For many years street food in the UK has meant little more than a dodgy burger served with very little finesse perhaps at the end of an evening spent on the tiles. Compare that with the street food of Mexico or Thailand, where you really get a flavour of the national cuisine and where street food is often widely praised. Even closer to home, in France for instance, street food has enjoyed a better reputation than in Britain for decades. It is hard to imagine a mid-week French market without a van selling anything from gourmet sausages straight from the griddle to crepes, or pancakes. Head to Italy and you see the same thing in many towns – van owners selling barista style coffee or that Italian obsession, gelato or ice cream.
Street food vans in the UK are not what they once were, however. Some put the rise of gourmet style van catering down to the influence of our continental cousins, but that is not the whole story.
The gastrobus at Bantham is more beach than street.
Many mobile caterers have grown their businesses by following the summer music festival season from location to location. The likes of Glastonbury, Leeds and Reading and V festival are all massive and very well known, but there are now a plethora of smaller and more bijou festivals too, often catering for niches. Many of these festivals market themselves on being upmarket or family orientated. As such, they will only make carting pitches available to people who are selling food that is a cut above the usual. Even at your average summer festival you can look forward to a wide range of cuisine. Expect anything from Chinese to Jamaican to South American or South Asian foods. Gourmet vegetarian options are plentiful as are vans that cater for people with common allergies, like gluten-free food. There are even street food vans that will be able to serve kosher meals or are suited to those who observe a halal diet.
Many of these operators also now sell their food throughout the full course of the year – not just during the summer festival season when they upscale their operation usually by hiring a support vehicle from the likes of National van rental. As such, you will see many more gourmet style street food vans than ever before in the autumn and winter around Britain’s towns and cities. If you have not yet tried one, then do so. Truly, they beat the old hotdog salesman or burger van hands down. These days, mobile catering is trendy thing to do among gourmet chefs and you might even find that this ever-improving street food beats what you might find in a proper restaurant or a gastro-pub. Even if you find a chef is running a gourmet restaurant, there is no reason to think that a mobile catering business will not be run alongside it. For some of the up-and-coming chefs, it really is the in vogue way of getting their names out there into the wider domain.