Meet the street food traders transforming the takeaway – and try some of their recipes
Sun 19 Jun 2011 00.05 BSTFirst published on Sun 19 Jun 2011 00.05 BST
Simon Luard with his Mexican food truck, Whitecross Street, London EC1. Photographs: Pål Hansen for the Observer
There’s a revolution happening in British food, and it’s happening on the street. Right now some of the most exciting food is being served out of trailers, carts and vintage vans. In 21st-century Britain, we like the idea that the trappings of a dining room are negotiable. Which is why pop-up restaurants and supper clubs are so popular. We want our dining experience to be relaxed.
The street food revolution grew out of the farmers’ market movement, where stalls selling rare breed sausages were sat next to trestle tables heaving with organic rolls. One or two enterprising stallholders realised that the best way to add value to their products was to fry the sausages, stuff them into the rolls and sell them at a premium. A few bright sorts put the tables into vans and got mobile. The street food movement was born.
In a recession, street food makes financial sense. At a time when consumers are cutting back on their restaurant spending, a van serving up fresh and inexpensive lunches and dinners is an easy sell to both public and bank manager. A street food trader can find a van and be ready for business for less than £3,000. And earning – on a good day at Glastonbury – more than £10,000 a day, although £1,000 in a less lucrative pitch is more likely. All cash in hand.
But, like it says in the industry bible (Profitable Mobile Catering by Bob Fox), the street food business isn’t right for everyone. You’ve got to be up early to prep your van. Tyres go flat. And generators die. And that’s before you’ve even left your drive. Then there’s the day and night of physical work. It’s tough.
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But street food is very “now”. Street Kitchen’s Jun Tanaka is a high-end London restaurant chef – the fact that he wants to leave his kitchen and take his food to the streets shows the buzz surrounding street food. Tom Colicchio – the face of TV’s Top Chef in America – has rolled out his ‘Wichcraft sandwich carts in San Francisco and Las Vegas, and restaurateur Danny Meyer has turned his Shake Shack into a New York institution. Other big names want in. Large food chains such as Sizzler, Subway and Tasti D-Lite are all going mobile in the US, and Taco Bell is already out there. Their trucks drive to popular venues, tweet about it, and hand out food for free. In Britain, Jamie’s Italian has already bought a van. And so has Byron, the burger chain. As with any revolution, there are sure to be casualties…