Category Archives: street food

Food Bloggers Connect…a weekend to talk, listen, meet and eat

various London, moelyci fair and party 039

Ren Behan’s pop-up Polish

I don’t often get the opportunity to meet fellow food bloggers. They are something of a rare breed here in North Wales so I was very excited about my trip to London for the Food Bloggers Connect conference.

I do little networking with food bloggers outside of Wales so it was this, and the invite to speak, that were my main motivations for attending. Usually I am the first to introduce myself, strike up conversations and generally get chatting but I felt strangely shy. It didn’t help that I’d been suffering from a stomach bug earlier in the week and hadn’t totally recovered, that humidity levels were through the roof, the heat was almost unbearable and my hay fever terrible. I felt lethargic, out of breath and generally out of sorts. Consequently I was extremely lazy with my photography, I ran out of business cards on the first day and it was all I could do to hold a conversation.

A missed opportunity? Definitely not. I made the very most of what was an enjoyable and valuable weekend. I strongly believe that every experience in life is a chance to learn and grow, and I listened to some wonderful speakers who inspired me. I picked up tips, met some fantastic people and if I had been in the mood for eating would have stuffed myself silly. I gave it a good go anyway.

It was great listening to David Lebovitz talk about how he started his blog back in the 90’s. He made his name with his genuine, warts and all approach. He focuses on his successes and failures in equal measure, keeps it real, personal and writes from the heart; something that I empathise with. I tried to have a chat with him after the session but ended up feeling like an irritating groupie among all the others wanting to talk to him, so gave up and let the man move on.

It was also great finally getting to meet Niamh Shields. Her blog has long been an inspiration to me. Like David she keeps it real. Her Eat Like A Girl blog is down to earth and funny, and so is she in the flesh. With her southern Irish accent and dry sharp wit it was like being among my family down in Cork, I felt at home with her. Sadly, I only got a brief opportunity to talk to her; mostly about Cork, random tweets and a love for Canada. She wooed me with the divine maple syrup brought back from her travels, then nearly killed me with a shot of pear au de vie. Her talk about travelling Canada was frank and funny, with lovely images to match. It  made me want to go back and see more.

various London, moelyci fair and party 049

Niamh with her lethal pear au de vie

I listened avidly to the Food Cycle talk from Kelvin Cheung and Aine Morris from the Sustainable Food Trust. Later speaking to both about my attempts to cook and live in a sustainable way, and my own adventures in ‘Freeganism’. Further conversations with other bloggers led to an interesting meeting of minds; talk of local produce, growing our own and hatred of supermarkets plus a nice glass of cold Prosecco perked me up at the end of a long hot day.

various London, moelyci fair and party 036

Kelvin Cheung talking food poverty

Saturday morning started with a talk by Penny De Los Santos. Penny is one of the most inspiring food photographers I have ever seen. Her pictures are expressive, vibrant stories of food, culture and for me verge on being works of art with their vivid colours, honesty and ability to make me salivate just by looking at them.  Her pictures are most often seen in The National Geographic and Saveur magazine and she has won many awards. It’s easy to see why. These are pictures I would love to take. Again I tried to strike up a conversation but felt like a blustering groupie so left it at a compliment at how much I love her photography.

Next up was MsMarmiteLover (Kerstin Rogers) who’d been booked to talk about monetisation and launching a food career. I guess it was inevitable she would include running a supper club, although she almost sailed through much of my talk. Kerstin gave me advice when I set up my supper club back in 2009 and I have remained in contact with her since, working with her on Global Feast event in London last year. She is funny, outrageous, enthusiastic and her frank, ‘don’t give a toss’ attitude has won friends, enemies and admirers (probably in equal numbers). Whatever you think of her she is a great raconteur and good to listen to.

By the time I stood up to do my talk I was feeling pretty exhausted. It was almost quarter to six, I had stomach ache and although the heat had started to subside I felt quite drained. Then the computer network started playing up making my presentation unplayable. I began to think it would all be a disaster. Then somehow it all came together; the adrenalin of talking to a group of people kicked in and suddenly I was up there telling my story. I can’t remember much of what I said, but it all went well in the end.

There were other presentations that I liked too. Aoife Cox of The Daily Spud, Ren Behan and Emily Jonzen with her shocking stories of food styling (I will never look at a roast turkey on a TV advert in the same way again….that’s all I’m saying, but you other bloggers that listened to her talk will know what I mean).

By Sunday I was done in. Plus my prodigal teen called with tales of woe and stolen purses from Glastonbury (where she’d been working) and needed rescuing from Paddington station on Sunday morning so I missed Regula Ysewijn from Miss Foodwise (who I really wanted to listen to).

I also met some wonderful people with whom I had some great conversations. Karen Burns-Booth from Lavender and Lovage , Jane Sarchet from The Hedge Combers and Louisa Foti from Chez Foti were among that first ‘meeting of minds’ group that chatted after the Food Cycle and Sustainable Food Trust talks, Regula with whom I talked British food history (anyone remember Gypsy tart?) and Rachel Brady from Well Worn whisk who became my partner in crime on day two…sneaking off like two naughty school girls for a fag behind the bike sheds and talking about how hard it is to juggle kids, family and food blogging. We definitely clicked and it will be nice to meet up again on her turf or mine.

As for the food…my highlights were Bethany Kehdy’s table of Persian, Moroccan and Middle Eastern delights. ‘Please come and join me for my book launch after this…I’ve been cooking for it for two weeks!’ she implored us. How could I resist when I adore middle eastern food.  Bethany is the author of Dirty Kitchen Secrets and her first book The Jewelled Kitchen is out. I will have to get a copy, which I should have done on Saturday evening, but what with one thing and another I just wanted to collapse in a heap. I did try the food and I only wish I could have eaten more. I loved the tiny pastries, but anything else was beyond my stomach at that point. It was so bad I couldn’t even manage a glass of wine!

various London, moelyci fair and party 071

Delicious food from The Jewelled Kitchen

various London, moelyci fair and party 072

More delights from The Jewelled Kitchen…beautiful, light nests…I didn’t manage to try one so can’t remember what they were topped with

On Friday Ren Behan’s Polish pop-up had me drooling over beautiful light plum-cake and traditional polish stews and canapes, while in-between we snacked on Pig a Chic skewers, Chobani yogurt and fruit, Luchito with cheese, salami and crackers. I took home some of their wonderful chilli paste.

On the last day I took home a goodie bag so heavily laden I could barely lift it. Predictably the beer, chocolate and drinks disappeared quickly. Dove chocolate was a hit with the teen and the amiano choco Bella fair trade chocolate spread has been well used; I particularly liked the sundried tomato puree from the Olive Branch Greek Mezze range which has been liberally added to all kinds of dishes.

I leave you with a few pictures….not as good as I would have liked due to my tardiness on both days, but a small taster of a great weekend.

various London, moelyci fair and party 044

Ren Behan again…with delicious plum cake

various London, moelyci fair and party 008

Pig a Chic working hard to feed everyone

various London, moelyci fair and party 009

delicious cheese from La Fromagerie….I love that shop!

various London, moelyci fair and party 029

Giant cookies

various London, moelyci fair and party 016

Luchito stall with lots of toppings and wonderful chilli paste…their chilli honey was delicious

 

 

12 Comments

Filed under Food festival, in the press, middle eastern food, photography, Pop-up cafe, reviews, street food

Real Street Food at the South Bank

2007-06-10 23.52.29

How time flies. Its weeks since the kid and I were sampling the delights of the Real Street Food festival in London. I really really wanted to go especially as I get precious little opportunity for this kind of thing in Wales. It was only on a whim, at the last-minute, on Easter Monday that I managed to shoe horn a trip in to our busy schedule. I saw ‘our’ busy schedule but I actually mean my sons. Unluckily for me the market visit wasn’t  the main attraction of the day, nope it was the other excursion to see Potted Potter at The Garrick theatre that took precedence. The market trip became a whirlwind one; we only stopped at the stalls where there was food the kid wanted to taste and I ended up hurrying along in his uncompromising and short attention spanned wake.

Still, I enjoyed my brief trip but it did make me a little bit sad that on my return to Wales I would no longer have such luxuries as road side dosa’s to tempt me. We simply don’t have that kind of thing here and those that are lucky enough to set up in business are so widely dispersed that you often don’t know they are there. Sadly they are not to be found in the centre of town only in areas where they can side step council policy (i.e. whereaver kind and forward thinking people grant permission for street food vendors to park vans on their land).

This does boil down to local council policy and what appears to be a general reluctance to grant licenses to street traders, unless the stall is part of an organised ‘market’. Even where there is an organised market it isn’t filled with local street food traders, instead the council seems to ship in cheap and cheerful noodle stalls and churro stands with a uniform look and unappetising looking food. The French sausage stall at the last market was genuinely from France. I tried to hold a conversation with the owner, in very broken French and English; we didn’t get very far and I was left wondering where our own local traders were? Back in London we had a lovely time. Torn between a dosa from the Dosa Deli or something from The French Revolution creperie (the chestnut mushroom, spinach and garlic caught my eye) but I dithered too long; the kid moved fast. He started eyeing up these giant sausages, but finally opted for a cheese burger and fries from Bleecker St. Burger. When asked if he wanted it medium i.e. a bit pink, he frowned and said no I want it cooked properly. He devoured it along with the fries which were crisp and delicious.2007-06-10 23.55.40

2007-06-10 23.53.33

2007-06-10 23.54.06

2007-06-11 00.02.29

2007-06-11 00.07.08

2007-06-11 00.26.40

2007-06-11 00.10.48

2007-06-11 00.11.40

I eventually settled for a cevapcici from Balkan street food vendors Karantania simply because it was the closest stall to where the kid was sitting and he didn’t want me to disappear from his sight. It was a little big for me so I was unable to finish it all, but the meat had a great flavour.

2007-06-11 00.01.48

After all of this I longed for a Sipsmith gin and tonic from the Wondering wine company but instead settled for a spiced cider from to warm me up. Don’t be fooled by the sunshine, the weather was positively Baltic! Slowly we ambled off across the river towards the theatre, warmth and the kids highlight of the day.

2007-06-11 00.30.49

Since my return to Wales I have tried in vain to make contact with the local council. I phoned and was told to email. I emailed and have as yet received no response. I’d like to have a conversation about licenses and open a discussion about how we can get more local street food vendors in business, but at the moment this is looking unlikely. In the meantime I have also given assistance to another local entrepreneur with interesting ideas and information to enable him to put together a plan for his own street food business. I’ve yet to have a response from the council but….watch this space.

Leave a comment

Filed under British food, Eating out with kids, festival food, Food festival, local produce, street food

Street Food North Wales

I was recently asked by Richard Johnson , Food Journalist, Independent and Guardian columnist, and author of Street Food Revolution (a book about the emerging street food scene in Britain) if I would like to review for the new British Street Food website and app. Of course I said yes, but having done so started to wonder if we actually had a street food culture here in North Wales.

2007-04-26 00.26.31

Providero’s coffee van…battered by the waves on a blustery day

A few years ago there wasn’t much of a Street Food culture in the UK at all. Burgers and chips selling from catering vans, Mr Whippy drove up and down playing tinkly child catcheresque music and doughnut stalls were actually quite exciting. That’s not to say there was never a culture of street food. Historically food was always served on the streets…in Norman times there were cookshops that sold hot food from market stalls and in London street-sellers strode about hawking their goods. This continued into Victorian times (think Oliver Twist and the who will buy? scene) where they sold all manner of food; everything from jellied eels to fruit pies, muffins to pea soup it was all there.

So why did it all disappear? Perhaps it was the ever more stringent food hygiene regulations that slowly crept in, or the lack of cash that crippled Britain after the war. Rationing and food shortage must have played a part with only the wealthiest able to eat out…and that would have been at the fancier restaurants in town. Average Joe Blogs couldn’t afford to buy ingredients to make the food let alone have enough customers that could afford to buy it. My essay on the decline of British food can be found in this earlier post, but I can imagine that street food was viewed as one of the worst examples of dull British food and shunned in favour of the new fad…French cuisine!

Now, with inspiration from exotic food vendors in the USA this is beginning to change. The British food scene has woken up and a new breed of food lover taken over. They are younger, more in tune with both British and world cuisine, less hampered by rules and regulations, more entrepreneurial and  inventive. Most couldn’t afford a shop rental in London so have found ways round it so they can bring their ideas to life….and its spreading. Major cities from Birmingham to Bristol, Cardiff to Manchester are following suit with their own crew of vintage van, quirky wagon and market stall sellers vending the kind of cheap and exotic dishes once only found in restaurants and cafes.

There are websites too…EatStreet (now Foodhawkers) set up by Petra Barran of Chocstar, lists markets and independent street food traders in London, while Richards new website (which should go live in the next couple of weeks) and app (due for release in April/May) will list traders across the UK giving fans the opportunity to seek out something cheap tasty and unusual.

Sadly here in North Wales we are still a little behind the trend and street food is still the domain of the old school burger and chip van outside the football ground, and the doughnut wagon on the trading estate.

Pinpointing ‘good’ street food is hard, like looking for a needle in a haystack since the area is wide and rural stretching from the borders of Cheshire all the way down to Aberystwyth. it would probably be something like a two hundred mile round trip to check out the area. Not easy then to nip about reviewing street food.

Jon Providero

Jon from Providero

2007-04-26 00.30.20

One thing I quickly discovered when I started talking to vendors is that they are strictly governed by the rules and regulations of the rather old-fashioned town councils. As Providero told me, licenses are limited on the grounds that there are plenty of ‘local’ cafes (albeit some not particularly great ones) and business should go to them and street sellers forced into ‘hidden’ spots. For traders like Providero: Fine teas and Coffees this has not been a problem. As a travelling barista, selling great coffee and home-made cakes from their converted vintage Citroen van they are much in demand and people travel to find them.

They advertise their location via Facebook and Twitter – one update states “North Wales Weekly News now, followed by North Wales Police office’s approx 3pm and Old Colwyn Prom from around 3.30pm” . Their Old Colwyn pitch (at the end of the promenade and just under the railway bridge) seems bleak and isolated but there was a steady flow of passing trade. From dog walkers and cyclists, to joggers and an enthusiastic crowd of regulars, they all seem to flock to their van to pick up a welcome, but generally hard to come by, ‘proper’ coffee, and at between £1.50 (for a 8oz cup) and £2.00 (for a 12oz) who could deny they are good value. Their coffee and cakes are worth seeking out if you are passing that way.

The best quality street food is still mostly found in and around the local produce and farmers markets and food events that pop up across North Wales. Unlike bigger cities, the area lacks the high density population, good weather and disposable income to have a burgeoning street food scene, but look closer and in the right places and you will find a few hidden gems. Small local markets with a regular clientele are friendly and welcoming with interesting food on offer, but don’t expect anything too experimental or fancy; a nicely cooked locally produced lamb burger, pulled pork or bacon bap attracts more attention than falafel, spicy wings or a bento box ever will (not saying there aren’t those among us that wouldn’t welcome this).

I run my ‘street food’ stall (or pop up cafe…however you want to look at it) and tend to stick to seasonal soups, local bacon and sausage buns and dishes made from ingredients sold at the Ogwen produce market. Good quality fresh coffee made by local roasters always goes down well, plus dishes such as spicy Welsh-made chorizo stew or wraps. It’s worth noting though, that  customers often prefer a nice leek and potato soup!

Dylans

Dylans bread van

2007-04-27 20.39.02

Robin and the sourdough bread selection

Another member of the cool van brigade is Dylan’s, a local seafood restaurant and pizzeria in Menai Bridge, Anglesey. Owners David and Robin also run a street food stall selling artisan bread and freshly cooked ‘dishes of the day’ found primarily on the third Saturday of the month at  Anglesey Farmers market.

Robin was on duty on the day I visited, but they didn’t have hot food just their artisan bread which is extremely good. Rows of sourdough, focaccia, buns and wholemeal grace the shelves of the van, all made by a lad that looks like he just stepped from the set of TOWIE… he is actually from Essex, but moved to Wales as a child (hence the hint of Essex/Welsh accent).

It was a shame I didn’t get to taste their famous fish chowder or lob scouse which I’d heard so much about from regulars at the market.  Robin explained that they only bring out the hot food and marquee during the busier market periods. But I picked up a bag of sourdough buns to bring home for lunch. They were beautifully soft and fluffy, with the distinctive sourdough tanginess and at 30p each were something of a bargain. The bread is pricier at £3 a loaf which might be a little steep for this area, but is definitely worth it.

Dylans restaurant is on  Twitter @Dylanspizzeria and their van, although mostly at the Anglesey market, they hope to move around to seaside areas such as Rhosneigr during the (hopefully) warmer months this year.

Mags and Maldwyn are not new kids on the block. They have sold their organic Welsh mountain lamb and mutton online for almost ten years and have run their mobile catering outlet Oen Aran lamb for around eight. They stick to a simple principle; to only sell quality meat produced on their own farm (which for your information is in Bala, North Wales). The menu is small and features just a handful of tried and tested dishes; dry cure bacon or sausage baps, roast lamb and lamb burgers which have something of a local reputation for being pretty damn good.

Mags and MAl Aran Lamb

Mags and Maldwyn of Aran lamb

Aran lamb burger

Brunch!

Aran lamb are part old school burger van, part local produce pioneer. The grease and chip fat are nowhere to be seen, replaced by their own high quality organic meat. It’s slightly disturbing, but also reassuring that they knew every single animal now being served in a bun.

Of course I had to try their famous lamb burger for myself. I’d skipped breakfast and moved straight to brunch…and oh what a brunch it was! Juicy, full of flavour and the quality of the meat shone through. Topped with lots of freshly cooked onion and a fab home-made mint sauce it was just what I needed to cure my stomach grumbles.

Mags and Maldwyn don’t do facebook or twitter, but they can be found at most local food events, from the Farmers market in Menai Bridge, Anglesey, to Porthmadog produce market on the last Saturday of the month. They certainly get about!

On another trip, this time to the Conwy Farmers market at the RSPB reserve I came across Harvies Ltd, a Mold based artisan bakery that sells rustic pies across North Wales and Cheshire. I didn’t manage to meet the owner Carole Harvie, but I was lucky to meet any of them at all; this was their first time at this market. I spoke to the woman running the stall and she explained that at some markets they sell hot pies but due to our wonderful Welsh regulations, this time those of the RSPB reserve which has an on-site cafe, the sale of hot food is discouraged.

It was a shame, the day I visited was freezing and I could have done with a hot pie but still I decided to pick up a selection to take home for later. With flavours such as ham and pheasant, steak and ale, courgette, feta and pine nut I was spoilt for choice. I eventually took one of each plus a hefty slice of macadamia brownie and lemon frangipane cake. Pies ranged in price between £3 and £4 which I think is pretty good value, considering the size of them. Pasties and sausage rolls cost slightly less and cakes were about £1.50 which was exceptionally cheap. Later, I warmed the pies in the oven and ate them for tea. They were delicious. Tasty filling, perfect pastry and I’m sure they would even be nice cold (on a less freezing day).

Harvies

Harvies pies

Harvies artisan pies….and cakes…

Now I know street food trade increases in the summer months and in some ways it’s a shame I was asked to do this review in the winter.  My visits to both Porthmadog and Dolgellau were hampered by snow and a number of markets close until March. I will try again later this month.

In the meantime if you know where the best street food is in North Wales drop me a line….email:moelfabansuppers@gmail.com or just leave a comment and watch out for the launch of the new look British Street Food website later this month.

1 Comment

Filed under British food, event catering, home cooking, local produce, produce markets, seasonal food, street food