London Street Foodie on Tour: Sydney street food part 1
If on my travels so far the Singapore street food scene is the rather sanitised but exceptionally well fed king of it all, then the one in Sydney is like its excitable nephew, just learning the tricks of the trade. There are farmers markets at weekends here but those have been around for a while; the scene is tiny in terms of the number of people trading from vans and trucks and doing the kind of big meet-ups like Street Feast or Feast that Londoners are getting used to.
For the new wave of Sydney street food sellers, Friday evening seems to be kick off time. From 5pm onwards, a selection of trucks scatters itself around Surry Hills, a gorgeous, smart and very foodie suburb just south east of the centre. Pitched up by the pavement on Devonshire Street was the Let’s Do Yum Cha truck which has featured in Good Food’s top 10 food trucks in Sydney for its dim sum-type things, and further up was another selling tea and sandwiches from a white van next to the park.
But my game plan was to take on StreetFest, a Sydney Food Trucks United, event held in Belmore Park, bang next to Central Station. Here they corden off a portion of the grassy area with metal railings, and a couple of security guards wander around, vaguely keeping an eye on things. Bizarrely there are two neighbouring – clashing – sound systems but circled around each of these a smattering of about 5-6 trucks, trailers, vans, mini carts and lorries.
Organiser Yudi Loefti came up with the idea for the whole thing earlier this year, this being the second event. The first one took place a month before and was opened by the deputy mayor of the city, who sees it as a “late night economy initiative” to activate street food in the precinct.
Tonight there are 13 trucks, three more than at the October event, and they would like to keep expanding. “We’re far away from what is happening in London, LA, New York, and places like that,” says Loefti, “but we’re pleased with how it’s going so far.” “In the past it was “homeless” vans selling food on the streets. Now it’s gourmet food like Mexican from El Cabron… we have a defined bar area and people can sit on crates with cushions on them. Everything is recylable and biodegradable. It’s also a free event,” he adds.
Since 2012, the council has given nine trucks official permits to trade in certain spots throughout the city, allowing hundreds to compete against each other for the opportunity, and having their food voted on by a panel including critics from the Sydney Morning Herald and Time Out. Loefti (above) and his wife’s Niki’s truck, Tsuru is one of these and they can trade with it in defined areas within the precinct of Sydney. Their menu is Asian fusion food, and their best seller is the pork belly bun.
Loefti’s background, like many of the people who I have come across who organise successful street food events, is in music, events and festivals, and he had previously organised things in the Sydney Opera House. Meanwhile his family always worked in food and owned an establishment in Bali. On a good day, Loefti reckons he can shift around 200-250 servings of food per hour.
I can see why the pork ($7, above) sells well. Soft and springy, the air steamed envelope bun gives way to a single piece of gleaming braised pork belly with mild chilli, cucumber pickles and coriander.
Another of Tsuru’s specialties is the pandan pancake (above), a curious squidgy green mixture of pandan (a tropical Asian plant)-infused batter, filled with nuts, cheddar cheese (!), and chocolate. It is one of the best things I’ve tried out here.
Next, on Loeti’s recommendation, I scuttle over to the NightHawk Diner, a silver airstream trailer run by two young ex-chefs Alistair Fogg and James Watt who, having grown up watching American TV, have always dreamed of having an American-style diner. After a two-week trial period trading in World Square, the Night Hawk was accepted into the fold, and now they reckon they can shift 400 items a day. As for the trailer, it takes only 1.5 kilowatts and everything they serve out to hold the food in is recyclable. Happily, Alistair says he chose this particular mode of transport because “it reflects the environment.”
Having only been around for four months, the boys are still playing around with ideas and the menu consequently changes all the time. From tonight’s I pick a Philly Cheese Steak Sub and am presented with a cardboard box containing a massive sub roll with rich roasted beef brisket steak, peppers, cheese, crisps and a mountain of gorgeous crunchy homemade coleslaw. It’s a simple idea but it goes down a treat.
Next: Sydney street food part 2, including one of the city’s oldest businesses.
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