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Street food: has it lost its way?

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Fiona Beckett Fiona Beckett | 10:36 UK time, Wednesday, 30 May 2012

With the bank holiday to end all bank holidays coming up this weekend there’s a fair chance you’ll be out and about at a local food festival. There’s a big one coming up at London’s South Bank. But despite the perception that street food is cheap are we actually getting good value for money when we buy our lunch - or supper - off a stand?

Pop-ups and food stalls are all the rage and a great way for newcomers to break into the restaurant business but they’re not necessarily a low cost option. I recently went to a local one in my home town of Bristol and the prices for burgers were much the same as the West End of London. Without the facilities of a restaurant.

Usually there are a couple of rickety tables you can nab if you’re lucky. Otherwise it’s a question of wandering around trying to balance your lunch, your bags and your drink without squirting ketchup or hot sauce down yourself. And that’s after having to queue for 10 minutes or so.

Large pans of rice being cooked at a market

Street food can be amazing, but are vendors asking too much for it?

Quite often the food isn’t that good which doesn’t matter when you’re a student and filling a hole after a late night drinking session at the pub but isn’t quite so satisfying when you’re a bit more discriminating. At the same fair there was a hot dog stall which had some great sausages but packed into some really dire soggy white rolls. The kind you’d have paid under a couple of quid for on an old-fashioned hot dog stand.

Many of us have been to countries where street food is a way of life - in Thailand I can remember having amazing noodles round a tiny van on the back streets of Bangkok but they were dirt cheap - around 50p I seem to recall.

Burmese street food

Not glamorous, just good. A Burmese street stall.

And in Portland in Oregon where there are over 500 food carts I had a fantastic dish of chicken and rice for around £3.50. But as usual in the UK we seem to have jacked up the prices and lost the ethos of street food in the process.

It’s not surprising that restaurateurs feel a little resentful of the new street food scene and the pop-up restaurants and supper clubs that have grown up alongside them. They have to pay rent, rates and taxes, abide by employment laws and conform with draconian hygiene regulations and inspections yet many would argue they offer better service and food than a stall.

Fiona Beckett is a food and wine writer. Read more at

So what do you think? Do you enjoy the buzz of the new food stalls and relish the innovative food they offer or do you prefer to go to a café or pub when you want a cheap meal?


  • Comment number 1.

    I can certainly agree with the comment about Thai Street Food - Its cheap, flavoursome and there is such a large variety - from noodles to hoi tod (mussels in mini omeltes), from grilled pork to quails eggs (probably not quail but the egg is around the same size) - mmm, feeling hungry

  • Comment number 2.

    Ah man, I've heard about these pop-up street stalls in the West End; wish someone'd set something up in Manchester!

  • Comment number 3.

    As a baker, I completely agree about the soggy rolls issue. They boast about how great their sausage/burger/roast meat is, then stick it in a god-awful supermarket roll. Go the extra mile and find a baker who will make you a Real Bread roll, or make your own like The Meatshack on Worcestershire do.

  • Comment number 4.

    Pricing is difficult. I do think sometimes we are sometimes convinced we are getting a better product because we've paid a bit more for it; well know in the art world but also (IMHO) true of food or wine in some instances. I also think sometimes the reverse is true - people are convinced that something can't be any good if it's too cheap. Also a bit of 'Emperor's Clothes' syndrome - if enough people say it's great, you are more likely to believe it. Queues of course are always good - convinces people that what's at the other end is worth having! Cynical caterer me.

  • Comment number 5.

    I totally agree about the prices charged here compared to abroad. In Egypt we used to have a pita bread filled with falafel and salad for 2 Egyptian pounds, from a market stall. The prices at arestaurant would be around 30 pounds.

  • Comment number 6.

    Is the euro currency completely doomed ?

  • Comment number 7.

    @Derick - not remotely qualified to answer that one. Ask Stephanie Flanders!


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