The East End is making a stand against industrialised food, a street stand. Pop-up stalls and truck traders in and around trendsetting Shoreditch are helping to set new standards for London’s palates; serving up fresh, quality, delicious, steaming-hot attacks on the wishy-washy mass-produced blandness that fills up chain store racks and doesn’t deserve our lunch money.
Once upon a time, these culinary artisans cooked only in the home, but now they are joining ranks and uniting on-road to express themselves, their craft and their community on a paper plate or in a foil box. The packaging doesn’t matter, it’s what’s inside that counts, and behind these modest looking eateries is some of the best street food in East London on one of the best budgets anywhere in the western world.
It’s not only the insane flavours or the home-grown ingredients that are getting local taste buds tickling, the inspirational stories behind these urban cooks and their curb-side cuisine are worth sampling too. Forever labelled the cultural fringe of the City, Shoreditch and its sister neighbourhoods are firmly taking centre stage in the fight against prefabricated, unoriginal grub.
Bare Bones Cue – Red Market, 1-3 Rivington Street £6-7
The menu stays pretty much the same but it doesn’t need to change; 14 hour slow cooked pulled pork in a burger bun or a carton, served with rustic slaw or homemade pickle. The brain child of Gerard Kool, his locally sourced ingredients are then slathered in a choice of his own condiment innovations: Orange Pop sauce (a homemade barbecue sauce made with Fanta), Smoky Pokey (a mild smoked chilli sauce) or The Sauce With No Name (but most definitely with ghost peppers and scotch bonnet in it).
Orange Buffalo – The Old Truman Brewery, Ely's Yard £6-6.50
Snugly parked up just behind The Truman Brewery, this humble looking van is unapologetically serving up the tastiest buffalo wings this side of the United States. For £6.50 you will receive 6 deeply fried yet deeply satiating chicken wings smothered in a choice of sauce, served with a blue cheese dip to cool the palate, fries or onion rings, a drink and overall the most pleasurable hit your mouth has ever got. Owned and run by Mike and Nick, the boys spent some time perfecting their sauce recipes in their own kitchens and now offer up four mouth-watering flavours lined with varying degrees of spiciness; ‘Original’, ‘Woof Woof’, ‘Vincent’ and the killer - ‘Viper’.
Peko Peko – Red Market, 1-3 Rivington Street £5-6
Peko Peko is pulling in the crowds around Rivington Street with its famed take on the Katsu Curry; its breadcrumbed chicken cutlets steeped in a thickly mellifluous sauce laced with masala spices and honey undertones would do the Japanese proud; which is no surprise since the owner is half Japanese. This stall really is a steaming wonderland for rice dish lovers and Alice’s biggest adventure this winter season is going to be the slow-cooked Pork Kakuni Donburi: pork belly braised in a simmering broth of dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sugar and sake till mouth-wateringly soft.
Satay Bangkok – Petticoat Lane Market £4.50-5
From the flaming woks on Bangkok’s streets to the massive griddle pan on Petticoat Lane, Thailand’s fiery tastes, heady aromas and melt-in-your-mouth consistencies have made their way to East London in the form of satay chicken, calamari or tofu. Served with rice, in a wrap or a pitta, this foodie’s deal is made even better value for money thanks to generous portions, ladles of peanut sauce, and a vinegary pickled carrot sprinkled with fresh coriander leaves and chopped green chillies.
Constancia – Shoreditch Food Village, 187 Shoreditch High Street £5-6.50
With a woven basket perched on a geometrically painted barrel to complete the look, this friendly little food truck brings the street grills of South America to Shoreditch. Spanish-speaking owner, Isabel, explains that the “carne” is imported from Argentina to show “a sample of what Argentine cuisine is”. The slender prime steak is also marinated in this sense of pride, smoked on the sizzling flat skillet till perfectly succulent, and served in ciabatta bread with a native herb and garlic salsa called chimicurri which contains amongst other things, Argentinian oregano.
Yum Yum – Petticoat Lane Market £2.50
“My boss makes everything at home.” Bimal Sapkota mans the stand and serves up 4 large pastry hot presses. The dimsum come in various sizes and explode with the flesh and juices of delicious vegetables, tender pork or smoky chicken. These Malaysian style momo are made all the more luscious with chili flake oil, soy sauce and a beautifully balanced sweet and sour Malaysian cucumber pickle.
Tulum Tacos – Shoreditch Food Village, 187 Shoreditch High Street £6-7.50
A Tex-Mex shack that’s missing all but one of the ingredients – the fine white sands and azure blue seas of its namesake, Tulum. Not the most imaginative, but a lot of fun for the taste buds, it’s got all that you could want from the fusing of the Southwestern and Latin American cuisines: chicken, steak, pork or veg burritos, tacos, fajitas or boxes served with unashamed helpings of homemade guacamole, chilled sour cream, aromatic salsas and general lip-smacking savouriness.
Traces of cumin and hints of spices can be washed refreshingly away with a glass of aguas fracas such as the sweetly cloudy Mexican rice drink, Horchata. Otherwise the mouth party can be firmly put to rest with the newly deep fried dessert of Spanish churros; crisp cinnamon-coated doughnut dipped in a pot of creamy milk chocolate silk.
Burger Bear – Red Market, 1-3 Rivington Street £5-10
With a disco ball hanging from its shelter, Burger Bear is having a complete and utter blast rocking the street food scene in The City. Set up by the bear himself, Tom, and his sidekick, Horton; they are a larger than life pair dishing up scrumptious food of a similar brand. Their sustainably sourced Grizzly Bear beef burger layered with oak smoked bacon and Tom’s signature bacon jam is taking London’s carnivores by storm; rated 9th in the top 10 burgers to exist in The Big Smoke by renowned food columnist Daniel Young, ex-critic for NY Daily News. Enough said?