London street food used to mean jellied eels, whelks, hot dogs or roasted chestnuts – and as far as I’m concerned only the latter actually qualified as food.
Things have changed now; there’s a huge variety of street food, and a number of chains like Pieminister that visit various street markets, as well as ethnic stalls, as well as street food being sold at farmers’ markets throughout the capital. Some is okay, some is great, and some is both great and cheap.
Vietnamese baguettes at Banh Mi in Broadway Market are a wonderful mix of French and Vietnamese cultures, crisp baguette and spicy filling. Banh Mi also serves superb noodle salads. Roast pork belly is a particular favourite, but there are also chicken, fish, beef and tofu options, flash-fried or grilled, with flavours include galangal, coconut, lemongrass and sweet-and-sour. For those of you in central London, Banh Mi now also operates on Berwick Street Market in Soho on weekdays.
I love my falafel and Mr Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush market does exactly what his name says – falafel in a wrap, with hummus, yogurt, picked vegetables, and chili sauce if you’re brave. There are lots of Middle Eastern restaurants around this area, but I prefer to grab a quick falafel and eat on the hoof unless I’m in the mood for a very relaxed couple of hours picking at mezze.
A minute’s walk from the Barbican, the Luardos ‘Mexivan’ does great business in Whitecross Street market; they’re there all week, though the specialist food market is only on Thursdays and Fridays. Another van, done out in bright pink, trades at King’s Cross on Fridays in the ‘eat.st’ market, selling burritos for a fiver (£4.50 for veggies), stuffed full of meat and beans, guacamole and salsa. Besides, as a fully paid up Citroen fan and Dyane driver, I am in love with their two ancient Citroen vans.
On Old Street, Big Apple hot dogs are hot dogs, foodie style – including an all beef sausage, oak smoked Frankfurters, and spicy sausages, all a hundred percent ‘real meat’ with no nasty bits ground into the mix. Best of all, they come with fantastic pickled cucumbers, and a selection of relishes, as well as Polish sauerkraut, and onions fried in butter, not the usual London-hot-dog engine oil.
Burgers meanwhile, are ‘remixed’ by Kimchi Cult, which serves Korean style fast food. The mixture of hot and sweet instantly grabs your taste buds’ attention; you can get ‘sliders’ (rolls) with bacon or cheese and kimchi (hot fermented cabbage), burgers with wasabi onions, or pulled pork with ginger coleslaw. Kimchi Cult is peripatetic, popping up all over the place – on Thursdays at Ye Old Rose & Crown, Walthamstow, and Sundays at Brick Lane. Or head out to visit them at Walthamstow Market on Saturday where the council’s attempts to revive a faltering area of the High Street have brought in new traders with a contemporary, craft-y vibe.
This is just a small selection of the London street food scene. One of the great things about London street food, though, is that there’s always something new happening. Chef-entrepreneurs are getting excited by the relatively low entry cost – for £3,000 you can be up and running, much cheaper than starting your own restaurant – and the discerning palates of London foodies. So don’t take this article as the last word on London street food – get out there and look for new experiences and new tastes!
Finally, if you’re looking for a decent economical place to stay while exploring London’s street food scene, I’d recommend one of several budget hotels in Kings Cross like the new Tune Kings Cross within easy reach of several of the above street food places.
Written by Andrea Kirkby