It was Marco Pierre White who first gave me the idea. Sat on the grass, and eating a street-vendor’s burger slathered with ketchup, we wondered why we couldn’t offer the same thing in Britain. I decided, then and there, that I would do something about our street food. Once I had ordered another burger.
In my time as a food writer and broadcaster (check out my work at www.richardjohnson.flavors.me) I’ve travelled the world. And some of the best food I’ve ever eaten has been on the streets – whether it’s the dusty lanes of Bethlehem, with its hole-in-the-wall falafel shacks serving up pittas fat with hummus, pickle and broad beans, or the highways of Mandalay, with bowls of fishy noodles still salty from the sea.
Coming back home to Britain was always a disappointment. Ten years ago, when I was restaurant critic at the Independent, our food was becoming less of a joke. We had more Michelin-starred restaurants than Italy. But our street food? An embarrassment. It was either a bag of chips, or a cheap sausage on a rusty metal handcart pushed along by a Polish man with three fingers. We needed a revolution. And, like any good revolution, it started on the street.
I signed up Tony, who runs Stoats Porridge Bars. He sold cranachan porridge, with raspberries, honey and cream, from a shiny silver stall on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. And Roland, who sold the quality Mexican food of Flaming Cactus from a classic American Airstream trailer. And Sylvia, whose Root Master vegan delights were served aboard a double decker London bus. Pretty soon we had the beginnings of a movement.