Street food. What images the term conjures up probably depends on where you’ve been and what you eat. New York City tourists might think of cheap hot dogs on 5th Ave whereas Copenhagen locals might reference the uber-organized Copenhagen Street Food stalls housed in an old paper warehouse. Backpackers in Asia maybe associate street food with bugs, bellyaches and late night crepe-throwing whilst on the other side of the southern hemisphere, in Peru, anticuchos (cubed beef heart on sticks), ceviche and guinea pig on sticks are all popular on the street food scene.
It’s difficult to have a collective vision for a type of food that is defined by the mere fact it is sold in a public space by a vendor or hawker and is ready for immediate consumption, especially since street food is constantly being reinvented and reinterpreted. And even though street food is often regarded as a trend, it’s certainly not new on the foodie scene. A brief history of street food just in the UK puts eating in the streets back to Roman times, as excavations within the Square Mile area consistently turned up oyster shells, a common snack for the common people of another time. The trend of eating on the go continued, from the oft-sung about Muffin Man of Georgian London to the hawking of pea soup and hot eels to the rapidly growing group of city workers during Victorian times. It’s hard to attribute trendiness to a concept that has survived over the ages.
So what about the UK street food vision of today? Well, . A passion for food has been a constant in her life ever since she discovered a Sainsbury’s cookbook at age ten that became her early years go-to for kitchen experimentation. But her first real taste of the street food scene was inspired by visits the US where the reign of modern street food started early and started fast. Petra began her own venture, gaining years of on-the-ground training with the launch of her mobile chocolate van in 2005. From there, she was so inspired by the passionate and interesting people she met along the way, that creating a street food collective seemed like the obvious next step.
Petra opens up to Crowdfooding about her ultimate goal to get good food onto the city streets by bringing together interesting people with passion. The latest KERB project, KERB Camden, launches on Friday, August 12th and brings together a street food affair with 35 vendors open and available 7 days a week, 364 days a year. The variety of cuisine isn’t the only thing to get excited about—KERB Camden Market is also testament to what collaboration can accomplish in revitalizing city street food scenes, which have come a long way from streetside oyster shucking.
Read on for some words of wisdom from London’s very own street food pioneer, Petra Barran.
Can you tell our readers about your career journey to date and how you got involved with street food in the first place?
I ran a choc-mobile, Choc Star, from 2005-2011 and drove it all over the country. Through doing festivals and markets I met loads of other great traders and realised that if we got together, got organised and pooled our talent then we could make something bigger happen than if we were all separate. eat.st was born in 2009, followed by KERB in 2012.
How did you settle on chocolate as your first street food offering?
Because I love it and I thought it would be a great tool for helping me travel Britain, have adventures and meet lots of good people.
What were the biggest challenges you faced as a mobile chocolatier?
Finding a pitch, weather, doing everything myself…the physicality of it…melting chocolate in the heat!
How has the British street food scene evolved since you first started Choc Star in 2005?
It’s another world. No longer is it a quirky lifestyle choice filled with itinerant adventurers. Now it is viewed as an alternative to starting a restaurant and a route to investment and financial gold. The scene is still populated with brilliant people but it has become more mainstream, more commercial, less ad-hoc—all important parts of the process in making it normal to find and eat great food on the streets…our original goal!
How did the idea for KERB come about?
The combination of being a trader and studying urbanism at University College London fused the intrigue of food and cities and how vital they are to one another in terms of engaging and independent spaces for people to be. KERB is all about the transformation of urban space through great food and good people, the creation and development of a brilliant trader community, and the advancement of food quality on the streets.
What projects is KERB currently working on?
Over the last few months we’ve been working on our four lunchtime markets (KX, Gherkin, Paddington and West India Quay), our corporate catering arm and incubating new traders via our inKERBator scheme . Last week we did KERB’s Reggae Roast at King’s Cross which was brilliant: Caribbean street food + Reggae Roast sound system + lots of rum and dancing.
We’ve also announced our newest and largest location to date : KERB Camden Market with 35 amazing traders which opens to the public Friday, August 12th, 7 days a week, 364 days a year. We’re really excited to get started and unleash the lineup on the world!
What are the most exciting innovations and culinary offerings on London’s street food scene right now?
Steak and chips, cooked in front of you for less than £10. That’s amazing! Blu Top’s ice cream sandwiches with incredible flavour combinations. Taiwanese fried chicken in a bag from Daja Chicken. Poke Hawaiian sushi is beautiful and healthy.
What is the best advice you can give food entrepreneurs looking to start their own street food business?
Have a really clear understanding of WHY you want to do it and keep that as your compass as you navigate the turgid waters!
Has the street food revolution democratised good honest food or moved it further from reach?
Stage one has been to make it more available and more viable as a career move. Stage two will be when we can bring together all kinds of people to enjoy it and operate in it. It will happen!
What are the trends we are going to see in street food over the next couple of years?
More collaboration. Just as KERB is a collaboration of talented food traders and its food-loving customers, as we evolve and seek progression and longevity, we all need to connect with other organisations to continue to make great things happen.
Latest posts by Henna Garrison (see all)
- Crowdfunding for Food: Creating Space for Successful Innovation - October 25, 2016
- Chocothon: from bean to bar, creating a platform for sustainable chocolate supply - October 20, 2016
- KERB’s Petra Barran on the Street Food Revival - August 10, 2016