The term ‘Street food’ relates to a relatively new concept in the UK. It has various influences and inspirations, however, it is generally considered to be artisan food sold on the streets, or more accurately, not served from restaurants or café’s.
The term probably came from America, where for several years the food truck craze has been steadily growing into a sizable industry. Many of the UK’s first street food traders took inspiration from the American food trucks for the food they serve, cooking methods, marketing (especially social media) and to a degree attitude.
American streetfood followed a back to basics approach to popular dishes. Re-inventing the ‘classics’ by stripping down the dish to it’s core ingredients and then re-designing it using improved cooking methods and ingredients. If a hot dog can taste good with cheap re-constituted meat, preservatives and whatever else the industrial producers add to their products, how much more flavour could you pack in if you used great cuts of meat, and taste rather than cost price or as your key motivator? While they can never compete with the fast food chains on price or marketing budget, they could compete on taste.
Street food is eaten by 2.5bn people per day across the world (food and agriculture organisation of the UN). Globally street food is workers food, affordable snacks and meals served by street hawkers usually using fresh local ingredients to create popular local dishes. In the developing world, fresh and local ingredients are the most accessible and affordable. For many western travellers, the aroma’s, flavours and sheer theatre of food prepared on the roadside provided inspiration for much of the food available on Britain’s streets today.
The multi-cultural nature of British society has also enhanced the development of street food in the UK. The catering industry has traditionally been one of the most accessible to people moving to the UK as can be seen in the popularity of Chinese food, indian curries, and kebabs from Turkey or Greece. Often immigrants to the UK will cook dishes from their country of origin enhancing the culinary culture of our nation. In the multicultural cities of the UK many of the street food traders cook food from their or their parents’ homeland.
The dishes served on the streets have often been equivalents to street food sold in the home nation; you are more likely to see Dosas, Chaat or Jhal Muri than chicken tikka masala, or banh mi rather than Pad Thai.