Ambulant food vendors are credited with nothing less but inventing restoration: they appeared centuries ago, transforming the concept of grabbing a bite when home is far and time is limited into a worldwide phenomenon. Pizza was invented as a street food; Ancient Greeks would sell small fried fish to the passengers while Chinese immigrants are the ones who introduced ramen to Japan, as the official street food of the working class.
While in countries like Thailand or Singapore, street food has been an everyday life phenomenon for big part of their history, the West has often thought of wheeled meals as an emergency solution of doubting quality. At least this is how people in the cities would define anything that was cooked in a car until a couple of years ago, but a recent street food phenomenon has arrived to change the order of things.
Gourmet street eats are a growing attraction across several world capitals. In the US, there are countless websites and walking tours addressing both the locals and the tourists towards the country’s finest grabs on the road. Sophisticated, wired vendors as www.delpopolosf.com, www.schnitzelandthings.com, www.khaomangai.com and www.eatcoolhaus.com are delighting everyone from epicureans to Hollywood stars with their wide offer of great food. Some of them are going far too creative, like the cupcake ATM of www.sprinkles.com. Thousands of fans stay informed through their favourite ambulant chef’s tweets and pics, while glossy features and food festivals are never missing from the agenda.
Each city has adopted the street food phenomenon with a different style: in chic Paris for instance, Tiffany Iung delivers homemade sandwiches straight from the basket of her vintage bike while Enrique Zanoni and Gaston Stivelmaher prepare delicious ice-cream empanadas on a beautifully remodelled, Buenos Aires-style Carrito, which is the latest addition to their brick and mortar restaurants.
The city that more warmly embraced this street food revolution before anyone else is London. There Petra Barran, a veteran of the kind and owner of the much-publicized Choc Star van, has recently launched www.kerbfood.com, a platform that makes UK’s cities taste better by giving visibility to some of Britain’s finest street food. Websites, events and tweet feeds like londonstreetfoodie, foodhawkers or StreetFeastLDN are also doing a great job with keeping street food adventurers informed regarding the finest bites across the country. More than any of their American equals, London’s gourmet vans are strongly conceptual and eye-catching: www.gurmetti.com ‘s Giacomo Bia, a purebred Italian known for his iconic sandwiches and moustache, prepares his popular grabs with the finest ingredients of his mother country. For instance Italy’s most famous butchery, Dario Cecchini, is among Gurmetti’s venerated suppliers.
Founded about a year ago, the very elegant vinn-goute is the first street food venture in London serving Seychelles-inspired dishes while thebowleruk grills the most delicious meatballs in town on The Lawn Ranger, an impossible not to notice, grass fed van.
In quite a few cases contemporary street chefs have transformed their businesses into a destination. Many of them are culinary visionaries, they have style and in some cases they are even good entrepreneurs. Using the cheapest thing one can find to cook in legally, they create food experiences in the easiest way possible. Some have written books, invented new culinary concepts (check out www.rainbofood.com’s charity van) and in some cases, invented strong brands.
A good example? After earning a cult status for its pop-up initiatives and epically proportioned burgers, Yianni Papoutsis’s www.themeatwagon.co.uk has expanded towards a permanent direction: the MEATLiquor restaurant in London’s Marylebone.