The dining trend that rejects tables and chairs, and walls, and servers, and, well, restaurants, in favor of casual, al fresco dining in the streets.
Street food has become an important piece of the UK dining landscape. Once defined by late-night hamburgers perhaps, or a quick kebab after the pub, the idea that good, innovative cuisine can come from the trucks and vans and grills of collapsible stalls is now here to stay – and street food has become one of the more interesting, creative, and simply delicious ways to enjoy a meal.
Street food, defined as food “prepared or cooked food sold by vendors in a street or other public location for immediate consumption” has now grown far beyond its humble beginnings. As reported by MCA, the street food market is now a billion dollar industry. Entire festivals are now dedicated to street food across Europe, and awards ceremonies like theBritish Street Food Awardsare adding legitimacy to the trend as well.
Interestingly, it is self-described “foodies” who are most responsible for the shift: Around 30% of those polled recently by Harris Interactive say they order street food often.
The polls also showed the most food-forward demographic as believing –
- Street food is exciting (80%)
- Street food is authentic (78%)
- Street food is high quality (72%)
As described by Richard Johnson, founder of the British Street Food Awards, “…it’s a way of involving a younger generation of people in the country’s food culture at an affordable level, and with a real sense of fun.”
The Cuisines Most Consumed
So what are people eating this summer?
Many classic UK dishes have gotten the street food treatment – fish and chips, Cornish pasties, chips and gravy, scotch eggs, etc. can be found along the roadside. But a larger demand has been for international flavours of immigrant populations made with exotic ingredients previously hard to find. This includes:
Listed as one of the UK’s top trends in the most recent Waitrose Food and Drink report, Indian food is still dominating the spotlight. But it’s nothing like the tikka masala and other items familiar to English pub fare. Instead, handheld items like kati rolls, a wrap made with paratha bread and a choice of spicy filling, and puchkas, semolina shells filled with spiced black chickpeas, potatoes and tamarind, and other authentic dishes have found their way into the hearts and stomachs of diners across the UK.
Mezze might be easy to find in the UK, but Middle Eastern food in general was until recently still relatively uncommon. This is a result of the street food explosion. Lebanese cuisine is leading the charge with items like Samboussek Chicken, small pastries stuffed with pulled chicken, onions, sumac and garlic, and the flat, baked pastry called a Manaee’sh.
UK dining has long benefitted from Mexican cuisine crossing the pond. Now, the rise of Mexican street food means UK consumers are branching out into new and exciting things.
The La Choza street food restaurants in Brighton, for example, serve house-smoked pulled pork. Restaurants like Wahaca, one of the earliest and strongest members of the street food revolution, serves Devon crab & avocado tostada – a blend of classic British and Mexican fare – and award-winning tacos.
Bibimbap, gochujang, and kimchi are items are common. But Korean corn dogs? That’s right. Like the classic American corn dog, the deep-fried Korean version uses sweetened rice flour batter instead of cornmeal as a coating for everything from hot dogs and fish to mozzarella and rice cakes.
The Restaurant Response to the Street Food
Not to be outdone, traditional bricks and mortar restaurants have taken note of the trend. Many are offering their own street food inspired menus. Respected and award-winning restaurants like Dishoom and Wahaca are a few of the more prominent eateries who have come to embrace the flavours and ease of street food, and many restaurants have launched food trucks of their own.
While there was some tension early on with the number of street vendors taking customers away, many restaurants now see this more quick, casual, and often more innovative approach to dining an area of opportunity and growth.
What has become clear is that traditional restaurants and the burgeoning street food vendors can co-exist peacefully on avenues across Europe – offering unique experiences and dynamic dining that will continue changing the way we eat for the better.