Every once in a while, a true revolution will occur that changes everything. The French Revolution of the late 1700s for example not only resulted in political upheaval; it also changed Mary Antoinette’s need of necklaces forever. Or how about the Cuban Revolution that left Batista out on his backside, put Castro in power and promoted Che Guevara to the position of icon, hero and t-shirt design forevermore. Not so political, but far more tastier, Cardiff is in the midst of its own revolution that people are beginning to lose their heads for (in excitement, not at the behest of a French guillotine); the Welsh Street Food Revolution.
With the likes of SFC, Womanby’s pop-up festivals and Cardiff Street Food providing increasingly accessible platforms for vendors and producers to feed the masses, street food is on the up and although we may be behind the likes of London and Bristol, the food foundations of the city are transitioning and the revolution is picking up pace.
But what is it about street food that has captivated our city? What even is street food? And more importantly, what is Welsh street food?
From the hot dog carts that adorn every street corner of the Big Apple, to Singapore’s hawker centres, that see an amalgamation of chefs from a variety of cultures come together to cook everything from Indian prathas to Korean BBQ, the concept of street food is nothing new. It may have been around in other cities across the UK for a lot longer than it has this side of the Severn, but for generations street food in Asia, and other parts of the world, has just been the norm.
Whether it is new or not, it seems to be new right here on our turf and it seems that the concept of street food has suddenly appeared out of thin air this year. With masses of people preferring to queue at trucks and stalls, for everything from pizza and souvlaki to ice lollies and fried chicken, rather than heading to a more conventional restaurant, Cardiff is really starting to embrace it.
“People are starting to open their minds towards it,” said Jamie O’Leary of Jols. “This sort of thing is becoming increasingly popular over the river and in America it’s massive. It seems that the UK is quite behind with the uptake of it; especially Cardiff,” he added.
But is it a completely new notion? It would appear not.
“Street food is not a new concept to our family, “ said Sophie Tumelty of Meat and Greek. “In the villages and beaches of Cyprus, cooking good food and sharing it with family, neighbours and anyone else who may be in the vicinity is common practice,” she continued, and by taking their family recipes onto the street and serving souvlaki straight from the heart, this way of eating is thoroughly ingrained in Meat and Greek.
But as well as not being new to Meat and Greek and the Hajigeorgis family, it’s not new to Wales in general. For years the Roath and Riverside markets have been showcasing the very best of local produce on the street, and markets in general have been about even longer.
“Street food has been going for a very long time,” said Illtud Dunsford of Charcutier Ltd. who have been working the markets since 2011. “We’ve had farmers bringing their produce to markets and selling in the town square for God knows how many centuries,” he added.
So although the concept of selling and eating food on the street may not be totally new to Cardiff and the rest of the world, it seems that the label of ‘street food’ is new here and the way in which we interact with our food and with those who produce and cook it has substantially changed.
But things are less clear with regards to what Welsh street food is. It appears a sub-genre of street food is developing within Wales, with the idea of ‘local eating’ becoming increasingly attractive. Although the overarching cuisine may be less Welsh than a chopstick using kangaroo, such as ‘Southern barbeque,’ Americanesque burgers and hot dogs, or continental style charcuterie, the ingredients that go into making them, are more Welsh than a leek-wielding dragon.
“Welsh traders are doing ‘local’ really well,” said Michelle Evans of Slow Pig, and she’s not wrong. Slow Pig breed their own pigs and hoggets that you see on their menu. Charcutier Ltd. uses the finest Welsh meat for their array of charcuterie as do Hang Fire Smokehouse when it comes to their menu. Ffrwnes soure their sobrasada from Monmouthshire, and The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company use locally foraged and caught seaweed, lobster and crab on their menu.
“Street food is a fantastic way to make local food accessible to a much wider audience,” said Jonathan Williams of Pembrokeshire Beach Food Co. who, having won the 2012 Best British Street Food Vendor and plying their trade at festivals and events, including the Olympics, for years, are pioneers in Welsh street food. “There are some fantastic street food vendors out there showcasing the best in Welsh produce,” he added, and they are certainly one of them.
By sourcing ingredients from Wales’ shores and seas, vendors are offering a true taste of the country in which we live in, and one that tastes a whole lot better than the mass produced, imported junk you’ll find in your supermarket.
“The quality of small producers in Wales is some of the best in the country and we’re not sure if our final product would be as good without them,” said Sam of Hang Fire Smokehouse. “There’s also a lot of people harking back to traditions past in the production methods, us included,” she added.
So in an era where the high streets are dominated by large food chains such as those lovely Golden Arches, street food vendors using high quality, Welsh food and traditional methods of creating that food, are providing a refreshing and delicious break as well as a completely unique eating experience that you are unlikely to find anywhere else.
This new sub-genre has also created a huge interlinked network of Welsh producers and vendors that sees the likes of Charcutier Ltd. create Hang Fire’s Texas Hot Links, as well as Slow Pig’s Mangalitza franks, and Trealy Farm crafting Haute Dog’s sausages, as well as Pizza Pronto and Hang Fire coming together for a collaboration pizza.
“There is a huge network that has now developed between the different food offerings,” said Kelly Reardon Brown who is behind Womanby Street’s Pop Up Cardiff events. “This will lead to great business relationships between them,” she continued, but it will also facilitate the spread of Welsh street food further by making locally produced food more accessible to the vendors themselves to use.
So although the food created isn’t necessarily what we traditionally see as Welsh, by using Welsh meat, seafood, bread, or veg, within their recipes, they are helping to create this whole new sub-genre of not only street food, but Welsh cuisine as a whole.
But is it the ingredients that determine whether or not it can be classed as ‘Welsh street food’ or not? Society within Wales and Cardiff is increasingly diverse and Welsh street reflects it.
Not only do we have Welsh takes on American style food, like barbeque and fried chicken, we also have the likes of Meat and Greek, Pizza Pronto and Katiwok championing the street food cuisines of the Med and Asia.
“It should be multicultural,” said Kev Halborg of Pizza Pronto, “just like Cardiff itself. The London street scene would be a boring place if it were only jelly eels!” he continued, and the same would ring true if laverbread, cawl and Welsh cakes dominated our street food events. “Our country is very multicultural and food is the best way to reflect that,” he continued, and although pizza isn’t typically Welsh, our country is home to a huge Italian community and thus, in essence, their cuisine is our cuisine (especially if you consider the fact that Simeon who also works at Pizza Pronto is from a part of Italy where they speak English with a Welsh accent due to learning the language in Wales).
But it’s not just Italian food that is standing up and being counted on the street food scene; it’s a whole array of cuisines and cultures.
“Greek food and Welsh food are only two examples of the multicultural society that we live in,” said Meat and Greek’s Sophie. “Food is a very unifying and social way to bring people together, whether that food be Welsh, Greek, Malaysian, Italian, French of Bangladeshi, all are as important as each other to create ‘Welsh street food culture,’” she continued.
So it appears when it comes down to pinpointing what Welsh street food is exactly, it is neither a specific cuisine, nor does it require solely Welsh grown and bred ingredients, because it is as diverse as our own population.
That may be the ‘food’ part dealt with, but what about the ‘street’ part. Does it have to be sold directly on the street to be street food?
The Something Creative collective behind SFC are proving that this doesn’t necessarily ring true. Inspired by the festivals and markets of cities such as London and Liverpool, Brooklyn and Barcelona, they have transformed The Depot on Dumballs Road into a street food haven. By doing so, they are bringing together an impressive team sheet of vendors that boasts the likes of Dirty Bird, Chucks and Haute Dogs, in one space and proves that just because it’s not technically served on the street, doesn’t mean it’s not street food.
This is also apparent in Cathays where Katiwok mainly serve in a more conventional restaurant but their food is marketed as street food, which just goes to show that street food isn’t confined just to the street.
“The essence of street food has organically taken a path towards the restaurant environment due to many different reasons, which include things like our eating styles and habits all over the world,” said Niaz Taj from Katiwok.
But just as it has taken a path towards the restaurant environment, the reverse is also possible with many restaurants, including Katiwok, KL Canalog and Duchess of Delhi, all getting involved with the street food festivals. It is Jols however who is arguably leading the charge down this path, followed closely by Bar 44 with their innovative truck tapas, as the sous chef of The Hardwick now also sells some of the finest food from a truck that you’ll ever put in your mouth.
“People are getting into it and just because it’s served out of a van doesn’t mean that the quality isn’t there,” he continued and by serving up dishes such as slow stewed rabbit gnocchi and saffron risotto cakes, Jamie is proving just that. The fact that his food is restaurant quality, just simplified, just goes to show how far the boundaries of street food can be pushed.
So just as the lines are blurred regarding what exactly Welsh street food is, so to is the environment in which food can be called street food. It can be served from a shack, a stand, a stall or a truck, it can be served on the street, in a restaurant, or even in a pop up vicinity within another venue; it can be served at a designated ‘street food’ festival, a market or as a solo venture like The Rollin’ Hot Dog Co.
The venue doesn’t necessarily matter therefore, neither does the exact food being served, so is it more of an attitude than a specific type of cuisine?
It’s about interacting with the people who make your food, as much as it is about actually eating. It’s about putting your heart and soul into a plate of food. It’s about sampling food that you might not usually order in a restaurant and it’s about talking about the food and sharing that experience with others; whether it be in the queue for a Wild Fig ice lolly, or sat at the benches tucking into a bit of Milgi’s veggie fare, or whether it’s instagramming or tweeting a photo of your barbecue ribs or Dirty Bird’s logo.
In this respect, Dirty Bird is the epitome of this ‘trendy’ street food attitude that has taken London and Bristol by storm. It’s about serving the best food possible but having fun with it at the same time and although the food is serious, you don’t have to be. Whether you love or hate their logo, one thing is certain; they’ve bought the eyes of the world down upon Cardiff’s street food scene and although a few eyebrows were raised, more giggles have been had and this can only be a good thing for the scene.
“There’s more of a relaxed approach to street food,” said Mark James, the designer behind the controversial cock logo. “I’m not sure I’d have got away with using ‘Eat Cock’ working with a corporate company,” he continued. “The food is taken very seriously, as it is a business,” he said, “but I think it’s important to engage with the consumer. If you can make people smile, that’s a good thing.”
It is this engagement, not just in Cardiff, but as far away as New York and Australia, where media has covered the story, that is putting our city’s street food in the minds of people around the world.
When it comes to answering the questions posed regarding what exactly street food is, the short answer is this; it is whatever you want it to be. It can be a succulent Welsh beef burger or a lobster roll caught off the Pembrokeshire coast; it can eaten on the street, in a restaurant or in a warehouse; it can be interacting with the producers or it can be about trying something new; so grab a souvlaki, a couple of croquettas or a kati roll, sit back and enjoy it. In the words of Che, “Viva la Welsh Street Food Revolución.”