A street food revolution

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.
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A trip around the Christmas markets

Those of you I’ve spoken to before may know that I’ve been running this project as part of my Masters in journalism. As such, I’ve been told to make a ‘photo story’ and upload it to my blog.
I can only apologise for its cheesiness. I hope you’ll forgive me for lowering the tone. I promise I am suitably ashamed of this little creation.
P.S. Jeff, I’m so sorry. I definitely owe you a drink.
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Find me at… Leominster Market

I realised something when I visited Leominster Farmers’ Market last Saturday. I may sound like a naïve city-dweller in saying this, but since we so often assume our ‘don’t make eye contact’ experience of city life is universal, I think it is still worth saying: rural community life, so often presumed to have been left in the past along with thatched cottages and milkmaids, is not only alive and well, but actually thriving.
No sooner had I reached Leominster market than I was approached by a friendly lady whom I think was called Cathy. I explained my project to her. “Oh, you must speak to David!” she exclaimed. The woman behind us turned round. She was selling flowers. “David is my husband,” explained flower lady. “He runs the farmers’ market here in Leominster.”
At this point I was frogmarched, somewhat bewildered, over to David. David was wearing a badge with his nickname, The Man With The Hat, written on it. “What do you want?” he asked. At this point, I wasn’t sure I did want anything from David. I had carefully prepared everything I wanted to get out of this trip the night before in my designated leather notebook, and speaking to The Man In The Hat wasn’t on the list.

David, a.k.a. The Man With The Hat

He seemed slightly suspicious of my motives at first, but once I explained I wasn’t a profiteering visitor from some foreign corporate world, but only a slightly less sinister market enthusiast, he turned out to be thoroughly charming, and he gave me lots of useful information about Leominster market.
I found out that it is held once a month, and has been running for 12 years, although it had to be brought back to life from the ashes after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001. Clearly this was successful, as on the day I am there, the market is filled to capacity with 23 stallholders arranged around the perimetre of the town square.
Perhaps most excitingly of all, David told me that this December the market is holding a Victorian day, where all the stallholders will be dressed up as 19th century vendors.

Leominster Market. Pronounced Lem-inster, FYI.

There is a good variety among the produce available. You could get all your staples here, but the balance was definitely swung in favour of novelty items.
The prize for the most aesthetically pleasing stall had to go to Foxgloves Liqueurs, who sell liqueurs made from the fruit found in gardens and hedgerows. Their bottles, backlit by the sun, glinted like some sort of pagan reimagination of a stained glass window. I was mesmerized. Berrow Honey provided a large and delicious selection of honey, of which I tried the lime and the orange flavours. There was the delightfully alliterative Piggott’s Perfect Puddings. You could also buy handmade felt and, to my joy, rescue an owl.

The glimmering bottles of Foxgloves Liqueurs

The Man With The Hat seemed keen that I speak to as many of the stallholders as possible. “Andy! You must speak to Andy!” he cried. “Once you get him going, he doesn’t stop talking.” And so it went on. I was certainly not at a loss for introductions.
One thing that everybody seemed to stress was the loyalty of the Leominster customers to the market and the camaraderie that existed among the stallholders. Each person I spoke to seemed to have a real loyalty to Herefordshire itself. I sensed that the friendship and cohesion I was witnessing had arisen organically, rather than out of a stalwart allegiance to the abstract idea of a “community” that must be forged for the health of society. It just seemed natural.

A strong and healthy community in a charming rural setting

Country and city are constantly vying for supremacy in our hearts and minds. While at the ripe young age of 23 I’m not quite ready to turn my pastoral fantasies into realities, I did come away contented to know that community-centered lifestyles are still possible.
What do you think? What is the sense of community like at your local market?
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Anything But Plain Chocolate

Sian Fish is the Willy Wonka of the farmers’ market world. When I meet up with her at Whiteladies Road Famers’ Market in Bristol, she is wearing a flamboyant velvet hat, which I think would not have looked amiss on the head of Gene Wilder when he took on the role of literature’s most eccentric (/only?) chocolatier. It certainly would have gone well with his coat, which I have secretly always envied.

Willy Wonka…
[image credit: Everett Collection]

Sian Fish!

Sian’s company is called Anything But Plain. She set it up in June, having previously worked as an IT contractor. It specialises in making colourful and unusual chocolates. Her motto is, “if you can imagine it, we will do it.”
The good, the bad and the basil
It seems some of her customers are rather imaginative. She says, “The most common unusual flavour is chili but one of my favourites is rosemary and sea-salt. You wouldn’t think it would go with chocolate, but it really does. The rosemary just cuts through it.”
I baulk slightly at the idea of basil chocolate, which she says occurred to her as she was cooking one time, but apparently that too goes well with milk chocolate. In any case, she says that even on the odd occasion she does create something that does not quite hit the spot, it is very rarely wasted: “Strangely enough there’s always someone who wants it in the family,” she laughs. “There’s always someone who says, ‘Actually…’”

I ❤ chocolate

The art of chocolate
As well as this, she also does chocolate portraits. These are white chocolate plaques with milk chocolate images drizzled on. These are done on commission, and she works from photographs. Like all serious artists, she has even done a self-portrait, and, considering it is done with chocolate, the likeness is very good.
Fortunately, Sian seems far too chirpy to ever pull a Van Gogh, which I am relieved about, as I would hate for her lovely hat to have one less ear to keep warm. She is the epitome of job satisfaction as she chatters happily about her day-to-day life: “I love my job. I really love it. Every now and then you get bored with a flavour, but then you go out and invent a new flavour. You have to sample the chocolate, you’ve got to batch test everything. That’s my excuse!”

A jazz musician drawn in chocolate

It’s not just the customers who love it…
One person with whom her company has gone down well is her three year old son who, thanks to having a chocolatier for a mother, probably thinks at the moment that he has been born into a perfect world. Sian explains the trials and tribulations of working alongside a nimble-fingered chocolate enthusiast: “He can run through a kitchen and clear every surface of chocolate while you’re looking the other way. He’ll come in one end, yell mum, you’ll turn around, and when you turn back the kitchen’s empty. It’s quite clever.”
As I write this article, I am vaguely wondering if it could be time to pack in the journalism and become an oompa-loompa. Sian, would you consider taking me on? I know I don’t have a glowing fake tan, but I could certainly work on that. The offer is on the table.
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The Somerset Soup Company

This is my first farmers’ market expedition. I am at Whiteladies Road, and I am cold and feeling a bit lost. Luckily, I have arranged to speak to George, the creator of the Somerset Soup Company. With a steaming cauldron of soup and bagels toasting in the background, the sight of her stall is akin to returning home to a roaring fire after a brisk winter’s walk.

George, creator of the Somerset Soup Company, stands with her bagels and her soup

My conversation with George begins in the best possible way. She establishes whether my preference is for sweet or savory, and then pops a double chocolate bagel in the toaster for me. Score.
The stall is picture perfect. Her products have been laid out in old wooden crates and wicker hampers, and the flavours are written on chalkboards. But in spite of the polished look she has created, George has only been running the Somerset Soup Company for a relatively short time; she explains, “I started the soup company in February of this year, so not very long, and the bagels have been going just about two months.”
This summer, she also started selling artisan lemonades, which filled the gap when the demand for hot soup subsided. She says, “We tried the soup, but the thing is the markets are very quiet then, so basically we phased the soup out. But then it’s time for the lemonades, time for the bagels. Really we’re three companies rolled into one.”

Bagels bagels bagels!

Keeping the customer satisfied
The multifaceted approach to the business means that her customers’ desires are catered for at all times. It also allows her to make optimum use of seasonal produce. “We do try and concentrate on getting really local and fresh produce, and I believe you can taste it in the soup. We’ve tried to keep everything with the seasons,” she says.
As George explains, working at the market is the ideal way to ensure that the products meet with approval from the people on the streets: “A negative or a positive review is a good one in my book,” she says, “because you can always improve upon your product.”

Colourful soups are the best kind of soups

A brief history of the bagel
George explains that bagels are originally Polish and, many centuries ago, were given to women during childbirth. As the Poles began to emigrate, the beautiful bagel began to grace foreign shores. The consequence of this? George says, “Americans believe that the bagel belongs to them, but they don’t. It’s so entrenched now with American culture, even Polish people probably think they’re American.”
While George has preserved the authenticity of the original product, she has worked with her customers to create something that will be more generally acceptable to Somerset’s taste buds. She admits, “They’re not 100% authentic because our UK tastes aren’t adapted to the more traditional chewy, harder bagels, so I’ve sort of had to meet it halfway, but we ferment the dough, so it gives it that sort of yeasty flavour.”
The result is just delightful – and the potential for taste combinations is just mindblowing. I walk away, my mind aflame with curiosity to know just how good parsnip soup would taste when accompanied by a chocolate ginger bagel. Perhaps something for my next visit.
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Find me at… Whiteladies Road, Bristol

I set out on my first market adventure with a spring in my step. The day was frosty but the sky was blue, which eased the pain of getting out of bed before 9AM on a Saturday morning. I boarded the 9.27 train from Cardiff, and in just over an hour, I had arrived at Whiteladies Road Farmers Market.

I found Whiteladies market easily

Whiteladies Market has an air of the medieval, which makes a pleasing change to current penchant for “vintage chic”. With the church in the backdrop and the brightly coloured bunting fluttering overhead, I definitely felt this market was more 1320s than 1920s. I felt a strong urge to whip out my lute and serenade unsuspecting couples with Old English love songs. Luckily, I neither own nor play the lute, so the accordionist in the corner was able to continue busking uninterrupted. Probably best for all.
The market is spread over three sides of a crossroad in the centre of Clifton, which is a charming, rather posh suburb to the east of Bristol. It takes place on the first and third Saturday of each month. Most of the stalls were stood against the wall of the church, and although the other side of the road was smaller it was equally vibrant. Opposite, there was a lone sausage maker, whose isolated position didn’t seem to be deterring the local sausage enthusiasts from tasting his wares, which looked delicious.

The market is vibrant and well used by the local community

While this layout did mean the market was slightly segregated, it really gave the impression that it was sewn into the seams of the town, as anyone taking their Saturday stroll had to walk right through the centre of the activity. It was also easy to pass from one side to the other, thanks to a conveniently placed road crossing.
Whiteladies is a medium sized market, but there was plenty of variety in the produce available, and I reckon you could pick up most of your weekly shop here. The bread stalls were delightfully rustic, and I expect would go well with the cheese made by The Bath Soft Cheese Company. There was the standard vegetable stand, and I thought the aubergines looked particularly enticing, though it is true I am a big aubergine fan; they’re so purple and shiny, like big plump jewels. If I were a traveller in a foreign land, the bagels and soup sold by the Somerset Soup Company would have filled me with a yearning for English soil, no doubt, with their homely warmth and local ingredients. Ape About Coffee was providing the caffeine fixes, and Anything But Plain sold chocolate that was a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth. Mullion Cove specialised in Cornish produce.
All in all, I would consider myself lucky to have this as my local market. The location is delightful, and the produce was varied enough to provide the weekly staples, but with enough individuality for you to feel that you had really picked up something special.
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