06 | Oct | 16

Hugh Thomas

Semantics, Semantics

Stilton. Champagne. Cognac. The Cornish pasty.

What do these products all have in common, other than collectively constituting a good night out? Yes, well done to you at the back – they all have protected names.

What does this mean? Well, for one, it helps ensure you don’t get a load of people promising one thing but delivering something else. While that’s not always the case with street food, certain labels are applied where they aren’t necessarily true.

Or are they? Wahaca, Bao, Yalla Yalla – some businesses started by selling food out the back of a van or trailer, or decided ‘street food’ was a good way to market themselves. Now, as deservedly popular as they are, only a small portion of Wahaca’s outlets have wheels, Bao’s modest hideaways are pretty far off the kerb, and Soho’s Yalla Yalla never took to the road in its life. Where’s the ‘street’ in all that?

Please, keep your hair on – let’s not start a fight. All we’re saying is, when do we stop calling street food street food? Say the phrase and most people picture your main business to have at least twenty centimetres between it and the ground. And they’re imagining it has to be dug out of a muddy festival field once or twice a year.

But there’s something we must all realise here. Food is like language, in that language is always evolving. And street food – be it actually prepared and sold in a street, or in a field in North Yorkshire, or in a pub kitchen – is no exception.

While the name’s not protected, the fact that street food is always changing means that’s probably a good thing.

It means the ‘movement’ can be made accessible to people wanting to get into the fold, while not ostracising those already there. It means we can help feed hungry punters with the best hand-held food in the UK, without the red tape. It means we can do bigger and better things – we want to revolutionise, not traditionalise.

The street food name will never receive the sanctimonious status enjoyed by Bramley apple pies or Whitstable Oysters, and we submit to you, boys and girls, that that’s just the way we like it.