The growing trend in street food is hard to deny. Wander down the high street or into a square in any of Britain’s towns or cities and it’s there. The quirky eye candy of huge paella dishes, weird stalls (think converted old cars, milk vans, crates, oil drums, antique ice-cream carts), open BBQs, billowing steam and divine aromas: they’re all part of the street food appeal.
The rise of street food
A curious combination of the more discerning foodie and a global recession that pushed chefs out of high-rent restaurants forced caterers to rethink both their access to the food lovers and their overheads. The result was stripped back menus of a couple of excellent dishes that mimicked the street-food vendors in India and Asia and the homecooked meals of our European neighbours.
British food lovers convincingly turned their backs on the late-night British doner van and low-grade bacon butties in laybys.
International street food
In the last decade, since the first British Street Food Awards in 2010, there’s been a massive turn towards street food. People now flood in their thousands every day (or at least a couple of times a week) to street-food traders for lunch, shaking off the Subways, McDonalds and cheap fast-food outlets. Instead, they go for slow-cooked, homemade meals and innovative fusions of Caribbean, South American, Chinese and Japanese dishes done right.
And the food is fantastic. It’s authentic and different, designed for an audience that simply loves food. It’s for people who want something to spice up their lunch and take them on a taste-bud adventure before heading back to the office.
Street food wins
Because street-food dishes are easy to cook in bulk and relatively cheaply, vendors can afford to charge a competitive price for well-cooked meals and still make a profit. And because the meals don’t break the bank, the consumer wins, too. But really street-food wins.
Street food is not mainstream, it has personality and theatre, and it draws people in. The smiling vendor, ready to chat about the cooking, the dish, the journey, adds to the experience.
And in a country where sustainable, local and fresh are increasingly high in people’s minds, everything about street food stalls is right. When Sue of Sue’s Sweet and Sour is loading fresh-cooked, homegrown food into a compostable container, you know you’re ticking those boxes and doing your bit for the slow revolution.
Retailers jumping on the street-food wagon
You know something is popular when it starts appearing in mainstream supermarkets. A walk down the aisles at Sainsburys, Tesco, Waitrose, Lidl and Aldi reveals a mountain of street-food inspired crisps, ready meals, meal kits and all manner of new and exciting foods that have appeared as a direct response to our love of street food.