The London food scene really comes alive in the summer; restaurants tout a more colourful and bountiful larder to play with, and the story on the streets is no different. London has truly embraced street food culture, taking direction from the food trucks of Los Angeles and New York, to the bustling markets of Asia. And their popularity is spreading swiftly all across Britain.
Street food has become a very influential part of London food culture, with designated spots becoming main stays, as well as street food event organisers creating pop-up locations. Urban Food Fest located in a Shoreditch car park on Saturday evenings emulates the night markets of Asia, Street Feast takes base in Dalston Yard on Fridays and Saturdays right past midnight, whilst KERB operates in multiple locations depending on the day of the week.
However, the story of street food has had to come a long way to get to where it is now. Gone are the days of dodgy burgers and hot dogs and discoloured ice lollies from the Mr. Whippy van. Britain has championed the use of artisanal products, fresh produce and ingredients with traceable provenance. Grass-fed and additive free beef patties, brioche buns with organic salad garnishes and home-made dressings; the burgers being sold from food trucks today are of an entirely different calibre to what was served in days gone by.
Today’s street food selection has gone far above and beyond the staples available. It has become an opportunity to showcase more international flavours to the public. London food trucks now serve anything and everything from modern Mexican, to organic free-range buttermilk fried chicken, authentic Thai, meltingly tender smoky barbecue, to light and fluffy hirata buns. The choices are endless.
Street dining has also re-encouraged communal eating. Some of the more permanent locations have given rise to sheltered seating areas of long communal tables and benches, allowing strangers to share a conversation whilst chowing down on a variety of international delights.
Brits are getting involved in street food in big way, supporting it by eating it and also serving it. Street food has developed its own subculture and become a melting pot for business minded foodies to test the waters and bring regional dishes or personal favourites to a wider audience. Many have used it as a stepping stone to garner interest in their products and to gain a loyal following before setting up shop in a more permanent location. A prime example being Thom and James Elliot of the Pizza Pilgrims.
The food journey for the Elliot brothers started out as a charming three-wheeled food truck serving oven-fresh pizzas from the wood fired oven they had burning in the back of their van on Berwick Street market in Soho. Now the Pizza Pilgrims have opened up a 53 seater pizzeria taking permanent residence on Dean Street, just minutes away from where it all began.
Others however, have come from more professional backgrounds to explore the world of street food, as they are aware that it will likely be influential to their own arena in the professional kitchen. Classically trained chefs like Ben Spalding and Jun Tanaka have both run street food businesses, with Tanaka’s Street Kitchen being a popular draw now available in three London locations.
As the summer plays host to the major food festivals; Taste, Feast and the Good Food Show , there will undoubtedly be crossovers between what is trendy on the streets to what the restaurants are doing. Michel Roux Jr. might not be serving his dishes from behind a food truck window any time soon; however he will be appearing at the Taste of London festival doing demonstrations in a more similar setting than one might think.
Where can the best street food stalls be found?