Can British street food ever Be the same as it is abroad?
And do we want it to be?
Across the developing world, street food is the food of the people, it is affordable, based on the products in season and at hand in the locale (as much due to cost and accessibility).
Whether that's Caribbean Roti’s , Indian Jhal Puri, Mexican Burritos or West African Jallof, the traders go to where the workers are to sell their wares and restaurants remain the preserve of the wealthy.
The problem with the world food model in the UK is that we have systems, laws and byelaws in place to protect the public and rate paying businesses.
The levels of food hygiene in the UK and the rest of the developed world are, unsurprisingly, far higher than the developing world, most EHO’s would have a heart attack if they saw food served without hand washing next to an open sewer etc.
We have only to look at the infamous London Hot Dog seller to see street food at its worst.
No hygiene certificates, no hand wash facilities, no refridgeration, no toilet facilities, poor quality produce kept in the worst possible way, not to mention the explosive risk of these carts which flout any kind of UK or European safety standards
Is this what we really want, because if we de-regulate street trading without control this is what its going to revert to.
One recent investigation of a London hot dog even found what was thought to be a bottle of cooking oil was actually full of urine.
The British public also expect a certain level of food hygiene – it’s not good business sense to give your customers food poisoning.
American style street food, where traders develop their own styles of food or re-invent ‘classics’ such as the burger or burrito, mastering the techniques required to create the ultimate version, or tweaking the original to come up with something interesting, different and tasty.
The itinerant street traders in the states often use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to stay in touch with customers and let them know where they’ll be at a given time. They pay no pitch fees and just turn up and trade, but that’s in America where small businesses are seen as a vital part of the economy and in many ways, a prime example of the American dream…this is not so much the case in the UK.
The meatwagon has successfully learned from and harnessed the best of what American street food is, however, they have done this either by working on private land such as pub car parks or industrial estates. There have been problems in America too, a street trader was banned in St Louis last year, as a council representative said at the time:
"The vendors make the neighborhoods come alive. We want that kind of activity," But, he added, "We don't want an ice cream truck in front of a Baskin-Robbins. Those bricks-and-mortar people pay taxes."
American style street food and their street food scene cannot exist in the UK under current conditions without traders breaking the law, Is it worth getting a fine or your unit crushed, as recently happened to an Ice cream van trading ‘illegally’ in Camden.
However, it is worth noting that even the council that banned the trader recognised value in what they did, surely this is the best angle to convince council’s in the UK to open up certain areas for street trading as a tourist and leisure attraction and a benefit to the city or town. If argued properly, fine food markets could be a low cost, low effort means for local councils to regenerate areas and bring in outside money through tourism and improving the profile of the area.
Its great to see the street trading revolution actually happeneing in the UK but if you are thinking of setting up your own streetfood business be sure to take the necessary precautions - See our 10 point check list