veterans of the food truck scene – Chairman Bao (Chinese steamed pork buns) and Curry Up Now (with their veritable mix of dosa fillings including chilli gobi to ‘Am-ree-kan’ a combo of egg, ground beef & bacon (holy cow!). Then there’s Hapa SF which serves refined Filipino/Californian cuisine, by ambassador and head chef William Pilz. He conjures up beautiful dishes like sour diced pork sisig & marinated chicken adobo, all sold from the front of his truck.


Off the Grid has even more impact in real life

There are smaller vendors too – my personal favourite was Don Bugito whose specialty is pre-Hispanic snacks. Crispy cricket tostadas are served with mashed avocado, toasted sunflower seeds and pickled red onion (they also have a wax moth larvae option). The food is factually correct. How do I know this?

From CBBC’s ‘Horrible Histories’ of course – a credible source of ancient history as parents will know well!

Hmm, I look a bit like a bug, and I’m eating bugs

I loved Off the Grid. It has the same camaraderie as the UK scene and shows street food gatherings are  here to stay. It’s perfect for bringing communities together under the auspices of sharing and trying food. I’m really glad it’s catching on in the UK. Let’s just hope the rain doesn’t spoil our fun!

For all the latest goss from our little ole collective, knuckling down on the cool streets of Bristol, follow
@streatuk or sign up at www.streatfoodcollective.com

Fusion, smell-scapes and eat.st crew’s cross-pollination experiments

30 Mar

We’ve seen some interesting fusion lately on the curb, one of the most unusual being the “Ruebendilla” from VadaszMasaDeli at Hackney Homemade. There’s Nick at the griddle, throwing on his hand-pressed corn tortillas which he fills with salt beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. It gets folded together and served with home-pickled pickles. The unmistakable waft of the maiz that has many a gringo, unaccustomed to such pungency, recoiling, is part of the magic. In our increasingly odorless cities which increasingly all smell the same, it’s nice to be able to pick out a sense of place – of somewhereness – in the air….even if that somewhere is a contortion. It breaks up the typical, the expected, the resolved and keeps you keen.

This is what we love.

And we love that Kimchi Cult are now fusing Korean with Mexican with their bulgogi steak or pulled pork tortas. Kimchi and cheese and bulgogi and pickles and guacamole in one hot, griddled package – really? Oh yeah, and every slathery, dripping morsel of it tells a story.

photo courtesy of jonnyfromtheblock

Stories + smells + eating + ideas = why I love food on the streets. When you order that sandwich or pizza or salad or wrap, you’re getting a window into the world of the person who’s handing that food over: where they’ve travelled, who they’ve mixed with, how they’ve spent their time, and it’s culminated in a connection between them and you & your lunch. These stalls, vans and carts may not be pinned to the ground; made still by brick and mortar, but the roots to other people, other worlds are right there, carried in to transform the pavement, albeit just for a few hours.

The reason we started eat.st was to bring great minds together through the food they make and give a name to this community. If you’re the kind of person who is happy to take off and fetch up wherever the hungry/greedy may need you, then you’re bound to have a bit of imagination and funk in your right thigh. So it’s no wonder that when pitched up next to each other that ideas will fly and flavours will mingle. Chief instigator, with his hallowed Holy Fuck sauce, is The Rib Man. Due to its cunning ability to reach into many food-stuffs we have seen this naga-lousy number rear its wicked little head among other species of street food:

Along the shaft of Big Apple’s hot dogs…bleeding through the meat of Egg Bosses Scotch Eggs…firing up beef jerky…seizing hold of butter…and now, a whole new prospect: The Holy Fuck rib meat Homeslice pizza. GRrrrrr, read it and weep, y’all. Or come to King’s Cross next Thursday 5th for its debut and eat it and weep.

But it doesn’t stop there because we have Jez and his grass-fed van, dispensing balls and ideas galore. He is working on some Holy Fuck meatballs (obvs), but is also straying into other cell structures – looking to lay his balls down on Homeslice’s ever-yielding dough…darting over to Luardos hatch for some meatball-burrito cross-pollination…even knocking on the closed-for-business counter of Choc Star (RIP) for chocolate balls.

Where will this strain head next? Who else will be linking up? London’s unsuspecting aura awaits being taken over by the new smells. Keep your noses clean and your bellies ready, things are about to get a whole lot more twisted!

(And we haven’t even talked about Tongue ‘n Cheek’s Heartbreaker burger. This will need a whole post of its own….)

eat.st is at King’s Boulevard, N1C every Wednesday – Friday, 11am-2.30pm and every Tuesday from April 17th: http://www.eat.st/kings-cross

 

Eating and exploring in Mexico

22 Jan

Just back from three weeks in Mexico. Lots of tacos, lots of tequila, lots of avocados, lots of mezcal. Lots of pork. Pork of every texture, shape, taste, cookedness – and coming out of every kind of torta and tortilla.

How many different ways are there of saying tortilla in Mexico? All roads lead back to them – albeit with different levels of crunchiness and shape. Tortilla with eggs for breakfast. Tostadas. Totopos, Tacos. Chilaquiles. Flautas. Giant tortillas covered in frijoles and cheese and eaten with arms outstretched. Blue ones, corn ones, flour ones. Papusas, gorditas, sudados (‘sweaty’ ones – liked them).

It’s all about the maize. Sin mais, no hay pais – Without corn, there’s no Mexico. And I love the way the food traditions of the Toltecs, Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs have stood firm regardless of being raped by the Spanish. This is a country where you can see the culture, feel its history, in the rhythms of its street-side food prep and life of its markets. The smell of corn tortillas curls up from every other griddle and the slap, slap, slap of the dough being patted into neat little discs accompanies the other sounds that give those places their pulse: cumbia/merengue/salsa, and “elote! elote! elote!” shouted nasally from passing corn sellers, carts rolling past laden with veg and people shouting “Güera!” at you as you get in amongst it.

The vendadores set up from shopping trolleys, carts, baskets, tricycles. One guy had converted his VW Beetle (the Mexican national car) into a sugar cane juice-mobile. I stopped and chatted to him – turns out matey’s been to London and even had burrito action chez Luardos.

Mundo pequeño.

In Tulum town guys hook power to their puestas from nearby electricity lines. Nearly 30% of electricity is stolen in Mexico and I reckon the vendors have got the lion’s share. White light illuminates glistening meats and griddled tacos. The whole of Mexico favours the white light to such an extent that, from afar, cities make the sky glow silver, rather than the low orange of those over here. It’s kitchen-like, functional, a glow under which stuff gets chopped up, racked up, scooped up and sliced up. The street belongs to everyone and the warmth of the night makes you happy to stay and stay.

Watch how the Mexican eat their tacos. So neat. They say you can tell a lot about a person from the way they scoff it. Spot the tourista who’s over-loaded theirs, losing skids of beans through the bottom and meat shards over the top. They say that Mexicans are distrustful by nature but that all falls away when you’re at the stand getting your food on. Help yourself from the bowls of salsa, beans, papas, salads, then pay up at the end once you’ve counted up. When it comes to food the trust is right there – people who don’t know each other sitting like family round the same table.

One day I tried grasshoppers – chapulines – then hormigas – ants. Then they had me try a freaking dried (and very crispy) earthworm. Everyone on the stall stood around me encouragingly as I munched through it, eyebrows raised in anticipation of my reaction. ‘Ricisimo, verdad?’ they’d ask. ‘Mmmmmm!’ I’d reply.

In Mérida I spent the whole day with something to eat in my hand. From the little bags of fried pumpkin seeds that they open and throw chipotle and half a squeezed lime into (seriously delicious), to the corn ice cream (not for me). I troughed tamarind balls, flan, bags of chilli-d fruit and flors de Jamaica. Puerco profundo – the ‘deep’ bits of the pig all roiling and moiling around on a hot griddle, ready for chopping – was super-tasty and the botanas you get in the cantinas keep you loaded with food while you drink. This is tapas, Mexican style. For every beer come three plates of food – chicharrones/potato salad/cucumber salad. Or chopped hot dogs with habanero/macaroni with tomato sauce/frijoles. Kind of made you want to stay and drink all day….

In Laguinilla market in Mexico City we got lost under the yellow canopies. Pure, crazy gaud-fest amongst the 15 Años dresses – folds and layers and frills and ruches of every possible colour of satin for the girls’ big day. Made ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ look like a dress rehearsal. Next door people ladled horchata from huge plastic urns into giant polystyrene cups. Further along the cochinita pibil stall lured us in as always. This stuff is the business: achiote and bitter orange marinaded pork, slow-roasted in banana leaves and served in toasted buns with loads of tang. Seriously, when is someone going to start a torta de cochinita pibil stall in London? I imagine one called ‘Porksville’ which gives the tired old hog-roast a run for its money. Spice and lime my pork up, man. It’s the only way to go from now on.

Then to cool down your inflamed mouth afterwards, a choice from the sorbet pallet of ice cream flavours in the trolleys going by. Those colours! Mirroring the houses and signs everywhere and calling ‘try me! try me!’.

You end up trying everything because it all looks and smells so good. This is not a country of slimmers, avoiding the bad stuff, this is a nation of proper eaters who don’t care who knows it. This is lusty, healthy, proper eating and its streets would be ghostly without it all.

I’m a fan. Bring on the next trip over there…

International Festival of Culinary Photography

1 Nov

These pics caught my eye from this street food themed photography festival in Paris. Anyone heading that way over the next couple of weeks might want to skip on in. I know I would – and then jump on a Velib and head out for some fruity little adventure somewhere…sigh.

Jean-Pierre PJ Stephan, the founder and soul of the culinary photography festival, has chosen the theme “Street Food” for this year’s festival. Far from the tablecloths and snooty waiters, street food expresses the unvarnished culture and history of a people and its rituals. “Tell me what you eat in the street, and I’ll tell you were you come from.” From the most commonplace to the most sophisticated, all types of flavor, color, presentation, and packaging are on display.

 

International Festival of Culinary Photography, 3rd Edition: Street Food

From October 28 to November 13 2011

Three exhibitions (free admission):

Espace Mobalpa,15 bd Diderot, 75012
Bercy Village, 28 rue François Truffaut, 75012
La Coupole, 102 boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014

eat.st on tour: GLASTO in mud and sun.

30 Jun

I thought it might be nice to take a busman’s holiday to Glastonbury and help Si out on board Jesus. Having placed Choc Star in the safe hands of Shrimp and Ben for the summer it seemed that all roads were leading me to Worthy Farm and some stress-free times. For example, if I had taken Jimmy to Glasto and been met with this sort of scenario:

I would have been all up in my heartbeat wondering who the hell would want to buy ice cream under such gruelling terrain. Instead, it was burritos from Luardos that we had to shift, the conditions for which seemed much more agreeable. Every morning a delivery would arrive from the extraORDinarily massive wholesale operation on site. It was awesome in its vastness – great serried ranks of articulated lorries laden with goods. Just that set-up alone had my mind boggling. The logistics!

Then we’d slam some meat on the griddle and get prepping. I developed a mild addiction to the sticky, concentrated flavours of griddled chorizo morsels.

Making the habanero salsa was a trip – and always interesting to see which punters were up for being sent half-way to hell with a turbo-charged strip of the stuff striding through their burrito.

It got busier and busier each day as more campers got wind of the goodness that was being passed through Jesus’ hatch. People were coming up to the van proclaiming this to be the best food they’d ever had at Glasto in 20 years! Some came to eat with us for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was mainly put in the middle position. This means taking the orders, taking the cash, telling the person to my left what they’re making (chicken, steak, vegetarian or pork – and turbo-charged with chorizo or no, and with or without beans or rice or cheese), telling the person to my right what they’re adding (yes to guacamole or no to salsa but yes to lettuce or no sour cream or extra guacamole and no lettuce….), and then administering the spice (‘How hot are you prepared to take things? Shall I ramp it up? Take you to meet the devil?’, etc).

After a few hours of doing this in tin box-hot temperatures my head would be so fried that I couldn’t remember who’d paid and who hadn’t. ‘Have you paid me?’, I’d ask. ‘Yes, I tried to get a discount and you said no, remember?’. ‘Oh yes, of course, sorry, it’s the heat. Next!’. But they seemed like an honest, cheery lot. Remarkably so, I’d say.

When I needed a little breather I’d go out side with a bourbon and attempt the washing up…

Or else I’d go and visit friends. Here’s Jorge in his Churros Bus (Churros Bros). The poor guy broke down 12 times on the way down to the site and eventually had to get pitch-forked onto his spot. Still smiling though – and his thigh-hating sticks of delight tasted delish.

Further out on the compound by the dance field was Alec and his Bhangra Burger bus. He had only broken down twice en route to Glasto and his chosen method of arrival was with a tow truck.

By the time Saturday came around and after enduring endless heavy rain and being felled by Big John as I waded to his rescue (landing flat on your back in a sea of mud at a festival with no clear sign of where your next shower will be coming from is gruesome, btw), the mud was sticky like you wouldn’t believe. Each lunge of the leg was met with a 50/50 chance of losing your boot and/or dislocating your hip bone. Drinking while walking was nigh on impossible and if you did happen to get lost (like I did one afternoon while off on a gentle perigrination), things could turn pretty intense. I suppose that’s what cider is for. And the Samaritans.


…and the Meateasy…


…and places like this. They sold Swan Chunks and Tinned Squirrels…but also black cherry Jim Beam. I became a bit of a fan.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed with the food on offer at Glasto. After being in this game for a while you can see through jaunty looking vinyl banners in an instant. Many of them belie a world of pre-cut, pre-cooked, frozen soulless ease backstage. Of course there were those I already knew – Wholefood Heaven, Salad Days, Stewed & Baked, Asian Grub Foundation, Caribbean Kitchen etc etc – all wonderful operations. And those mentioned above – love them to bits. The best discovery, food-wise, of the week was found over the strip from us in a giant taupe coloured wig-wam and my friend Jared of Neil’s Yard was at the helm.

Sorry about the blurring but the general idea is MEAT, great big hunks of it, smoked overnight in their enormous great smoker. Shoulder, brisket, flank, ribs, loin in beef and pork and served with real baked beans, amazing coleslaw, pickles, buns and BBQ sauce. It was their first time doing this and was in cahoots with a local organic farm. It was chaotic and by-the-seat-of-its-pants but, compared to so many of those well-oiled catering behemoths every which way elsewhere, it was food that tasted PROPER.

I don’t know what’s happened to all the pics of the food I should’ve taken – probably subject to my staggering around half-cut on bourbon, burrito fumes and heavy sides of mud!

Glasto, I love you and can’t wait to return….

The Everybody Love Love Express comes to Loughborough Junction

12 Nov

…or in other words:

..is going to be showing his brilliant, rhythmic documentary ‘Street Food Kolkata – Why Not’ at the tucked-away-and-fairly-secret Whirled Cinema in Loughborough Junction this Sunday and Monday.

The award winning film takes you on a day in the life of Kolkata through the mesmerising sights and sounds of its street food being prepared and eaten. The artistry! The precision! The innovation!

And while your ears and eyes are teased, Mongo Denoons spicy wizardry will find its way to your taste buds. Stalls set up in house will include jhal muri, pulchas, ghugni, channa masala, mango lassi and Bengali chai.

If you haven’t tried the jhal muri yet you’re in for a massive treat. The first time I had it was at a festival in Norfolk a few years ago. As we dragged ourselves around searching for something, anything, that might help us feel human again there was Angus – wandering through the walled garden with a tray full of ingredients atop his head.

What he then prepared for us was our salvation. Every mouthful of that tangy, crunchy, lime-injected spice fest worked like an army in restoring us to full capacity. Now you too can know what heaven in a paper cone feels like – and see the inspiration from where it came.

Street Food Kolkata at The Whirled Cinema, 259 Hardess St, Loughborough Junction (by Brixton), SE24 0HN.

Food, film, delight – £15 all-in.

2.30 – 6.30 on Sunday and 7.30 – 10.30 on Monday evening “same deal but more of a Monday feel”.