Sarah Hardy looks at the incredible rise in popularity of street food, and suggests the best places to try it in the region
Whether it is simply a bag of chips, a stir fry, burritos, jerk chicken or churros, street food really is the current foodie craze. The dishes have global appeal and certainly get our taste buds going as you can find Thai, Indian, Chinese, American dishes, and more – all on offer.
Forget that idea from your youth, that it will be all greasy burgers or dodgy kebabs. Sure, you will find lots of burgers but they will all be homemade, freshly cooked and more likely to be made with halloumi and served with sweet chilli jam in a brioche bun!
Our passion for street food really took off in the pandemic. All that home cooking was fine for a while but we were desperate to eat out, for someone else to do the thinking, the shopping, the cooking and, of course, the washing up.
As we couldn’t, for what seems a lifetime, visit our favourite pubs, restaurants and cafes, so street food became our salvation. Trailers, converted horseboxes, old VW camper vans, food carts and more started to pop up just about everywhere they were allowed – from village hall car parks, to pub gardens and more. And we tucked in with gusto.
Norwich-based chef and food blogger Zena Leech Calton says: ‘When Covid struck, us foodies still wanted feeding and many caterers and restaurants obliged with the original comfort food which is street food. Trailers and food trucks went for silly money and restaurants were selling out of their meal kits. The tail end of that is that Norfolk has shifted in style, with weddings and events now often catered for via food trucks.
‘Every fete which, in days gone by, had just a burger van now has half a dozen street food vendors, and the demand is there. Norfolk is one of the foodiest counties in Britain, and we love anything we can grab and eat. Tacos, bao buns, smashed patties, and plant based wraps have become the norm as we expect freshness, local produce and, above all else, flavour.’
Even as life slowly but surely returned to normal, our love affair with street food has continued and more and more vendors have started out. And the trend has evolved from pop up foodie concessions to permanent food courts, where a number of different traders offer a variety of different dishes.
At Norwich’s Castle Quarter, centre manager Rob Bradley explains why he took the decision to open Castle Social which is home to four independent and local street food kitchens, a dessert emporium, and a bar last November.
‘Castle Social launched late last year as an independent-led street-food hall and entertainment venue and is very much part of this new wave of community food halls. Our former food court has been reimagined into a space where local, specialist street food kitchens offer an exciting, varied range of high-quality dishes. There’s lots of choice, all served up in a relaxed setting.
‘The Pinker and Green drinks palace sits in the middle, and around it, we’ve got Hank’s Dirty Norwich offering a full vegan menu, Curry Box serving Indian street food, Street Food box specialising in dirty burgers and loaded fries, Mamma Mia’s, serving authentic Italian dishes including arancini balls, pasta specials and pizzas and the Dessert Emporium for something sweet.
“The beauty of this type of casual dining is that the choice is firmly in the hands of the individual. When picking a restaurant, it can be tricky to find somewhere that caters for everyone in your party. There might be dietary requirements or different tastes, but with street food halls, individuals can order from a different menu and kitchen, there’s no need for compromise.
“We’re bringing lots of international flavours to Norwich via Castle Social, with a wide range of dishes, mains and specials, which are all affordable. People want plenty to pick from, and they want something different, that isn’t expensive or comes with a service charge.
‘Norwich is a close-knit community, and people have been keen to support and discover local independent food businesses. We’re always interested to hear from more local independents and food start-ups who want to join us at Castle Social, so we can continue adding new kitchens and menus – as we continue to create an exciting, eclectic place to eat out.’
Another new face is Yalm Food Hall, in Norwich’s historic Royal Arcade. Yalm is a Norfolk word meaning to ‘eat hungrily’ and you are encouraged to do just that! Run by Dan Searle, the two storey building has six kitchens and three bars, with traders including Eric’s Pizzas from North Norfolk and On the Bone, a chop house run by Norwich’s Derek Hardy. It opens six days a week, there’s no need to book and it is all very casual and fun.
Junkyard in Norwich, situated in St Mary’s Works, opened in 2021 and offers changing vendors who might sell anything from pasta dishes to hot dogs to cake shakes in funky surroundings, with decent music.
Norwich Market is another obvious choice for those who love street food. There are now around 200 stalls, with half of them foodie ones so you can try a real ale at Sir Toby’s Beer, grab a great pie at Walsingham Farms Shop, a hot dog at the All Electric Banger Stop or an empanada at Cocina Mia. Visit Norwich’s Melanie Cook is a big fan of the market which she says helps to attract tourists to the city, ‘Norwich is increasingly seen as a serious foodie destination, with the market as a real highlight.’
Don’t imagine it is all just in the city. In Yarmouth, The Empire is a great venue, mixing up live music and comedy nights with street food options including pizzas, burgers and vegetarian Mexican dishes from Eagle and Cactus which sound fun! It’s in the former Empire theatre, which dates back to 1911, so continues a long tradition of entertaining punters.
And in Lowestoft, East Point Pavilion, right on the seafront, is another great choice for some exciting street food. The bright and airy building is home to a selection of street food concessions, including Tres Hermanas which offers Mexican street food, plus a bar.
At Holkham, Feast in the Park is another example of something that started in lockdown and is continuing because of its popularity. Head of marketing Lucy Downing explains: ‘Feast in the Park has proved an extremely popular and joyous event, giving people the chance to relish delicious local street food created by so many talented artisans, whilst enjoying the incredible views over the lake within Holkham Park.
‘It began in 2020 as a response to everyone coming out of lockdown and wishing to reconnect with close friends and family outdoors. This is still something our visitors wish to do, and so Feast in the Park returns for its fourth year this summer. The Adnams bar will join us again, providing refreshing drinks including ales made with Holkham malting barley.’
The region’s food festivals are another great way of trying a wide variety of different street food concessions. The Norfolk North Food Festival, held in the Walled Garden at Holkham on September 2 and 3, is offering 15 food and drink pop ups – all provided by local artisan producers. Think Algy’s pizza, Arthur Howell hog roasts, beers from Malt Coast Brewery and Thai dishes from Phat Khao. Festival chair Chris Coubrough says: ‘Our food concessions area is really popular and an important part of what the festival offers – we try to offer a good, diverse selection so all tastes are catered for. And we have certainly seen a big increase in the choice of food available – nobody needs to go hungry!’
The last Friday night in the month is Street Food Friday at Barsham Brewery, near Fakenham. Running until August, there’s live music plus a selection of great vendors like Double Dutch with their sweet treats, Elsie’s Pizzas and the South African Durban Grill – and plenty of beer! Admission is free and you don’t have to book so just turn up from 4-9pm. And you can bring the dog too.
The Fflolkes at Hillington in west Norfolk is another pub that’s really embraced the street food trend. Mollie Gallon explains that they started to host food trailers during the pandemic and quickly realised their appeal. ‘It was when we couldn’t do anything inside that we started to have street food trailers and people loved it – and it was obviously good for the traders, too.
‘As their popularity was amazing, we have adapted and developed our street food offerings under the name of Ffolkes Feast. Now traders come in and take over our kitchens – we have two at a time. Traders include Oishi Street Kitchen, and Guac and Mole Pie Kitchen.
‘People like it as there’s plenty of choice, it is always good for vegetarians and vegans and you get to try something different.’
Vikki Hunt, landlord at the Fox in Lyng, near Dereham, has a street food vendor each Monday, from 5-8pm, until September, with everything from curries to crepes, paella, pizza and more. ‘We’ve been doing it for about eight years after seeing it in operation in London. We have one savoury and one sweet offering and it changes every week. It is great for families and we can have up to 250 people – it’s really popular.
‘We shut our kitchen for the night but the bar is open so it all works very well.’
Ed Farrell, The Duck Truck
Ed founded the highly popular Duck Truck in 2012 which offers duck wraps, burgers, salads, spring rolls and more. You’ll find the truck at leading concerts and festivals around the country including Glastonbury and he has a resident pitch at Spitalfields in London. Ed reckons street food trailers offer a great starting point for chefs, with foodies benefitting from restaurant quality food at reasonable prices. ‘It’s served quickly, and very well, and everyone loves it,’ he says.
Started by Gino and Millie in 2021 the passionate hospitality professionals are on a mission to bring the Italian love of food to Norfolk. They serve Italian food which is hand-made using sustainable ingredients from local suppliers.
Mr Ragu’s trademark sandwich, the Ragu Ciabatta, was inspired by a meatball panino at the legendary sandwich bar Mordi e Vai in Testaccio Market, Rome. This was during a cycling trip from Turin to Francavilla Fontana in Puglia where Gino and Millie learnt the Italian love for the very best food and experienced the warmth of Italian hospitality.
Gino said, ”We serve Italian food which is hand-made with love using sustainable ingredients from local suppliers. We offer our Build Your Own Wedding Feast packages which range from nibbles all the way to a three-course sit-down meal. One of these options is of course our classic street food menu – home to the one-and-only, world-famous Ragu Ciabatta. We have fantastic options across the board for vegetarians and vegans as well as being able to cater for a wide range of dietary requirements.”
“Whatever the format, our focus is always on the quality of the food, the enjoyment it brings to our guests, supporting a local food economy, and doing it all with nature in mind. This is the Italian way of eating; it is a food culture which goes beyond pizza and pasta. We know our food will be a special feature of your special day.”
If you are after a treat then look no further. The flavours on offer will certainly give you a difficult decision to make, Super Mario or the La-Shiznit, and that’s just for starters. With a fabulous selection of sweet and savoury options you will be spoilt for choice.
Starting life as a food stall in 2011, Cristophe’s Crepes opened their doors on Pottergate, Norwich lanes, in 2020 with a passion for supporting local and free range producers, including Ronaldo ice cream and Strangers coffee. Their moto, Pancakes are for life not just shove Tuesday!
The idea was born out of a passion for quality; basically, Fupburger founder Tom got fed up with having to go to all the way to London to get a decent burger! The generic standard of burgers seemed to be so wide of the mark. Cold, dry buns. Cheap, pre-pressed beef trim pattys. Bog standard sauces. Tom knew that there was a gaping hole in the market for something with some real quality and thought behind it. By introducing his own blend of beef, ageing and grind process, from high welfare, fully traceable cattle, he believed that people would be able to taste the difference. Fortunately, that was indeed the case! All of the beef Tom uses is bred, reared, aged and butchered within a 10 mile radius; just north of Norwich. Does it get better than that? It doesn’t just stop at the beef though. A major part of Fupburger’s success has been to work with local independent bakers to supply them with their trademark, non seeded buttery demi brioche buns. Tom try’s to work with as many local producers as possible who share the same quality standards as he does and he always uses the best ingredients for the job. Tom is proud to be the first to bring smashed patty burgers to this most excellent part of the world.
Fupburger offers a dine in and collection service from the wonderful
Ten Bells on St Benedicts Street, Norwich and also deliveries via their delivery partner UberEats.
Zena’s Top 10:
The Bun Exchange, Norwich, for their burgers
Yalm Food Hall’s Souk for kebabs and Eric’s Pizzas for… pizzas
At Norwich Market:
A Taste of Shanghai for all things Chinese, Falafel and Friends for their aubergine schnitzel burgers and And Eat It! for their brookies (a cookie brownie)
My favourite tacos are at Blue Joanna, Unthank Road, Norwich where the tacos are actually blue.
Christopher’s Crepes, Pottergate, Norwich, Cupcake and Co, Upper St Giles Street, Norwich an amazing selection of cakes
Cuppie Hut, St Giles Street, Norwich for cakes, traybakes and more