Street food is the new haute cuisine in London, and Cardiff is now getting in on the action. But don’t expect silken tablecloths and finger bowls. This culinary revolution is all about cardboard plates, disposable cutlery and messy hands.
It is called street food, and the movement has already been causing quite a stir in other cities around the UK. Cardiff Street Food launched last month with its first Street Food Festival.
Cardiff residents flocked to the event, which was held at the Mackintosh Sports Club and Community Centre in Roath. Traders, who could not have been able to predict the popularity of the event, were knocked off one by one as they sold out of all their wares.
Live music and onsite preparation of food lent an element of theatricality to the event, a feature which has contributed to the popularity of the movement in both London and Bristol.
A revolution brewing
While this event was first run as an experiment, its overwhelming popularity means that Deri Reed, who set up Cardiff Street Food, has already set the date for the next event. The Street Food Christmas Market will take place on the 15 December.
There will also be a relaunch in the spring, where the company will announce their plans for the forthcoming year.
Deri said that he is responding to feedback from the last event to make the Christmas market bigger and better: “We’ve got a few plans to link up with some big movers in the music industry, and we’re looking at different venues, different pitches and different vendors as well. We have a big base of people that we can call upon to do different events.”
The logistics of street food
Cardiff Street Food is not the first company to create a coherent movement of street vendors in a city. It is not just about finding the location. Setting up as a trader poses all sorts of challenges on which an umbrella organisation can provide guidance.
Darren Hall set up Dee’s Kitchen this year, selling his home cooked Jamaican and American food in East London. Having already changed careers from draughtsman to account manager, he was aware of the difficulties that can accompany starting up in a new industry, but he admits that he was still taken aback by the logistics of setting up as a street food vendor.
He said, “You think it’s just going to be a case of cooking some food, turning up and selling it, but then you realise there’s actually a lot more to it than that: getting registered as a trader, getting your food hygiene certificate, having your health and safety inspections, which are obviously quite daunting.”
This is something that an organising body can help with. Navina Bartlett, who runs the StrEAT Food Collective in Bristol, said: “I’ve coached a couple of people from literally the idea stage and helped them with where they can get local produce, where they can get equipment, what they need to do, where they need to register, all that kind of thing.”
Navina, who has run coordinated 18 events through StrEAT this year, was at the Cardiff Street Food Festival running her own stall, Coconut Chilli. She was optimistic about Cardiff’s potential to emulate the popularity of the movement in Bristol.
She said, “It was very well organised, nice vibe, everyone was happy with the food, so yes it was good. This is the first year street food has taken off outside of London and I don’t why there can’t be hotspots all over the UK.”
The Ethics of Street Food
Deri himself trades under his alter-ego The Ethical Chef, where he encourages sustainable and thoughtful consumption. It is not surprising, therefore, that he has used his street food company to promote high ethical standards within the street food business.
He says: “We have a few vendors that have made a real effort to source locally, including myself, Embassy Café, Fired Up Feasts and Get Ffresh. So we’ve got a few traders for whom it’s important to be supporting the local economy.
“In our terms and conditions we are telling all vendors that we recommend them to be using local sources, recyclable material and taking their waste home with them.”
While there is nothing to enforce these conditions, it is a system that regulates itself. Deri explains that if the food is better quality and more ethical, he will be more likely to take the trader along to festivals and events.
Abiding with the ethos of Cardiff Street Food opens up a number of opportunities to vendors. Deri admits: “Maybe a vendor might get a permanent spot in a car park in an industrial estate, but what I’d like to think is that we’re offering more than that. We’ll be able to take them to fantastic festivals and events and take them to the people rather than them trying to bring all the people to themselves.”
It is early days yet, but so long as Cardiffians continue to appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of food produced to order in front of their eyes, it looks as though the finest dining will be had on the streets.