London - There is something viscerally pleasurable about feeding on a piping hot mess of drippy, full-flavoured food from paper plates while standing by the kerb.
Street food was born on these kerbsides; in caravans, food trucks and carts in cities all over the world, from New York to New Delhi.
The British capital's street food scene has witnessed an explosion of flavours in recent years, as weekend markets spring from every neighbourhood.
Independent traders sell everything from homemade chutneys to artisanal breads to hand-cured ham.
Along with traditional traders hawking down-home, back-to-basics grub like falafel wraps, hotdogs and paella, a clutch of young, new-generation hawkers are infusing the scene with innovative, exciting tastes.
Fearless, experimental and social mediasavvy, these new-age entrepreneurs are redefining street food with their hip fusion fare that hungry Londoners are getting in line for.
Here are some to watch out for.
BORN & RAISED
These pizzas are as British as can be, and there is a Land Rover to prove it.
Hearty wood-fired, oven-baked flatbread may be a Naples invention, but Born & Raised has made it proudly English, by disguising it with toppings and ingredients that bear the stamp of the Union Jack.
Forget four cheeses, marinara or prosciutto.
The toppings here are in the range of Duroc pork shoulder with caramelised apple sauce, sage and watercress; braised beef brisket with horseradish cream and watercress; and goat's cheese with caramelised red onions on a beetroot-infused dough (5.50 pounds to 6.50 pounds, or S$11 to S$13).
They knead and stretch their own dough, which then gets fired up in an oven built into a Land Rover Defender.
The result: The bee's knees, as you might say.
Follow Born & Raised: bornandraisedpizza.com twitter.com/BornRaisedPizza
The kimchi princess
It started out as ssam, or Korean lettuce wraps, but along the way, Ms Hanna Soderlund turned it into burritos instead.
"Burritos were a test for the colder weather and they worked well," said the 26-year-old owner of Kimchinary.
But even before Ms Soderlund, who is Swedish, made up her mind to sell Korean burritos on the streets of London, she was already a convert to kimchi, Korean fermented vegetables.
As a politics major at King's College London, she lived with two Korean flatmates who always had kimchi in the common fridge.
She readily admits that she did not have a business plan when she first set out to introduce Kimchinary in 2013.
"I just liked eating and making kimchi and others seemed to, too. Of course, I was also inspired by Korean-Mexican successes in the United States," she said.
She took a month-long trip to South Korea early last year, visiting Seoul, Busan and Jeonju to learn the art of kimchi-making, grilling bulgogi and cooking other traditional eats.
Kimchinary's gochujang pulled pork wrap and braised bulgogi ox cheek flatbread with kimchi rice quickly found fans at food festivals and in Ian Dodds, market planning manager for successful street food marketer Kerb.
Ms Soderlund now trades regularly at Kerb's markets in Granary Square, Spitalfields and The Gherkin.
Despite her quick success, she has no immediate plans to set up a restaurant.
"I love being a street food trader. I'll keep on doing it until I don't find it interesting and fun anymore, and then I'll get started on a new project," she said.
Korean cuisine has Londoners eating out of the hands of anyone waving a tub of gochujang in their faces, and Hanna Soderlund might have something to do with that.
The cheery cook runs Kimchinary, which has fed the eating frenzy of late in the city for all things hot and spicy. Her Korean burritos pack in traditional kimchi rice, slow-braised bulgogi ox cheek or pulled pork shoulder, and cheddar, sesame slaw and sour cream.
Vegetarians get their fix too, with a grilled aubergine wrap glossed with the same pungent Korean chilli paste (6 pounds, or S$12).
Soderlund's is not the only Latin- Korean tacos out there, but the texture of the juicy wraps - mushy, crunchy, tingly spicy and chewy all at once - make them a stand-out. Find her at Granary Square in King's Cross, Spitalfields in Shoreditch and the Gherkin near Liverpool Street station.
Follow Kimchinary: twitter.com/kimchinary facebook.com/kimchinaryWAFFLE ON
If you ever meet Eddie Ruffett and Bettina Frohn with their lean, mean cast iron machine, do not waffle on. You could, however, be forgiven for waffling over what waffles to order because everything on the menu sounds like a must-try.
There is slow roasted duck drizzled with fresh plum sauce and topped with a biodynamic egg (7 pounds or S$14); dry-cured bacon with Canadian maple syrup (5 pounds); gravlax of home-cured salmon with lemon creme fraiche (5 pounds); chocolate sauce with marshmallows and champagne creme (5 pounds); and apple strudel with crema pasticcera (6 pounds).
Wait. This is waffles? And it is food?
These guys like to push the boundaries of what is acceptable, so do not be surprised if they come up with even more eye-popping toppings.
Their freshly-made-while-you-wait waffles are served almost every weekend at Maltby Street Market near London Bridge.
Follow Waffle On: waffleon.net twitter.com/WaffleOnMarkets facebook.com/WaffleOnMarkets
Are those pulled pork tacos?" the man wanted to know.
"No, they're pulled jackfruit," came the friendly reply.
"Pulled jackfruit? It looks just like pulled pork!" the man exclaimed.
Yes, there is such a thing as pulled jackfruit, dear eaters.
And Club Mexicana's tasty vegan burritos, at 6 pounds (S$12) a pop, are made of this wondrous fruit.
If you thought tacos came with mostly meat, you will be bowled over by this street vendor's fresh corn tortilla tacos, stuffed with either beer-marinated wheat meat, refried black beans, or the delicious BBQ pulled jackfruit, topped with pink pickled onions, guacamole, creamed corn, sour cream and chilli sauce.
Spicy, refreshing and healthy, these vegan burritos are cruelty- and sin-free and give new meaning to Mexican tacos.
Meriel Armitage and her team can usually be found at Granary Square in King's Cross feeding hungry Central Saint Martins students and office folks, but like any self-respecting street food trader, is more of a pop-up, so keep track of them on social media.
Follow Club Mexicana: clubmexicana.com twitter.com/clubmexicana facebook.com/clubmexicanaLegal eagle to street hawker
Ms Mandy Yin found out that a street food trader had pulled out of a winter school fair in Shoreditch in East London.
"So I said, let's do it. It was a one-off. And it was freezing that day," said the Malaysian-born Chinese, whose parents moved the family to Britain 20 years ago.
The high-flying corporate lawyer had just quit her job because she found she needed "something more satisfying".
She has always had a passion for cooking and wanted to try selling something that was not on a run-of-the-mill ethnic menu.
"I thought Malaysian food deserved more exposure. And burgers have always been popular and suitable as street food," said the 32-year-old.
So she experimented with recipes, hit the right spot, and sank nearly 10,000 pounds (S$20,300) of her savings into Sambal Shiok, which she recouped in just three months.
Fans of the spicy buns know to look for her at Street Food Union in Soho, but Ms Yin wants to do more.
She returned to Malaysia last month to seek new inspiration, and is toying with a few ideas, such as a traditional grilled fish cake, otak-otak; chilli crabs; and dumplings served in a Hainanese chicken rice chilli sauce.
"Hopefully, it will bring demand for food that doesn't involve bread."
Everyone loves Malaysian satay, and nearly everyone loves a good burger. What do you get when you combine the two?
A juicy chicken satay patty sandwiched between hot brioche buns, slathered in spicy peanut sauce and the highly addictive sambal sauce, finished off with a sweet pickled cucumber and red onion salad.
Sambal Shiok, the brainchild of former corporate lawyer Mandy Yin, has been a welcome injection to London's food scene with its East-meets-West concoction.
It is exotic enough for anyone unfamiliar with the taste of South-east Asian fare, but comforting enough when it comes in a ubiquitous burger.
Besides chicken satay, there is also a beef rendang burger with Aberdeen Angus beef slow-cooked in lemongrass, coconut and 10 different spices, and a lentil satay burger for the non-carnivorous (5.50 pounds or S$11.20 for a lentil satay burger to 8.50 pounds for a double beef rendang burger).
So popular are the sauces that she has bottled them for sale.
And she hasn't forgotten carb-averse customers.
Gluten-free taster plates of chicken, beef or lentil patties with sauces and salad are also on the menu.
The stall is a regular at Street Food Union on Rupert Street in Soho.
Follow Sambal Shiok: sambalshiok.co.uk twitter.com/sambalshiok facebook.com/sambal-shiokFun buns to serious yum
Ms Lisa Meyer is an Oxford history major who became a radio producer who happened to love to cook.
So when she decided to try selling some buns she had been experimenting in her kitchen one weekend four years ago, little did she expect she would eventually quit her job, set up a business called Yum Bun and sell food for a living.
That life-changing kitchen experiment came out of a cookbook, Korean-American chef-entrepreneur David Chan's Momofuku, which she received as a gift from her brother.
On one of those pages was a recipe for a steamed pork belly bun, which she did not know about but wanted to try.
"I made them out of interest, not with a view to sell them. It was so delicious so I thought it would be great to sell them on the streets," said the 31-year-old.
Her first gig at a schoolyard in Broadway Market in Hackney became two years of selling her buns at markets and food festivals part-time. In 2012, she finally decided to quit her job to focus on Yum Bun.
"It grew organically. I felt an enthusiasm for it and I was asked to do more and more events. But I couldn't do two things properly at once, and I wanted to put my energy into this," she said.
When she won the People's Choice Award at the 2012 British Street Food Awards, that sealed the deal.
She counts herself lucky that she had time to grow into the business.
Back in 2010, the scene was only just heating up.
With intense competition these days, a lot more is expected of street food traders, she said.
Even so, she remembers dashing about wholesale markets and shops buying her supplies in the nascent days, not quite knowing what to do.
The back-breaking work - she was spending three days a week just handmaking buns then - and the unpredictability of a business at the mercy of the weather were par for the course.
But she is not ready to trade the freedom her work gives her for something more sedate at the moment.
"Running your own business can be a bit of a burden because you can't completely relax, but at the same time, you don't have to be in an office Mondays to Fridays. I'm attracted to the kind of independent life it's given me," she said.
If all goes well, she will open a brick and mortar shop in Shoreditch sometime this year. But, she has not ruled out going back to radio eventually.
"One day, when I'm retired, I might make radio programmes again."
East Asians may sniff at Ms Lisa Meyer's pork buns as nothing but a rip-off of the kong bak pau, or pork belly steamed bun.
But if the endless queues are any indication, nobody seems to care where they come from, as long as they are, well, yum buns.
To prove it, she has scored the People's Choice Award at the 2012 British Street Food Awards, and is so successful on the streets, she is looking for a permanent home for her buns.
That way, customers do not have to stand out in the cold ju st to get their hands on them. Her slow-roasted pork belly buns, topped with cucumbers, spring onions and hoisin sauce, are her biggest sellers, but her moreish karaage chicken bun with tarutaru sauce and shredded lettuce, is a close second (3.50 pounds or S$7 each).
Meyer does not know how to define her buns. They are influenced in part by her Japanese heritage (her mother is Japanese), her love for Asian cuisine, and her penchant for experimenting with new flavours.
And so, she has also come up with a crispy panko breaded pollack bun smothered in gochujang; a Portabello mushroom bun with toasted walnuts and miso glaze; and a sticky ginger and chilli salmon bun with spring onions.
But those steamed buns - pillowy soft on every bite - are her stars. Follow Yum Bun: yumbun.com twitter.com/yumbun facebook.com/YumBun
Why is Bad Brownie so bad? Because so far, no one has had the guts to do to brownies what Paz Sarmah and Morag Ekanger have done.
According to the pair, who bonded over hot chocolate in the pantry of a branding agency, they've put their gourmet brownies "through bootcamp".
What you get is super fudgy chunks in somewhat unthinkable flavours: bacon and maple syrup, Earl Grey with lemon sugar, chai latte, mint fondant, lime coconut marshmallow and Malteser.
The top-sellers, though, are the somewhat "safe" but nonetheless savoury options of salted caramel, peanut butter and triple chocolate. The salted caramel was voted Best Brownie in London at last year's Chocolate Festival.
Depending on your luck and sense of adventure, the specials - that is, the cool flavours - do not always make it to the streets.
But even at 3.50 pounds (S$7) a square, it is well worth a shot.
These brownie buffs are regularly at Soho's Street Food Union, Broadway Market in Hackney, Maltby Street Market near London Bridge and Venn Street Market in Clapham.
Follow Bad Brownie: badbrownie.co.uk twitter.com/badbrownieco facebook.com/BadBrownieCo
One of the things you must do as a New Age street food vendor is to have a cool set of wheels.
Your moveable kitchen does as much grunt work firing up the stoves and grills as it does selling your brand.
Alec Owen surely knows that, because his Baba G's mobile is such a riot of colours, it is impossible to miss on any street.
But fans who get in line next to the hot pink wagon do so for his Royal Raj Rump tortilla (7 pounds or S$14), Crazy Lamb Jalfrezi burger and Masala fries (pounds3).
Yes, it is India meets Britain with a dash of fun and more than a sprinkling of spice. The prime lamb rump is cooked in a specially built tandoor oven in the merry van.
Moist and tender, you get chunky pieces of it wrapped in a flatbread, covered in crunchy cabbage with a yoghurt mint and cumin riata, tamarind salsa and fresh mango pulp.
As the story goes, he got inspired after his post-university travels in India, quit his job in architecture and combined his love for burgers and new discoveries from South Asia to turn Baba G's (previously known as Bhangra Burger) into one of London's hottest street eats.
The tandoor truck can sometimes be spotted at Granary Square in King's Cross. Follow Baba G's: bhangraburger.com twitter.com/bhangraburger
This article was first published on January 18, 2015.
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