When a street-food vendor is awarded the highly coveted Michelin star, you know it’s time book a flight to Thailand and wait in line for four hours to try that crab omelette cooked by the 72-year-old sporting ski goggles to protect her eyes.
Or, at least, to start paying closer attention to what’s happening on the street-food scene closer to home.
And there’s a lot going on.
The transient nature of street food means it can keep up with ever-changing consumer demand for new flavours, textures and winning combinations. And here’s what’s hitting our street markets this year…
1. REGIONAL CUISINE
This year, street food is set to get a lot more sophisticated. Regional cuisine is what the people are demanding. “Indian” doesn’t quite cut it anymore – people want to know that their seafood dish is inspired by the ports of Kerala or that their vegetarian curry is from the streets of Gujarat. The same goes for South East Asian flavours, albeit at a slower pace, with Taiwanese expected to become more popular.
“People’s thirst for knowledge is huge – they want to know the history of the dish, what’s in it and how you make it,” says Jonathan Downey, chief executive of London Union, which runs the popular Street Feast markets across the capital and is backed by the likes of Jamie Oliver, Yotam Ottolenghi and Thomasina Miers.
2. VEGAN MAKEOVER
“Vegan dishes are getting an unhealthy makeover,” says London street food market Kerb’s Alison O’Reilly. “There are only so many buddha bowls one person can eat, so it’s time for some jackfruit chicken wings from Biff’s Jack Shack, a tofu fish burrito from Club Mexicana and melting chocolate brownie mud pie from Young Vegans.”
Seitan burgers and coconut pancakes are also providing tasty alternatives to the vegan falafel staple.
“When we first started trading four years ago there was very little variety in street food available and certainly hardly anything for vegetarians,” says Jenny Thompson co-founder of Market Operations, which is behind street food markets Altrincham Market just outside Manchester and Mackie Mayor in the city centre.
“It is a fundamentally different market now. Many of our traders and customers are vegetarian and vegan.”
3. NINETIES REVIVAL
Along the similarly unhealthy theme, we’re also going to see a renaissance of Nineties American classics like pop tarts, s’mores, soft-serve ice cream and slushies.
4. FAST FOOD SLOWLY GROWN
Sustainable food is expected to be another huge food trend this year, but this is one area where street food surprisingly isn’t always ahead of the curve.
The reputation of street food is built around a passion for good, honest grub. A common assumption is that street food is fundamentally better quality because of this.
But have you ever actually asked a street food trader where their ingredients are sourced? You may be shocked to discover how little many sellers can tell you about the provenance of their food.
However, there are some stand out traders creating exceptional food, with ethics at their core. Altrincham and Mackie Mayor are standout markets – meat and vegetables are sourced from small farms; fish is predominantly line-caught; and local eggs are from healthy free-range chickens.
Thompson says: “We are collectively driven to produce and offer the best food and drink we can. Our traders personally know all their suppliers, visit the farms and buy as much as they can locally.”
Street Feast are demanding more transparency. “I’ve asked our traders to be a lot more overt about their sourcing practices this year – without being righteous,” says its chief executive, Downey. “If something’s halal, organic or battery you’ve got to tell people.”
And if they don’t, we have to ask.
5. LESS WASTE, LESS PLASTIC
You can’t escape the single-use plastics headlines at the moment. The very nature of street food means single-use plates, cups and cutlery are rampant in markets and because of the complications with food contamination and recycling a lot of this goes straight in the bin. With more than a million people visiting each market every year that’s a staggering amount of waste.
Consumer demand for better practice is already starting to make its mark and there’s an already noticeable reduction in plastic straws. Expect to see separate bins for food and packaging waste, more washable crockery and glass, paper cups only for takeaway drinks and ditto for wooden cutlery.