Street food in Manchester – the beginnings of a “scene”

Writer and Lone Gourmet blogger Louise Bolotin gets in at the start of a foodie movement for the city.

Despite a busy restaurant environment, an increasing number of specialist markets, dozens of food bloggers and a thriving food and drink festival Manchester’s street food scene is virtually non-existent. Guerrilla Eats aims to change all that.

Street food carts are a great way for food producers and cooks to start up as the overheads and risks are much lower than taking on a bricks and mortar premises although the red tape level is similar. Turn up at an event in and around Greater
Manchester and the traders will be there cooking hog roasts, Thai curries and paella.

Wander the mean streets of multi-ethnic inner-city south Manchester and you’ll find the odd wagon selling parathas, even steak and chips. But compared to London or even Birmingham and Leeds, there’s nothing in the city centre – nowhere to grab a dirty burger or dosa on the hoof.

The idea behind Guerrilla Eats is to bring the cart traders together regularly at a pop-up spot in the city centre. Most of them know each other already as they all do the festival circuit. Pooling resources makes sense – they can share the pitch costs, while the advertising is word of mouth and social media.

A small trial run in November in Castlefield with three or four of the traders, almost unpublicised, was successful enough for them to organise a larger pop-up in the Northern Quarter.

And so it was that on a freezing cold, drizzly early evening in December that I turned up in a car park in the back end of Port Street where seven traders had set out their stalls. The line up was impressive – proper grilled (not boiled!) beef hot dogs by Dirty Dogs, beautiful home-style dosas from Chaat Cart, patatas bravas at Las Paelleras, and artisan ice-cream from the well-established Ginger’s Comfort Emporium , whose van is a regular sight at Manchester events these days.

One of the Guerrilla Eats organisers, Mal, runs Fire and Salt BBQ with his partner – they have a smoke pit in which their hickory smoked pulled pork shoulder had been slowly cooking for 16 hours under the soil, Texan-style. The meat was juicy, rich in flavour and quite possibly the finest barbecue pork I’ve ever eaten. If this is what the burgeoning street food scene in Manchester will be offering it’s hard to see how it can fail.

Likewise, the burgers at Barnhouse Bistro were more than worthy of five gold stars. Almost Famous, also in the Northern Quarter, started its pop-up dirty burger restaurant earlier in 2012 – it’ll be good for it have some proper competition. Barnhouse’s burgers are made from rump steak and cooked hard and fast so they are nicely chargrilled on the outside but almost completely rare within. With a dollop of homemade horseradish mayo, this was food heaven. And no meal, even one in a wet, down-at-heel car park, would be complete without pudding and there were artisan cupcakes and brownies on offer from Sugar
Bun Sisters
, not just beautifully decorated but slightly boozy too.

As the rain started to come down harder and my fingers began to turn blue, we began drifting away as the traders opened up to the public proper. The car park began filling almost immediately with hungry Mancunians in search of a quality bite, even though it was barely 4pm. Proof that there’s certainly a market for street food in Manchester.

Guerrilla Eats already has eight traders signed up and is negotiating with more to join the collective. The plan is to find a regular pitch and pop up at least monthly, the only proviso for the traders wanting to participate is that they must be making real food and be passionate about it – no room here for sawdust dogs and burgers made of abattoir floor scrapings.

To join the revolution, just follow Guerrilla Eats on Twitter or check out their website as they promise to be
back in January.

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