I’ll never forget my first experience of street food. It was August 2011, a time when street food in the UK meant a stomach ache from a dodgy van rather than an £8 ‘gourmet’ burger from a shopping centre. The arts sector had just taken its first series of sizeable whacks from the government, and I’d taken voluntary redundancy from my lovely arts job. But it was ok, because I was in possession of a round the world ticket with a return date of February 2012 – screw you, reality!
Our first stop was Bangkok, the start of a six-week food crawl around South East Asia. Like millions of travellers before me, I’d been enticed by beguiling accounts of Asia’s street food; of heaving streets packed with tiny tin cooking stations radiating the intoxicating aromas of dishes I couldn’t even pronounce. I was so excited and I remember that first night so clearly; walking slowly down each street in a giddy trance as I was guided by the seductive scents wafting from bubbling cauldrons and hissing woks.
But there was a problem. Me. Striking at the most inopportune of times, my awkward veggie syndrome meant I was all but excluded from street food fun times. I wandered from street to street, visiting cart after cart only to be met with endless varieties of meat and fish. It became my nemesis throughout Asia and I persisted, learning the phrase for “do you have anything vegetarian” in Vietnamese, Khmer, Thai and Malaysian, but my efforts were continually met with stares of confusion. I finally gave up, taking my exploration indoors where I tasted some of the most fantastic dishes of my entire life. But still, my Asian street food flame flickered. ONE day, veggie Asian street food joy would be mine.
It’s been two months since the grand reveal of Leeds’ latest foodie hub, Trinity Kitchen. Possibly the most hyped launch of the year since Trinity Leeds itself, the whir of the PR machine paid off and it opened to a virtual fanfare of glowing reviews, which I was very happy to add my voice to. We all swooned over the décor, were impressed with the range of permanent restaurants, but most importantly, we loved the fact that Trinity Kitchen would give a temporary home to five exciting, independent street food traders that would change each month.
And two months on, it’s these traders that have made Trinity Kitchen worth visiting again, and again, and again. People love to get ancy about the term ‘street food’, but I’m more interested in what it represents and for me, it’s the chance to enjoy a diverse mix of exquisitely-crafted food served up by passionate people. No more, no less. And this is where Trinity Kitchen has excelled, especially during the advance of winter when street food would normally mean frozen fingers and soggy sarnies. Seeking shelter from the cold, I’ve been wowed by the changing traders during the first two months, with highlights including the glorious chilli paneer delights of Manjit’s Kitchen, The Marvellous Tea Dance Company’s sparkly brownies (aka the best brownies EVER) and the pakora goodness of Fresh Rootz, a purveyor of vegan and vegetarian world street food.
Left to right – Chilli Paneer Wrap from Manjit’s Kitchen, Brownies from The Marvellous Tea Dance Company, Spicy Mexican Style Pakoras from Fresh Rootz
Remember when street food was a dirty burger from an insalubrious van on a Saturday night? Those days seem long gone now. Ever since the foodie world claimed it as its own, connotations of street food have changed beyond recognition, and you’re now more likely to pick up a gourmet pulled pork bun (brioche, of course), than soggy chips and a stomach ache.
Like it or loathe it, it’s here to stay, and I’m personally delighted that Leeds has embraced the street food craze with wide, open arms. From regular food festivals to world street food markets, our city centre streets are now dotted with a vast and exciting array of vans and vendors, their enticing aromas interfering with our shopping habits so that our quick nip into Boots will often come with a side of the best fish and chips you will ever taste (Fish&, I’m Looking at you!)
And that’s all very well in the summer, but what about when the great British winter sets in and Leeds plunges into a climate that’s decidedly unfavourable for al fresco dining?