My experience of street food started out somewhere in Portobello Market aged nine, harassing my parents for a bratwurst that was the size of my right arm, with ketchup (a necessity for any meal in those days). I believe that same sausage stand is still there, along with a very decent paella stall, two new burger spots (Honest Burger & Boom Burger) and a whole host of other places. I’m glad to say that I have broadened my street food horizons since then, and thanks to the ‘street food revolution’ of the last ten years, I’ve been incredibly well placed to do so.
You may have noticed that your Instagram on a Saturday morning is no longer saturated so intensely by blurry photos of the inside of nightclubs; instead you are greeted by carefully curated plates of food, held at arm’s length and captioned with suitable emojis (serial culprit here). Thankfully, people seem to mildly enjoy my enthusiasm (greed) and very amateur photography. The bigger surprise here though is the shift in how we millennials are choosing to spend our time, and more importantly, money. Increasingly put off by the idea of crowded, dark rooms, and drawn by the promise of tacos, well-made drinks and somewhere to sit, we have found ourselves transitioning from the sticky-carpets of Uni bars to the carefully designed market halls of Street Feast and the like.
These markets are melting-pots, both in terms of the food they offer, and those who attend. They reflect the culture of the city they’re in; the best I’ve been to are in London and Berlin. Markthalle Neun, with its weekly Street Food and Breakfast markets, is a brilliantly eclectic mix, well priced, well designed and great fun. It had a sense of community whilst remaining accessible to people whose grip on the German language was about as strong as my D at GCSE – deemed ‘flattering, if not a miracle’ by my father and headmistress alike. Being able to immerse myself in this local institution was a joy, as was the Korean porridge (congee) that I would likely not have come across if it weren’t for the inclusive food culture of Berlin.
Street food gives small vendors the freedom and opportunity to cook what they like, and what they think you would enjoy. The street food revolution popularised this way of eating which suits millennials who want to ‘try it all’. New indoor food markets now offer a whole array of vendors each selling just the right portion size, so that by working strategically you and your pal can try at least four different things…and then go back and buy your favourite one again. Markets like Brixton Pop, Dalston Yard, The Pit (Edinburgh) and Dinerama (Shoreditch) combine this opportunity with music, a late licence and a rum cocktail bar: there’s little more you could ask from a venue.
So, street food is well and truly here, and in so many different formats that there’s a market for everyone. But what about the quality? Obviously, I cannot speak for every market, but it seems that sheer competition has driven the bar high, where it’s stayed so far. ‘Breddos Tacos’ at Dinerama offer incredible, unconventional, tacos at dangerously reasonable prices. The fried chicken is a firm favourite, but the tuna tostada was the special when I last went, and it was divine. What’s more, these foods don’t just taste good, they are presented to such a standard that you wonder why you’d ever set foot in a restaurant again. Walk ten yards to your left and you can eat super sticky sumptuous brisket at Smokestak, finished with chilliback chasers and cool off in a bowl of ‘You Doughnut’s and ice cream.
I know a lot of people are arsy about street food, claiming it’s all trend and no substance, and I’m sure in some cases this is true. But there’s always going to be someone in your life like that, and if there are also tacos like Breddos to enjoy, then I’m happy to let them hang around.