Tag Archives: British Street Food Awards

What is street food?

1 Sep

That is the question.

I was interested to see what a vitriolic response Richard Johnson‘s ‘neocolonialist’ Guardian article on the subject incited the other day.

It seems that the subject of eating on the curbside carries with it all sorts of strong beliefs about food, culture and the rest of society at large. A longer conversation between Johnson and I ensued. He was mystified by how people could feel so strongly against some of his slicker British Street Food Award finalists. “I just believe in good food” he offered. “Me too”, I replied, “and I don’t believe that a stall/van/cart needs to be cutesy and twee-ified in order to be great”. “But I like pretty”, he argued, “I think a bit of bunting goes a long way”.

But a long way to what? And for whom?

Similarly, a journalist expressed an interest in my take on what street food is last week. Upon telling him, he seemed surprised. ‘That’s not a take I’ve yet heard from the others I’ve been speaking to”. I asked to know what the others had said, whereupon he quoted the following statement:

Street food is about bringing restaurant quality food to the masses.

Oof! I floated this theory on Twitter and people were by turns, confused, horrified, incredulous.

Honestly, I don’t give a damn about bunting. Nothing wrong with the stuff and we even have some of our own eat.st branded, but it plays absolutely no part in my appreciation for the food or the stories behind that of those I consider to be truly flying the flag for its outside slinging. And to think that the twee needs to be implemented in order to soften the blow of the undeniable ‘challenge’ of street food to certain paletes is worrying. Johnson has coined this the ‘street food revolution’, full of pioneers pushing the boundaries of taste and adventure. My fear is that his may be a manicured revolution that, far from being about pushing the limits of what exists, must conform to all that is already accepted and safe.

But it’s important, during these high times of ‘street-food’ mania where the very term is threatened by parody and tokenism, that we advance in a useful way. Then we can talk about progression in Britain’s food culture and a possible revolt of that which has been before. Good food being made available to any and everyone – however it comes – by appearing more consistently on our streets and in our public spaces. Now that would be a move towards the radical for Britain’s rather blurry foodscape.

For me, this is about the battle against the bland, about a dismissal of the exclusive and how food served in public contributes to the mental well-being of a city. And it’s also about the amazing traders who slog their guts out to bring the public something worth queuing for. Take Mark here…

A Hammer-loving ex-butcher from Hornchurch who was the fastest de-boner on his team. Then an accident prevented him from continuing, and so he turned to cooking meat and slinging it just down the road on Brick Lane.

The guy is on the strip from 3am every Sunday, slow-cooking those ribs and serving them until he sells out. He smothers those suckers with a homemade scotch bonnet sauce and hands them over in a foil-lined bag.

When I ploughed through mine I became so wrapped up in them that they were gone before I’d clocked it. Lips singing with BBQ sauce heat and fingers sticky with pork shrapnel, after that I became a Rib Man fan and signed him up to the eat.st family. Off he went to the football…

…and off I went to explore Stratford (Brother in the Land-of a place), glad that London has Mark.

I resist the temptation to define, categorically, what street food is and welcome the opposing views on it. Are we growing this thing or what? If you have anything to say, I want to hear it – so that it might stop being called a ‘trend’ and start being thought of as an integral part of our urban fabric and important evolution in our food culture.

Find The Rib Man HERE

Look for him at The Thames Festival (10-11 Sept) by St Katherine’s Dock

The British Street Food Awards take place at Harvest at Jimmys, 9-12 Sept – Here’s wishing all the finalists the very best of luck.


Street Food Revolution

10 Jul

Back in October of last year, a few of us had congregated in the car park of Brent Cross shopping centre. It seemed like a good idea at the time: thousands of weekend shoppers would result in a bustling street food market for all if only a fraction of them filtered out to the well-worn tarmac. Unfortunately the psychology of the mall shopper is not such that it would follow on for them to break out of indoor mode and chain restaurants to get wet outside. It bombed. But like all disastrous events it gave all the traders a good opportunity to catch up with each other and eat loads of each others food.

Richard Johnson, creator of the British Street Food Awards, was damned if he was going to let the ship sink so he appropriated an A-board and tried his hand at sign-writing. Seeing him struggling with the look and feel I waded in with my bright chalk pens – which I usually do this with:

…and offered to help. I can’t say that this soon got the car park party hopping and the mall-rats darting out looking for outdoor deliciousness, but it did prompt Johnson to ask me if I’d like to do something similar for his upcoming book on British street food. I was delighted to be asked – and then when I found out that Jake Tilson would be designing it I was all over it like gravy.

My handwriting would be turned into the title font for the book and I was asked to supply various versions of different titles, as well as different versions of the alphabet. Over and over I wrote it all…

…and then posted on to Jake for him to weave his magic on Photoshop. The end result is throughout the book, as well as being on the front cover:

And that’s all lovely. But the real thrill of the book is the stories that it unearths of the personalities behind many of Britain’s favourite ‘mobilers’. Johnson probes into everyone’s history to work out what made them list towards this world of uncertainty and itinerancy. When he interviewed me for the section on Choc Star I mused on how this industry attracts gamblers and free-wheelers – because you can never be sure whether you’re going to smash it or bomb it. This in turn creates a feisty, gung-ho lot – and certainly the inspiration for us having started eat.st.

If you’re curious about the street trading life – or a fan of the food you’ve had on them there pavements, head to Amazon to buy it and get deep into those recipes – from Healthy Yummies’ unbelievable pan-seared scallops to my never before released ultra fudge brownie recipe. Other eat.st traders featured in it include , The Meatwagon, Banh Mi 11, Ca Phe VN, Churros Bros, Creperie Nicholas, and Lulabelle’s.

Great pics, great stories, amazing recipes and all poured into a highly mobile size. We love it and are proud to be included.

The British Street Food Awards

8 Sep

It’s all happening this weekend down in Ludlow. Seven of our traders will be shaking things up good and proper over in Shropshire as they compete in the first ever British Street Food Awards.

How far Richard Johnson has come! From a phone conversation I remember having with him almost a year and a half ago where he floated the idea, to the Whitecross Street launch, a visit to last year’s Ludlow Food Festival and now a whole two day bonanza of the best curbside cuisine going.

It should be a winner. If you’re going then make sure to try the delights of our eat.st members:

Banh Mi 11 – proper Vietnamese Banh Mi

Brewed Boy – using Square Mile coffee, donning a flat cap and tweeds and with one of my favourite street food blogs on the block.

Ca Phe VN – going for several years, British husband and Vietnamese wife team flying the VN flag for coffee and sandwiches.

Daddy Donkey – dangerous burritos. Hold tight!

Healthy Yummies – we met them in a field at Camp Bestival last year and now they’re blowing up the film-set catering world

Jamon Jamon – paella powered by the force of dynamic Nick Friedman

The Meatwagon – who hasn’t heard of Yianni and his super patties by now? We predict big things for him this weekend.

Fire it up ladies/fellas!

Richard Johnson drops in.

12 May

Here’s a little vid that I shot with British street food champion Richard Johnson a while ago. Food journalist, Johnson, set up the Awards last year and has been visiting traders across the land to better get to know this world of flogging good food on the street.

If you have a favourite trader who you think deserves to be recognised for their tasty offerings and the spicing up of your day then go HERE to vote for them.