Street food 'revolution' takes off in Scotland

By Magnus Bennett
BBC Scotland news website

Cheesy Toast Shack fareImage source, Cheesy Toast Shack

The inaugural Scottish Street Food Awards are being held this weekend. Is this a sign that street food culture is gaining traction north of the border?

For some people, putting the words "Scotland" and "street food" together may well conjure up images of a rundown van serving greasy burgers or breakfast rolls.

But organisers of the first Scottish Street Food Awards, taking place in Edinburgh, are hoping to shatter that view.

Over three days, more than a dozen street food vendors will be frying, grilling, baking, toasting, roasting and even freezing their produce at The Pitt, a street food and drinks market in Leith.

Two traders will qualify for the British awards in September.

One will be chosen by public vote while the second will be selected by a panel of expert chefs.

Organisers say the event can be seen as recognition that Scotland, which has seen a wave of new pop-up street food restaurants and venues start up in recent times, has finally joined Britain's street food "revolution".

British Street Food founder Richard Johnson, who organised the Scottish event in association with The Pitt, says it is long overdue.

"Scotland has advanced so much it now merits its own awards," he explains.

"Things have evolved here so quickly. It's more than just the traders. It's the 'scene' - the food raves, with craft beer and amazing traders in wonderful yards and out-of-the-way places."

Inaugural Scottish Street Food Awards competitors:

  • Rost Eats
  • Chick + Pea
  • Fresh Revolution
  • The Buffalo Truck
  • The Prague Shack
  • Umami Spice Girl Ltd
  • The Cheesy Toast Shack
  • Moo Pie Gelato
  • ShrimpWreck
  • Chompsky
  • Hamish's Hogs
  • Haggisman
  • Barnacles & Bones
  • The Crema Caravan

The list of competitors gives an idea of just how far street food traders have come in terms of their offerings.

Those vying for a place in the British final include traders specialising in "urban seafood", "authentic Czech street food with a Scottish twist" and "shellfish and obscure cuts of meat".

There's even a trader whose menu has included Jamaican goat stew and Taiwanese bao buns.

Mr Johnson says: "The best traders are specialists - they do a few dishes, and they do them very well.

"Their menu-not-so-fixe can change at a whim according to what looks good at the market that day, which means that it's seasonal and local.

"The new generation have got none of the grit, or the grease, which used to authenticate the whole street food experience.

"And their ingredients have changed too. Where you used to find limp white iceberg, you now find organic lamb's ear.

"And where once you squeezed on an unidentified red sauce, you now find a rich, home-made tomato ketchup that's actually got tomatoes in it."

Image source, Jason Alden
Image caption,
Richard Johnson says Scotland is "long overdue" its own street food awards

Street food culture is gaining traction in other ways in Scotland, according to several competitors in the Scottish awards.

Fife-based Kate Carter, who founded the Scottish grilled cheese business The Cheesy Toast Shack a year ago, with her partner Sam Larg, says she has seen a strong rise in bookings for weddings.

"I think people are looking for street food at weddings now rather than the traditional sit-down meal," she explains.

It's a trend that has also been noticed by another competitor, Galashiels-based Crema Caravan, which markets itself as the "UK's first dedicated creme brulee van".

Mel Duncan, who launched the business several years ago with partner Callum McDougall, says: "More people are opting to have food trucks at their weddings.

"I think street food is becoming popular partly because of the food and the prices.

"It is also quite social as well. At the Pitt, for example, people can come along with friends and family and try a lot of different food they haven't tried before."

Image source, Crema Caravan
Image caption,
Crema Caravan specialises in creme brulee dishes

Given Scotland's all-too-short summers, many street food traders have been heading indoors so they can operate their businesses right through the year.

That has seen more shopping centres latch on to street food's money-spinning potential.

Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow, for example, launched a street food hub last year with partner agency StreetDots.

Its Taste Buchanan enterprise currently has six food operators which operate on a rotational basis. The range on offer at the moment includes Mexican, Asian, home-made baking and vegan offerings.

Image source, Buchanan Galleries
Image caption,
Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow launched a street food hub last year

John Bloomer, from Buchanan Galleries owner Land Securities, claims the hub has gone from "strength to strength" since it opened in August.

He says: "Our vision of the space being an incubator hub for the best local, national and international food concepts has really been brought to life.

"We wanted to create a destination where anyone can connect with and discover the latest new food operators and try new foods which they may well not be familiar with - all at an affordable price-point."

'Sky's the limit'

So is the rise of Scottish street food a passing fad or is it here to stay?

For Richard Johnson, "the sky's the limit" for the future of Scottish street food.

He says: "The country has such amazing produce.

"Scotland has food with a real back story.

"Now that you've got the new generation of traders to take advantage of all of that's out there, you've got the beginnings of something very exciting."

Image caption,
The Pitt in Edinburgh will host the inaugural Scottish awards

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