Street food is to the food world what Justin Bieber is to the music industry. It’s today’s hottest trend and people all over the world are spending hours outside on the streets waiting to catch a glimpse of the best of it.
But it would be wrong to suggest that street food hasn’t been around for longer than the average age of a ‘Belieber’, the common name given to a Bieber fan. And when you think of street food on a global scale, its longevity is ever more apparent.
In Asia, a huge portion of its culinary delights comprise of street food. In fact, you’d be in danger of being branded a philistine if you classed street food as a ‘trend’, rather than something that is rooted in its cultural fabric. From the floating markets in Bangkok to the sprawling night stalls in Kuala Lumpur, some of the best food is found being sold by street hawkers, and has become as much a part of its culture as it is a part of its history.
Even in the west, street food isn’t exactly a new trend. In America, and particularly California, eating from street vendors is a well-established tradition. In the UK, street food has always been a living, breathing culinary concept. Visit Camden, Brick Lane, Borough and Brixton markets and you’ll be greeted with a throng of street food stalls that have been serving everything from Turkish kebabs to Indian thali for years. And what about the Farmer’s Markets all over the country which is, according to Richard Johnson of the British Street Food Awards, where street food in the UK first originated?
But perhaps it is the food truck movement, one of the biggest trends sweeping North America that we should be watching for clues on where the street food trend will be taking us next.
Food trucks, from pit stop joints to burger vans outside of football stadiums, have been around for many years, but the difference is the quality of the food on offer.
Take Off the Grid, for example, in San Francisco. From slow cooked Peruvian pork and Filipino silog to Vietnamese street food and the Bay Area’s first mobile cupcake truck, Off the Grid is the biggest food craze in San Francisco right now.
The idea is simple: a gathering of gourmet food trucks – 35 and counting – assemble most days in a publicised location within the city, usually Fort Mason Center. Each truck offers something different, serving locals and the visiting gourmets with a mix of world cuisine to a backdrop of live music, washed down with locally brewed ales, smoothies and for those who have saved the best to last, a homemade vanilla crème brûlée.
The food truck movement has certainly parked itself firmly in the UK, too. But to Richard Johnson, it’s shaping into something quite unique. In terms of street food, Richard explains: “We’re not like the Far East because at the moment we don’t have that outdoor cooking culture ingrained. It’s all new [in the UK] and I think we’re doing it very well.
Britain’s outdoor food culture has come along way since the days of WI cake stalls and a hog roast, Richard explains: “It’s not just trestle tables. It’s now tuk tuks and Citroen HM’s [that food sellers are converting]. So many people are renovating vehicles. They’re doing really bright imaginative things with cheap bits of driftwood! It’s all about using your imagination.”
And when it comes to comparing food trucks in the UK with pioneers in the US, Johnson says Brits are far more creative with their vehicles.
British Street Food Awards 2012 winner, Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, is a gourmet ice cream van, which operates from a raspberry-ripple 1998 Ford Transit with gold leaf detail and all the trimmings. Claire’s known for her avant-garde use of camel milk in her ice creams and, for the awards, wowed judges with the imaginative presentation and innovative ingredients of her breakfast ice cream, a toast and marmalade ice-cream on an earl-grey sorbet – wrapped in that morning’s papers and served straight from her van.
And it looks like the next chapter in the street food trend is books. Street food vendors from the US to the UK are conquering bookshelves by publishing cookbooks based on their street food cuisine. In the US, John T. Edge has just won a Gourmand Award for his cookbook The Truck Food Cookbook, whilst Claire Kelsey has released her first book, Melt, and according to Johnson, there are several more street food vendors’ cookbooks to watch out for in the UK this year.
Sites to visit for street food ideas: