The rise of street food: How independent vendors are overtaking fine dining
Street food has become increasingly popular during the pandemic, and we can see why!
Is there really anything better than a burger or hotdog after watching a sports game to soak up the multiple pints of lager in your tummy? The smell of the onions frying, the large industrial bottles of ketchup, and mustard on the side?
Okay, so it may not be relatable for everyone, and it's certainly not the most refined type of street food (although this doesn't make it any less delicious), but there is just something about eating good food outdoors, with friends, family, or even solo, and just watching the world bustle on past you.
Turns out, it's a pretty popular opinion. Business Gateway published a Market Report for the street food sector, finding that mobile food stands’ share of industry revenue (4.1% of the takeaway and fast food industry) is expected to have risen from 2013 to 2018. The report illustrated that, "50% of consumers are buying street food at least once a week and 64% are happy to spend more than the average lunchtime spend (£5 in UK) on street food. 72% like the variety of flavours in street food."
Although there have been no market reports done over more recent years, it doesn't take much to see that street food is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. Over the last year alone, many venders have partnered up with larger companies to organise outdoor street food events to keep business afloat. Even traditional restaurants have braved the change, becoming chameleons and adapting their menus and business plans to cater for covid-safe pop-up dining.
Safe AND tasty!
The National Catering Association (NCASS) said "We are seeing restaurants being encouraged to open outdoors as part of Al Fresco Britain, with local authorities, expected to enable both mobile and fixed premises opportunities in this new reality. We expect to see street food trends soar in 2021.”
What is our safest, and at times, only option to socialise and eat out with our friends and family has introduced a lot of street food newbies to a whole new world of dining, and they're loving it. Street food is usually cheaper than restaurant dining (depending where you go, obviously) and it allows people to get a little taster of everything – kind of like a vendor to vendor tapas-style experience.
Street food allows people to get their hands on food that's freshly prepared in front of them, support independent businesses and explore different cuisines in their most authentic form. Not to mention it's also incredibly fun! Trying new foods, wandering around pop-ups and stalls with your friends and family is a day out in its own right, and it's a social construct that goes back further than you might think.
Just a lil' bit of history
A product of urbanisation, street food has been dated back to the small fried fish that were served on the streets of ancient Greece. In ancient Rome, street food was consumed by over half of the population, especially by the poor who didn't have the means to cook their own food.
Street food was also incredibly cheap: in China it was initially created to feed the poor, and wealthy urban residents would send their servants to the venders to bring back food and snacks. Even more prevalent in India, street food was and still is the main source of income for a lot of people and families, from mobile tuk-tuk vendors to static street stalls.
The origins of street food from culture to culture has shaped our knowledge of different cuisines from all over the world. As the years (very many of them...) have passed, it's been a hot minute since the days of eating chickpea soup from a street vendor in ancient Rome. Travel and trade have become so pivotal in our day to day lives that as our global knowledge has grown it has given us the access to the food of a traditional Indian family, or Mexican (the list goes on) right on our doorsteps. Literally, it's on our streets!
To be able to eat this authentic cuisine, and socialise with our friends and the chefs behind our meals, listening to their stories, really is a beautiful thing.
So, if you haven't yet tried street food, or don't know where to go for it, here is a shortlist of some of the best street food markets and events across the UK.
1. Borough Market, London
Okay, so as you can probably imagine, it was pretty hard to choose just one place that excels in street food in London. However, Borough Market is kind of the real MVP, and it's one of the oldest most established markets in London, going back to at least the 12th century. There is so much variety that it's borderline overwhelming – ranging from Middle-Eastern Meze and cocktails to French patisserie and grilled seafood tortillas, to Taiwanese bao buns.
Borough Market also hosts independent retailers of meats, wines, cheeses, fruit and veg and all things in between six days a week. Partly under cover and open air, it's one of the largest in London, and is on the to-do list for any foodie exploring the city. Take note – the vendors aren't always there everyday, so it's best to plan your visit a little to avoid any disappointment. See more about Borough Market here.
Welcome to Borough Market: a historic market in central London with an emphasis on high quality food, sustainable production and social connection
2. Depot: Street Food Social, Cardiff
Image credit: @DepotCardiff on Facebook
There have been a smattering of street food events popping up around Cardiff over recent years, the OG being The Depot Street Food Social. established in 2015, The Depot was the first street food event in Cardiff, housing a small but mighty variety of traders from across the UK. The Street Food Social is a ticket-only event, ranging from £10-15 per ticket with a variety of cuisines and a fully licensed bar.
One of the most famous venders to appear at the event is Brother Thai. The Thai roti specialists have set up shop from Cardiff to Bristol, and have recently got permanent residence on Whitchurch Road, Cardiff. See more about The Depot: Street Food Social here.
3. Harbourside Market, Bristol
Image credit: Facebook @HarboursideMarketBristol
Based in the modern and fashionable harbour, The Bristol Harbourside Market is yet another reason to visit this bright and relaxed part of the city. Open Wednesday and Thursday 12-2pm and Saturday and Sunday 11-4pm, the market hosts up to 10 of Bristol's best street food vendors.
In classic Bristol style, The Harbourside Market know how to celebrate a scenic spot, with live music and up and coming DJs setting that chilled out ambience. You can grab a plate and a pint, sit on their benches, or find a sunny spot around the harbour and just take in the atmosphere.
Relaxed and wholesome, it's street food done right. See more about Bristol Harbourside Market here.
4. Exeter Street Food, Devon
Image credit: Facebook @ExeterStreetFood
Exeter Street Food is a pop-up event that takes place at three different locations in Exeter. Southernhay Gardens, The Quay and Piazza Terracina host the award-winning event on different Fridays of the month between May and September, hosting a variety of different street food vendors with a focus on local produce.
Although The Quay location will not be hosting the event this year, both Southernhay Gardens and Piazza Terracina have got some events in the line-up as we enter a post-lockdown summer.
Southernhay Gardens, open every last Friday of the month from 12-8pm boasts a range of street food venders from wood-fired pizza to Mexican tacos and their very own Exeter Gin bar.
The Piazza is a night market that runs every third Friday of the month, boasting fresh local street food, local musicians, artists and even the local salsa school. See more about Exeter Street Food here.
5. Edinburgh Food Festival, Scotland
Image credit: @EdinburghFoodFestival on Facebook
One of the biggest events of the year, Edinburgh Food Festival is a free event hosting a huge range of professional chefs, classic vendors, and local brews since 2014.
With one of the most diverse ranges of street food cuisine, from Hawaiian poke bowls to fresh Scottish sea food, there is something for everyone at this lively and established event, located in George Square Gardens.
The event welcomed over 35,000 visitors in 2019, and has hosted huge names in the food industry such as Carina Contini, Shirley Spear, Tom Lewis, Guy Grieve and Neil Forbes.
See more about Edinburgh Food Festival here.