Street food in the UK has, over several years, gone from a preserve of London and Manchester’s hippest markets to a fully fledged foodie revolution which even has its own awards. But as much as Brits have embraced the street food revolution, the majority of the food these markets sell is from abroad.This means that with a few notable exceptions (‘What the Dickens’ offer British snacks including, erm, devilled kidneys), a walk around these stalls is akin to a wander around the world’s street food centres.
The majority of the food at these markets comes from Asia, where street food is often a way of life and stalls often provide a place to mix with friends and family. If you’re visiting Asia, the stalls offer vibrant, punchy food that hasn’t been softened for tourists’ tastes.
Hong Kong and Singapore are two of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities and offer fantastically varied street food. At Singapore’s hawker centres and food courts, you’ll find a mix of flavours including Chinese, Malay, Indian and Middle Eastern while in Hong Kong, you’ll find fantastic Chinese dishes such as dim sum and local delicacies such as curry fish balls. Both cities have some fantastic markets so if you’re staying in serviced accommodation in Hong Kong or Singapore, you can even attempt to replicate the dishes at home.
Indian street food is among the best in the world; the streets of mega-cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi are lined with vendors selling cheap snacks to the throngs of people passing by. What’s sold varies from region to region, but food readily available in the UK includes pani puri – puffed, hollow dough balls filled with chutney – and dosa, which are savoury lentil pancakes.
Mexico is another street food haven which is well represented throughout the UK, particularly with the rise in chains such as Wahaca selling street-style food indoors. It’s hardly surprising: a recent survey found that over 500,000 street vendors exist in Mexico City, selling everything from tacos to tamales.
In many African countries, from South Africa to Ghana, you’ll see street food vendors – or ‘hawkers’ – at the roadside, and there’s a very popular Ethiopian food stall at Brick Lane’s famous food market in London, selling spicy stews, injera (sour pancakes) and even coffee.
As well as the hog roasts and hearty pies doing their bit for Britain, Europe is often represented at British street food markets by Spanish churros (doughnuts with hot dipping chocolate) and Italian arancini (cheesy risotto balls), while the Middle East is represented by the ubiquitous falafel.
All the best street food I’ve tried has been the most simple: samosas or aloo chaat in India, or a boiled egg cut through with spices in Ghana (sounds strange but it works). Trying it is part of the adventure of travelling, and I’ve never regretted it.
I’d also highly recommend injera (mentioned above), an acquired taste but one that fans absolutely love; cheesy börek pastries from eastern and central Europe; and baozi, delicious Chinese steamed buns. They’ll probably taste better if you buy them from a roadside stall in a far-flung country, but if you’re limited to the UK for a while, sample the next best thing.