Al Brown: Street food comes good

By Al Brown

Fast food has become respectable, writes chef Al Brown.

One of the biggest trends in food right now is what I call ‘the rise of street food’ or ‘street food comes good’.

What that means is speed and snappy doesn’t need to mean crappy and fatty.

Street food has become respectable, and it’s being offered in every possible genre out there – from food trucks, to some of the flashest white cloth restaurants offering a beautifully cooked lobster roll with homemade mayonnaise in a soft white bun, or a wagyu beef burger alongside more traditional fare on the menu.

People are reinventing what is essentially fast food – but putting their spin on it. By making it healthy and tasty, and it’s all about the produce.

It’s a strong trend that is really taking off around the world at the moment, where fine restaurants are embracing what I describe as a bit of ‘down and dirty’. People don’t want dots or smears on a plate. They want something that is real.

At my restaurant Depot, you can drink Bollinger and eat freshly shucked oysters, (which costs a fortune) or order a carafe of red wine to drink from a tumbler with a pork slider. It’s taking the serious note out of fine dining, and embracing the whimsical and nostalgic side of food – but with great ingredients. There is an attitude that comes with it.

It’s making really good, gourmet fast food, as well as the action of eating. I call it ‘the fondue factor’, which is about fun food, where something that people are eating is giving them a whole lot more pleasure than just taste and flavour. The joy of picking up a great hot dog in a roll that has a beautiful artisan sausage inside, and mustard that squirts out the sides; or a fresh taco.

There is a lovely connection when you eat fast food, because it’s slightly dangerous. You even assume a position by leaning over the plate – so you don’t spill food on your clothing. I tell my customers when they order sliders or tacos, that these things are dangerous by definition, so eat them over the plate.

When I grew up, we only had two fast foods – pies and fish and chips. They were the two things that were considered a treat . They were fatty and crappy, but it didn’t matter, because everything else we were putting back into our bodies back then were whole foods. It was fine to enjoy a great doughy pie with tomato sauce, because it was everything in moderation.

There wasn’t the proliferation of processed convenience foods we have today, full of colours and numbers. Why should we be putting more of that into our bodies when we can make beautiful delicious-tasting fast food?

I think the new food trucks out there are here to stay, because they are taking on the multi nationals. There is a different public awareness and understanding that the multinational fast food giants have been pulling the wool over our eyes for far too long.

People still want convenience and quick, but want tasty and healthier fast food that is still fun.

Great ingredients define good street food and fast food. There is also this trend to be able to buy great fast food in healthier options – whether it’s a Vietnamese spring roll, a bowl of noodles, or even chargrilled corn from a street vender – when it’s in season.

The new food trucks coming out are only doing a few dishes, but they are doing them really beautifully. They talk about what the ingredients are, and promote where the ingredients come from.  

Gone are the days of the greasy caravan with extractor fans blowing stinky oil. It’s a groovy truck with great food.


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