As the world observes World Food Day, London’s street food vans confidently stamp their presence on the food scene
While spectacle and pageantry kept London preoccupied this summer, elsewhere a silent revolution has taken place. On market corners, festival sites, by famous landmarks and even down unsuspecting lanes, street food vans have been parking up and packing a punch.
It’s hard not to come across this ever-growing collection of street food traders, and they are changing the dining landscape in London in more ways than one. Not only has the quantity of the vans increased drastically, but so has the quality of the food they serve. No longer are street food vans associated with burnt-barbecued burgers, instead many high-calibre chefs are turning to imaginatively decorated vans to dish up gourmet, affordable cuisine on the go. Due to the level of competition there now is in London, the standard of the food served is ever-improving with an even larger variety on offer, from Korean Kimchi to Spanish dipping chocolate.
Forming part of this popular movement is one van in particular, named Horn OK Please. Serving genuine Indian street food across London, and even the UK, it was established by a team of two food fanatics whose aim was to introduce a side of Indian street food that many in London won’t have come across before.
Sandhya Aiyar, co-owner of Horn OK Please explains this idea was conceived through a perceived gap in the market. She felt the food scene in London was “missing an important element of Indian food, which was Indian street food. While Indian food is one of the UK’s favourite cuisines there was a big gap in knowledge on Indian street food”. Although items such as Bhel Puri, Dosa and Chaat are sold in London, this is served in a formal, interior setting than out on the streets, where it is traditionally supposed to be enjoyed.
After an initial struggle in convincing the mainstream footfall to stop and try the fully vegetarian menu, the right combinations of dishes and flavours were found, making Horn OK Please a success. This has been the case with many street food vans established prior to this summer’s explosion of the market.
So what’s the reason behind this craze? Sandhya feels that it is the transparency and variety of the food produced which is drawing in the crowds:
“People appreciate knowing the story behind the food. With street food you get more than a plate of delicious hot food, you get the knowledge of how it’s made, where it came from and who is making it. When so much can be impersonal in this city, street food can be interactive and make you appreciate food as well as your surroundings. Londoners are lucky to have such a great choice in street food and there is no excuse to settle for a supermarket meal deal when the same price could get you a freshly prepared slice of any culture you like, be it American-style burgers, Austrian dumplings, Indian Dosa and Chaat, or Oriental fusion flavours.”
What’s more, bringing the international street food flavour to London has also seemed to bring with it a communal and relaxed dining culture. In many parts of India, street food is partaken of by ”families enjoying and sharing plates of hot and spicy snacks on the beach, business men grabbing a sweet cup of chai on their way to work, students gathered around enjoying a cooling drink under the hot sun or the secret couple sharing a coffee and plate of Indian snacks in-between their shifts at work”. More than just the food, this is the experience that Horn OK Please aims to bring to London and it seems to be working. There is now a definite trend towards transforming what used to be simple food markets into actual events, by including music and non-food stalls, pointing more towards a celebration of food rather than the burden of shopping for produce.
In this way, street food has already made a mark on London and its inhabitants, to the extent that it looks like it is here to stay. When asked if ts popularity is a phase, Sandhya stated, “Food markets have been around for a long time, it is only the publicity of it that has changed. I can’t see people suddenly deciding to go back to pre-packed sandwiches when these choices continue to remain.”
Even the London winter doesn’t look like it will put off diners, as there are indoor markets which continue to offer such delights. In addition, many street food vans, including Horn Ok Please, will be amending their menu to add on some winter warmers.
In this sense the future of London’s street food is looking strong, so much so that restaurants are now pitching up at markets and even amending their menus to reflect what can be found on Indian streets.
What’s more, year-round food markets and blogs have been set up outlining where to locate these vans and the British Street Food Awards have even been started this year, turning London into a street food force to be reckoned with.
Photo Credits: Horn OK Please
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