Street Food
Feast Your Way Around The Globe

Street Food Thursday, July 2014, Berlin Kreuzberg
Street Food Thursday, July 2014, Berlin Kreuzberg | Photo (detail): © Heike Hucht

Street food is a lot more than just a quick snack on the street. Cook shops, food stalls and food trucks also provide us with a good helping of food culture. With a little bit of luck it is now even possible to gorge your way through half the countries of the world - without having to move more than just a few metres.

The actual name “street food” does not sound particularly appetising nor exciting and it actually does not do justice to what it is, either. As soon as you take a look a little further afield, above all at Asia and America, you soon realise that street food has many facets and can look back over a long tradition. In Vietnam, India and Thailand mobile food stalls that quickly rustle up the local specialities have always been an integral part of the street scene since time immemorial. In Singapore, Hong Kong or Malaysia the food stalls are to be found in large halls that they call “hawker centres”. Or the cooks set up shop in one of the bright and brilliant night markets. A North-American inner city without hot-dog stands? Hard to imagine, the same goes for the beach in Rio without its empanada vendors.

Food trucks and mini-restaurants

Eating wherever you happen to be is both a need and an instant, straightforward way of satisfying that need – in Germany the first thing that automatically springs to mind is the snack. For example, classic German snacks like the Bratwurst (fried sausage in a bread roll) or Currywurst (sausage in a curry sauce usually served with chips on a small, cardboard tray). These days, however, things are becoming much more imaginative, more diverse and more sophisticated and this is clearly illustrated by the advent of the food truck – a new kind of mobile mini-restaurant. The trend took to the road in the USA about six or seven years ago and in the meantime has arrived in Europe. Every day the number of people copying the trend grows considerably, be it in Amsterdam or Warsaw.

Another trend that has made an international name for itself is Restaurant Day. This is the day when everybody is invited to set up his or her own restaurant – a pop-up restaurant on the street, in the comfort of their own home, in their backyard or in the park. It all broke loose in Helsinki back in May 2011, when 45 temporary mini-restaurants were set up as a kind of rebellious protest against all the bureaucracy prevailing in the catering sector – in the meantime it has taken on unexpected dimensions all over the world. The last time it took place in May 2014 more than 140 cities in over 30 countries took part. In Germany it was Kiel, Dortmund, Essen, Frankfurt am Main, Munich and Weimar, to name but a few.

Authenticity, quality, taste

Every Thursday in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg a small Restaurant Day takes place. The event is called Street Food Thursday and has been held in Markthalle Neun (market hall number nine) near the Görlitzer Bahnhof subway station since April 2013. It is a special event in a special place. After eking out an existence as the soulless premises of supermarket chain stores and discount shops over the last few years, it has now once again become a sophisticated location for “eating differently and shopping differently”, as the philosophy of its management trio, Nikolaus Driessen, Bernd Maier and Florian Niedermeier, goes. On Street Food Thursday people gather there to check out culinary skills – either their own at the cooker themselves or watching others cook, either as a chef or as a guest. “The event provides a platform for all those people who love food,” says co-initiator Kavita Meelu, putting it in a nutshell. She grew up in London, but since 2009 the 31-year-old has lived in the German capital, where she is active as a passionate networker in all matters concerning food.

On Thursdays there are about 40 stands spread out through the hall, the range of food on offer is as varied as the population diversity of Berlin. Those who are hungry enough can gorge their way round the world; for example, they can bolt down a British pie, devour a tapioca dumpling from Thailand, feast on some Fufu from Nigeria or pig out on Peruvian Ceviche, bite into a bun from Korea or polish off some Allgäuer Kässpatzen (cheese noodles from southern Germany). What is it that makes street food so appealing? “Because for a small amount of money, you get a lot of authenticity, top quality and real taste”, says Kavita Meelu.

The first German Street Food Festival

“Fancy food for people on the go”, rather than just “eating on the street” – In this description it becomes clear why street food currently is becoming more popular, even in the restaurant business. It is also the reason for the success of street food festivals like Taste of London, Copenhagen Cooking or Stragusto in the Italian town of Trapani that attract visitors in their tens of thousands. This year a German street food festival is to be celebrated in Berlin. It is part of a four-day event called Stadt Land Food taking place on the first weekend in October and was initiated by Kavita Meelu and the team at Markthalle Neun.

The federal capital also has another meeting place for street food fans that goes by the name of the Bite Club. Every second Friday the Hoppetosse, a ship revamped for swimming and sunbathing, and the stretch of bank on the river Spree where it is moored become a marketplace for fast, tasty and inexpensive finger food. Alongside four or five food trucks there are also up to nine snack stands offering delicacies from all over the world. The whole thing is accompanied by drinks and music, either live or from a DJ. The idea, inspired by what was going on in some of the world’s other big cities, was brought to Berlin by the event’s initiators, London-born Miranda Zahediah and Tommy Tannock. “We thought what worked well for London or Brooklyn might also work for a fun and cosmopolitan city like Berlin,” says Miranda Zahediah.

In August 2013, even though it was the first time the event took place, more than 3,500 people came to it. The next step planned is for the Bite Club to go on tour as a kind of ambassador for street food and inspire other cities. Sights have already been firmly set on Hamburg and Munich. “As soon as we and our on-site partners have obtained all the right permits, we plan to kick off in August,” says the Berliner-by-choice. This could be the start of a wonderful movement – the Street Food Movement.