Many attribute Los Angeles as the birthplace of the U.S. mobile food truck phenomenon. Aside from traditional Mexican-American-run trucks called loncheras, the first notable food truck on record in the States that ultimately sparked the food truck revolution was Roy Choi’s Kogi in 2008.
Soon after, food truck communities started popping up in cities throughout the country. It was this progression of good quality food meets cheap, affordable prices that put modern street food on the map. And, in the earlier days of food truck adoption, it’s what got the wheels turning for better street food across the pond.
“I came back to London thinking, ‘Why can’t we do the wonderful street food stalls that I’d seen in the Far East, especially in New York?’,” says British food journalist and broadcaster Richard Johnson. “That was my epiphany.”
Pulling inspiration from his travels, Johnson founded the British Street Food Awards in 2009. In this “On Foodable Side Dish,” we bring viewers into the 2015 Awards and take a deeper look into how far U.K.’s street food scene has evolved over the years.
In the beginning, it was a struggle for Johnson to find like-minded people who really understood what it would take to elevate London’s street food scene: “Exciting food with prominence and served with a bit of Hollywood pizzaz from wonderful old vans, trucks and trailers that had personality,” says Johnson.
In 2015, the British Street Food Awards received interest from 3,000 applicants.
Attendees, who try fare at each truck and then vote for their favorites, describe the event as eclectic, with different foods highlighting different nationalities, as well as high-quality dishes where serving sizes equate to more bang for their buck.
“We make Neapolitan pizza with a twist,” says Victoria Featherby of Scream for Pizza, one of this year’s vendors. Aside from classic pies, Scream for Pizza creates unique flavor combinations like its Hello Crabulous pizza: Saffron Thermidor sauce, Northumbrian crab, smoked pancetta, mozzarella, and chilli flakes, finished with a 36-month aged parmesan.
The Bowler, specializing in meatballs, is another vendor from this year’s awards. Daily specials include meatballs like Green Chilli Chicken in a coconut curry and Spinach Chickpea and Ricotta served in a spiced tomato sauce.
“Street food’s changed up and down the land now, so people from Edinburgh, Scotland, and Dundee have driven down for this competition… it’s really representative of the U.K. as a whole,” says Jez Felwick of The Bowler. “It’s good to get a bit of recognition from the public who come to vote.”
But it was SeaDog that was chosen as the 2015 “Best of the Best” winner. The vendor, which is known, according to its Twitter, for street eats and bespoke catering specializing in fish and seafood, also won for “Best Snack” for its seaside popcorn with chilli vinegar and Cornish seaweed salt.
“Where we’re from in north Devon, the majority of the fish… only 3 percent of the fish stays in the region,” says SeaDog’s Jim Coslett. “So we wanted to do something to kind of celebrate the richness of the coast of what’s around us.”
A big part of the judging element is to get that respectability that street food never had before, says Johnson, who thinks that street food has, in a sense, become even better than restaurant food.
Food truck operations have a lot more flexibility when it comes to a lot of things, but especially in eliminating the steps from food preparation to mouth, delivering a dish at the precise moment of perfection, something that chefs are obsessed with, says Johnson.
“That moment of perfection when a pizza is burnt in just the right way so it’s kind of crispy enough and the cheese is bubbly enough. And the burger is caramelized enough and the juices are just runny enough — that very very moment when you should eat that dish.”