LONDON | Street Food vendors have become ubiquitous with London’s public spaces in recent years. Informal dining is in and people are flocking to food trucks and popup stalls. In fact, the mobile dining option is now the choice of many proprietors before they move into the riskier, costlier world of restaurant permanency. For example, BAO got its start in Netil Market and now commands an hour long queue on a Monday for its sleek store front in Soho. Established favourites like Meat Liquor and Pitt Cue Co also started as food trucks.
Over the coming months we will be exploring London’s burgeoning street food scene. For this first instalment, we take a walk through the trinity of markets clustered in the E8 postcode, adjacent to London Fields.
Since moving to Haggerston, Saturdays can’t come soon enough – and it’s not just for the obvious reasons. Just a short walk down Regent’s Canal, the East End explodes with loads of delicious produce, baked goods, and smoked meat. Who said the A to Z was dead? In these markets you can travel the globe with quality food options spanning from the Caribbean to Scotland, Japan to Mexico and back.
On a Saturday, Broadway Market booms with organic produce, independent clothing and design, and yes, amazing street food. The street between Regent’s Canal and London Fields becomes pedestrian only to accommodate the plethora of vendors which offer a bounty of culinary delights. The soundtrack to the market is the variety of street buskers performing tunes from blue grass to folk.
For a sweet treat, a favourite is Violet Cakes. Violet Cakes is owned by a former pastry chef at the renowned Chez Panisse in Berkeley California and offers a range of American style cakes and pastries. There is a more permenant Violet Cakes cafe in Dalston, however we enjoy visiting the market stall – the atmosphere on a Saturday morning is great. You can’t go wrong with any of the offerings but our tip is the Buttermilk Banana Bread. It’s one of the best banana breads we’ve ever had, and we’ve had a few in our lifetime!
The perfect accessory with which to stroll through the market is a bag of the perfectly sweet and salty popcorn from Drum & Kernel. Every piece of popcorn is perfectly hand popped to perfection by one of the owners Matt or Claire in a huge stainless steel drum at 450°C. In most bags of popcorn there are usually a number of dud pieces; not here – the popcorn is constantly stirred while popping to ensure consistency. If you’re sharing, this is the kind of item that could cause manners to revert to the Kindergarten level.
Tucked away around the corner from Broadway Market, you’ll find Schoolyard Market, which calls itself “Broadway Market’s cooler little sister”.
Schoolyard Market is named for its location behind London Fields Primary School and on a sunny afternoon you find families and friends alike eating market food beneath the trees. Schoolyard commands some big names in the food scene like Crosstown Doughnuts (permanent location in Soho) and Bad Brownie – whose salted caramel brownie has won awards as London’s best brownie (we’re inclined to agree). It’s not just about the established players though – the combination of cheap rent and short term tenancy options means that it’s not uncommon to see new, smaller vendors showcasing their wares. The market offers so many tempting options that even the most decisive person will be bemused as to what to choose for lunch.
A Saturday staple for us at Schoolyard Market has become the Tomo chicken Katsu wrap. It’s a culinary contrast. The woman at Tomo gets you hooked with her generous free samples. For a meagre £4.00, you walk away with a “small” wrap that is anything but. The wrap is a pure delight overflowing with Katsu chicken, hummus, chili, carrot, cumcumber, jalapenos and more. This Japanese/Mexican/Middle Eastern fusion reminds us of what street food should be. There is a table full of fresh ingredients made to order on the spot. Those that work near Petticoat Lane are lucky as Tomo is based there on weekdays. This is kind of place you wish was set up next to your workplace every day. The only bad thing about this wrap is when it’s all done, although at only £4.00 you could always get another…
Another favourite is Mission Mariscos. By the time we arrived in the late afternoon the owner, Mexican-born, LA-bred Andrew Ramirez was all out of his famous fish and prawn tacos but the pork carnitas did not disappoint. We overheard someone say that they phoned in their order the day before and we can see why. The pork taco was excellent, bursting at the seams with perfectly cooked pork and guacamole. You are able to add your own toppings which include tortilla strips, pico de gallo, and pickled onions. Apparently the love of a taco is universal between celebrity and pleb which was evidenced as we were queued up next to Pixie Geldof getting her taco on.
If you’re on a detox, Schoolyard Market definitely caters to London’s latest trend, the health kick. There are stalls selling organic coconut tea, fresh juices, and paleo fare.
A bit further on towards the rail arches you will find Netil Market. Netil Market is a distinct space where the vendors operate from shipping containers or ram-shackle wooden sheds. Netil Market is open daily but really comes alive on a Saturday. The market is a mix of weekly staples and new faces and we love the variety on offer.
In Netil Market you’ll find what must be one of London’s smallest breweries, ºPlato Brewing Supplies. Plato is the place where the budding home brewer can pick up the essentials needed to get started. The stall offers a starter kit for £49.00 that provides beginners with all they need to pump out a 23 litre brew. For those more into instant gratification, Adam at Plato generally has four beers on tap which have been brewed in the shipping container. You can sample a half pint for £2.00; a full for £4.00. Adam offers a variety of beers from lagers, to bitters, to ales.
Netil market also features a literal BAR-ber where you can get a new do while you enjoy a drink. After a few drinks, you’ve likely worked up an appetite.
When you’re ready for some food, we wholeheartedly suggest the jerk chicken platter from Lamina’s Joint. This is authentic Jamaican food at its best. For £5.00, you get a massive portion of chicken, rice and beans, and oriental salad. The deep fried fish option also has great flavour although the bones could turn some people off.
No discussion of Netil Market would be complete without making mention of Howard’s Meat Co. Howard’s smoke their meat in the authentic central Texas, Austin style, meaning they use a 10ft 100% wood fired smoker, 16 hour cooks and a lot of pepper. The menu includes frozen margaritas and brunch. Along with the usual suspects of beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked ribs and smoked bird (chicken and turkey), Howard’s also have a rotating option – pictured below was thick “bacon” chops that were still in the experimental phase. The flavour was spot on. What else could one ask for to round out the perfect weekend?
Have you been to any of the market’s we’ve mentioned? What’s your favourite thing to eat while there?
Join us for our next London Street Food feature when we head south of the Thames in search of culinary delights.