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Mar 30, 2012 10:14 AM

Food trucks and Street Meat website/map

How is the food truck and street meat scene in London??
From reading the **few** threads here, and a few articles elsewhere, it seems it is growing, but not quite like it is in other areas yet.

In NY, we have a fabulous website midtownlunch.com that lists and reviews all the options in that burgeoning scene. It also has a twitter tracker to help folks find the trucks, since they park in different spots every day. There is also newyorkstreetfood.com which rocks, lots of food porn. There are iPad apps for food locators with maps, etc.

Any websites/apps like that in London yet?

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  1. The mobile food operators here tend to be stalls grouped into markets rather than trucks. There are a couple of stalls that I like at various markets. Borough Market, Maltby Street, South Bank are some of the markets that I've been recently to where there are few stalls that are worth a trip. I remember Broadway Market as being pretty good as well but haven't been in a while. Many vendors operate across multiple markets e.g Hoxton Beach Falafels are an excellent stall that is at Charlotte Street on Tuesdays and on Fridays they're at Whitecross Street market. There's a newish market at King's Cross; haven't been, but have been to some of the the same stalls in other markets. Most of these markets have their own websites, listing the vendors for a given day or week.

    1. When you refer to "other areas", I assume you are making an comparision with America, rather than other areas of the UK and Ireland?

      I don't know about London (as I live a couple of hundred miles away) but in my part of the world there is minimal street food opportunities, even in traditional markets. Some of the larger farmers markets tend to have a hot food side - often as an addition to their main food retailing business - so at the monthly one at a town near me, there's hot black pudding and black peas, soup and various sandwiches (tends to be burgers, sausages or a pig or lamb roast). I suppose it may just not be a particularly British sort of thing. However, here's a link to the 2011 Street Food Awards website: http://britishstreetfood.co.uk/the-20...

      Oh, and here's a van that's based only a few minutes walk away. They tend to cater at "events" and I hadnt heard of them until they were featured in the Guardian a week or so back. http://www.babushkasonline.com/. As might be expected from a "young and trendy" foody business based in South Manchester they source their meat from Frosts in Chorlton and bread from the Barbakan.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Harters

        "other areas"...NO! Not necessarily. Remember, NYC's street meat foodie scene has BLOWN UP only in the past few years. There are parts of the world that have excellent street food scenes that will rival sit-down establishments.....for a long, long time. Think Thailand, Vietnam, all over SE Asia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Carribean, South America.....

        Thanks for the links!

      2. I always wonder if these exist because the twitterarti are young and impovorished and have to write about low cost food (in order to fill the void). As the poppularity of the stalls and carts is often driven by on-line reviews i wonder what will happen to the niche when the online fads change? I wonder if we are already seeing the "demise" of street food in London with Pitt Cue and Meat Wagon etc going mainstream an opening restaurants?

        I also wonder if market foid is really street food. Isn't street food all to do with grabbing something goid in the evening on your way home? It isn't really about grazing when you are doing your weekly shop - that just a market stall that sells food, as traditional as the market itself.

        13 Replies
        1. re: PhilD

          go visit Thailand, Vietnam, or even NY, and will you will understand the excitement over street food. I would rather eat a Bun Cha from the street in Hanoi, sitting on a tiny blue stool on the sidewalk, than to blow $300 on a pretentious meal at PerSe in NYC (done and done). That said, luxury dining establishments have their place, but street food, at its best, will knock your socks off. But hell, if you don't believe me, ask Anthony Bourdain, who travels the world to eat food, as his job. Just saying. The whole point is not cheap food on your way home. If you think so, you missed the whole point. The whole point is gourmet food, innovative, without the constraints and limitations of "tradition".

          1. re: chowsue

            As Phil lives in Asia, I suspect that he understands the 'excitement over street food'.

            As a regular Asian visitor, I think what is being said is that street food exists to feed people from nearby offices at lunch, or on the way home between their public transport stop and their apartment. No Thai family thinks, hey, I'll get a taxi across town to that great little duck noodle stall and have dinner there.

            1. re: mr_gimlet

              Can't speak for Thailand, but going to hawker stalls that are far away isn't unusual in Singapore. We do that all the time.

            2. re: chowsue

              I know, right? Tradition has zero place is cooking food -- to hell with technique and recipes!

              I appreciate that street food gives people with limited capital to get into the food trade, but really, working in a van all sounds like absolute hell. In places where street food is part of the landscape (eg Singapore or Thailand) where they serve dishes which wouldn't otherwise be available in restaurants I can get behind eating from a stall.

              As a customer, though, I don't understand why people actually get excited by the fact their food is made in a small enclosed vehicle rather than a kitchen. The only upside for me would be speed, but waiting in a line-up for a burrito on a cold-winter day on Leather Lane doesn't really do much for me when Chipotle/Chilango is heated.

              1. re: brokentelephone

                I've wondered for a long time if the numerous food carts, stalls etc. all over London now have any sort of government inspection for cleanliness, health risks etc. They're certainly in place in restaurants and I remember living somewhere once where the 'offenders' had their name published in the city newspaper.

                1. re: zuriga1

                  I once watched over an (illegal) hotdog stand in Covent Garden while the proprietor went and bought cigarettes. It was my first (and only) foray into illegal dining, and it wasn't as thrilling as it sounds. My then-girlfriend (now wife) got a free hotdog for our efforts, and to say it was disgusting is a disservice to the word disgusting.

                2. re: brokentelephone

                  I don't get the new age food truck thing, but immigrant imported street food trends shouldn't be neglected. For some reason boroughs across London suppress immigrant street food with remarkable fervor. Take Newham as a prime example. High unemployment, low levels of restaurant hygiene across the board, numerous illegal or semi-legal restaurants, etc. In terms of sheer informality, these are areas where you can buy duty free cigarettes almost anywhere and in which aspects of restaurants' produce is literally smuggled in from other countries, but the only way you're ever going to get shut down is if you open an unlicensed cart (though given the bureaucracy in this borough even something as visible as 3+ carts on High Street North took 4 months to shut.)

                  London is not giving people a viable option when it comes to street food. Either more should be done to passively look the other way (as gradually became the case with many of the illegal carts in Queens which sold cheaper things like tamales) or a genuine path should be presented by certain councils which allows for the birth of street food. This has happened to a limited degree through an explosion of indoor chaat stalls in other businesses or within small malls, but even this requires more money.

                  Street food is not necessarily dirty, uncomfortable or unhygienic. I don't get why people go wild over the idea of eating something from a cart or a van (though I used to do that too) but I find it a lot more puzzling as to why street food has such a bad reputation in London. It's becoming increasingly popular here, but it's still being packaged into sanitized market stalls, clusters (like near Goodge St or Waterloo) or food trucks. What makes these settings so much better and "cleaner" than guys setting up pani puri carts in East Ham?

                  1. re: JFores

                    I think people have a sort of naive attraction to food carts in the US, as if they're somehow more authentic than restaurants because a single committed individual has taken the guerrilla approach to following their dreams. Those Korean trucks in LA run by that grad of the CIA further these stereotypes, as if a highly talented chef is stifled in the confines of a restaurant and must take to the streets to break away from the shackles of traditional cooking. I think this is a load of shit!

                    Your recent posts here about the African/Sub-Continental food stands outside of Zone 1 sound exciting because they're an organic response to the lack of £££ and opportunities for many immigrants in London. I would be keen to try them because it sounds like I couldn't get the same sort of food anywhere in London.

                    There are loads of shows in North America about pioneering chefs running food trucks instead of working in kitchens. They almost never look better than food served at sit-down establishments, and more likely than not, seem to be run by bozos who want to jump into the restaurant business but don't actually want to bother cutting their teeth under the tutelage of a real chef.

                    I do, however, want to own a chain of hot-dog carts in London.

                    1. re: JFores

                      JFores - you make good points. I wonder if the authorities stance over food hygene laws could be similar to what I would euphemistically call "the Rochdale effect" where the authorities ignore a problem because they are paranoid about accusations of racism.

                      In the UK street food has a really dodgy reputation because it has a long history of being really dodgy i.e. greasy mystery meat burgers, baked potatos with 100 toppings, and german sausage stalls. It I only very recently that the new carts and food stalls at markets have emerged. I know this may be heresay but but I even think the food at places like Bourgh Market is massively overrated (and expensive)...to me a real example of emperors new clothes syndrome.

                      Is it really that much more expensive to a cafe or restaurant in Brixton Market or take over a underused pub kitchen (The Heron) than fit out a mobile kitchen in a truck or caravan? It clearly doesn't get the same attention (or PR).

                      And a late reply to Chowsue - yes I am pretty familiar with street food across Asia as I live here. And yes I am equally cynical about much of it. Some is very good, but equally some can benefit from serving from more traditional cafes or restaurants. An example, a street Pho is great but nothing like a really deep intense Pho made by a cafe owner who cooks his stock for 12 hours and nurtures the pot from day to day, week to week. I find it interesting that visitors to town (Hong Kong) will rave about the cheap street food but my local colleagues will be far more choosy, they may recognise a few stand-out places but generally prefer more standard restaurants and cafes. The same in India, my colleagues there really turn their noses up at the street stallls and tend to either bring food from home or go to their favoured cafes for lunch.....they thinks I am mad when I ask to be taken to them...!

                      A few street food heroes who where in the vanguard of the new generation of street foid in London are now housed in bricks and mortar restaurants. Why is this....?

                      1. re: PhilD

                        A few street food heroes who where in the vanguard of the new generation of street foid in London are now housed in bricks and mortar restaurants. Why is this....?

                        "Cash rules everything around me, C.R.E.A.M, get the money, dolla dolla billz yaallll"

                        1. re: brokentelephone

                          Much appreciation for the timely Wu Tang reference on CH.

                          The issue is probably more down to profitability. This is straying off actual restaurants, but street food or a truck based approach definitely has some benefits. You will have a lower start up cost, the ability to move if certain areas aren't working for you and more control over what you're actually cooking. In short, its probably good for innovation.

                          Is it a viable business model in the long term? Maybe not? Nonetheless it gets you a lot of publicity and the ability to reach a larger audience in a shorter period of time. It's definitely good for start ups even if many of these start ups view a storefront as their next goal.

                          If you look at immigrant street food its more of a long term situation. They aren't outfitting trucks; the carts that popped up around East Ham were as bare bones as they would be in India. The cost is genuinely close to nil with regulation or the threat of fines probably being the largest potential cost. This is mostly vegetarian snack food so very little is going into food costs. If you're renting a store front or indoor stall then its going to be much harder to make a profit. I've talked about this quite a lot with the owner of the Gujarati snack shop in Fashion Plaza on Green St. He hasn't made anything yet despite serving vastly superior chaat for slightly more money than the rest of the area's vendors. He also regularly sells out of food before closing and has lots of regular customers, but he's still not making any profit. This is largely down to the rent and utilities for his indoorstall. All of the cooking is done and home and yet they have to pay rent and utilities for a tiny shopfront in a row of Indian clothing stores. The owner is trying to find a proper storefront because he doesn't think street food or a shop open to the road (like what Khana Khazana had) is viable.

                          The prejudice against street food within India or China can be very dubious. I'm basing this off a period in China and a lot of contact with Chinese ex pats in London, but the more well-off community largely ignores these places without ever trying them. I was quoting the prices I paid for meals in China to Chinese course mates and they were in disbelief that anything could be that cheap. Similarly it falls into a desire to imitate a faux Westernism that's popular. I don't really look at it as a rejection of the quality of street food. Instead it's like someone was looking at a Yelp review where the food was given a 9-10, but the interior and service were straight 0s. It's not about the food. It's a setting that certain people find uncomfortable.

                          Kitchen size is also hard to attack. Kitchens are almost always small and they're never comfortable. The kitchen at Thattukada is probably between the size of 2 or 3 food truck kitchens. It's tiny. It just reduces what you can actually knock out. This isn't that big a deal for most of the Indian mini-businesses that I eat at as the chaats they assemble are pre-cooked, cold or only require a microwave. On the other hand, the Indonesian place that Limster and I went to recently would practically fall into the same categories and it's dead in the center of London. It's a decent sized stall in a mall, but the preparation area is easily 1/3 the size of a street truck kitchen. Most of the items are pre-cooked with the soups being assembled to order. This is similar to Indian places which are largely just heating prepared dishes or assembling cold ones. If those are the dishes you want to serve and you can prepare aspects of them in advance then you should not lose any quality because you're in a truck, a stall or a tiny shopfront in a mobile phone store.

                          1. re: JFores

                            I am guessing that food stalls in China/India may be on the "food poisoning" end of the hygiene spectrum, and are thus generally avoided by most people who can afford to eat elsewhere.

                            I think making money off food is hard graft as it is, but I cant imagine anyone is getting rich off of food trucks, unless you own multiple trucks.

                        2. re: PhilD

                          Re yr. last sentence - You mean Meatwagon? He was backed by a bar owner to open up MeatLiquor etc. who saw the ££ I suppose. And Pittcue? I guess working out in all weathers is not very appealing.

                3. Some websites you may find useful:

                  Eat Street - Petra has her own van (ChocStar) and is a huge driving force in the UK street food movement. She runs the Eat St market at King's Cross. The website has a good list of traders.

                  London Street Foodie - a relatively new site but some useful trader info and a good start at a street food map. (These are always tricky to keep up to date...

                  Hackney Homemade food market - http://www.hackneyhomemade.com/

                  london-eating's twitter list of street food vendors. Well worth following as this is often the quickest way to find out which vendors are out and about.

                  Real Food Market, Southbank. Some nice producers and hot street food to take away. Great if you're doing stuff on Southbank (London Eye, Aquarium, just wandering).

                  Borough Market - London's most popular and famous food market. Very busy at weekends but still worth a visit. Some lovely produce from the UK and beyond, as well as hot street food.

                  Do also check out Whitecross Street market (if you're in the area), the Sunday UpMarket (Brick Lane), Exmouth Market, Brixton Market. In fact, you will find some form of street food at a lot of weekend markets in London now.

                  A few vendors you might like: Pizza Pilgrims, currently dishing out pizza from a van in Soho; Big Apple Hot Dogs, which honestly rival those I've had in the USA; Lucky Chip (burgers); the Meatwagon (burgers/cheesesteaks/etc, now a restaurant - MeatLiquor - but will be 'touring' again this summer); Banhmi 11 (Viet street snacks); Anna Mae's (Southern/BBQ); The Rib Man; Yum Bun....

                  And that's just for starters!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: PigsOnTour

                    Bob's your Uncle!
                    Thanks for the great info. :-)

                    1. re: chowsue

                      If you want to check out the Southbank food market near Waterloo (real food festival website above) , it's worth visiting their website first to see what's on that particular week. I went past there last Friday and it was an Indian festival and nothing else was being sold. If one didn't like that cuisine, they were out of luck.

                  2. Not strictly "street" but I'm surprised that London based board members never mention the various food stalls at Greenwich Market. Unfortunatley, we had already eaten lunch on our last touristy trip to the capital so didnt get to try them - but they looked good.