Friday, December 07, 2012
Eat on the street: Guerrilla Eats
Let's be clear about this: When I say street food I'm not namechecking some mindless foodie trend. I mean food that you buy from a cart or a kiosk on the street, not necessarily as part of a council-sanctioned street food market, but individual traders just there, or there, on the street. (See the ace Northern StrEATS for illustration.) Other cities have a thriving pavement ecosystem that encompasses everything from shi-shi gourmet food trucks to tiny stainless steel push carts selling dosas, dumplings or tacos, from the highfalutin' to the humble; the good, the bad and the tasty. Why the hell don't we? We've certainly got the footfall to support it. It's a mystery to me, though I've heard grumblings for years about high trader fees and beauracratic insanity detering all but the most determined food vendors. And I can understand that space is at a premium here and the weather isn't amazing year round, but it seems to me that with all we have going on culturally Manchester should be better at this.
Why does it matter? If we had better street food we might have better restaurants. It all goes back to this idea of the ecosystem: Without the little guy plankton of a healthy street cart population the whole culinary environment struggles. Street vending provides an ideal first crack at running your own catering business. A popular street cart often spawns a great restaurant, maybe after expanding to two or three mobile units and doing a pop-up restaurant or two, contributing positively to the city's food scene along the way. And street carts provide a great low-cost, low-risk way to try new cuisines. People who might balk at having dinner at a Colombian restaurant will often be quite happy to buy an empanada for a couple of pounds if it's in front of them and smells good. Eventually what you get is a dining public that can support a more interesting variety of restaurants than the standard parade of identikit Mod Brit places, chippies and kebab shops. Everybody with tastebuds wins.
So I'm watching Guerrilla Eats with great interest. This new collective of seven of the city's most interesting independent street food vendors is running their first event, a group gathering at a car park on Port Street in the Northern Quarter, this weekend. They'll be serving up barbecue, burgers and dogs, paella, chaat and cakes and ice cream. I've sampled some of their wares (I still dream about the peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream on warm brioche I scoffed at Rammyfest two years ago courtesy of Ginger's Comfort Emporium) and heard great things about lots of the others. Go forth and eat yourselves silly. Remember: you're noshing for a good cause.
*Though I have heard things about a mythical foodstuff known as a Christmas potato that you might be able to get at the All Saints potato kiosk about now. I believe stuffing may be involved.
Image of Ginger's Comfort Emporium from Pretty Nostalgic, who have done a great piece about the country's best street food providers here.