Bite Street Food at Chrisp Street Market, Poplar

Street food has been around in London for longer than you think.  Long before the Thames ceased to be a working river, oysters were sold on the banks for hungry dockers.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, baked potatoes were sold from shop fronts and house windows in some of the more notorious London slums as a form of cheap sustenance.  And we all remember the ubiquitous kebab vans outside of late night bars and gig venues in the more recent past.

In recent years, however, street food has taken on a new form offering affordable gourmet food to Londoners.  Whether on their lunch hour or lazily meandering around markets at the weekend, the street food van is never far away.  Once, Borough Market was the only real option for street food, but more recently markets have begun to pop up across the capital, some in rather unexpected places.

Poplar, in East London, is not the first place you think of as a gastronomic destination; but the new Bite Street Food collective are seeking to rejuvenate the culinary reputation of the area right at its centre:  Chrisp Street Market.  With traders hailing from the local area, and across London, and entertainment from local performers, a charmingly frayed town square is transformed into a market to rival any lunchtime markets across London.  I was invited to come down and check it out.  And told to come hungry.

We Walk the Line Coffee.

We Walk the Line Coffee.

My first stop, as always, was for coffee.  On the far side of the market, I found a man making coffee seemingly whilst cycling.  We Walk the Line is a social initiative to encourage disadvantaged young people and ex-offenders become entrepreneurs through selling coffee.  The bike powers the grinder, which grinds up the Nude Espresso beans for the coffee.  A very good cup indeed.

An humitas empanada: corn and chilli.

An humitas empanada: corn and chilli.

After this, I popped to Boca Empanadas, which sell those little Argentine pastries I love so much.  My favourite is the humitas, which contains corn and chilli.  These were perfect – crispy pastry and both sweet and spicy in the middle.  Limiting myself to one was very difficult.

Jerk chicken. Bargain.

Jerk chicken. Bargain.

My plan was to try a number of small items, so that I could sample as much as possible.  On the hunt for my next snack, I came across the bargain of the century:  three jerk wings for ONE POUND.  My weakness for good jerk is well documented and I couldn’t resist.  These were really good.  Spicy with the unmistakable hit of scotch bonnets, with an underlying kick of lime and allspice.

Vegan burger from Ruperts Street.

Vegan burger from Ruperts Street.

Vegan street food has been growing in popularity in recent years, so I was not surprised to see a vegan vendor on the site, Ruperts Street.  I managed to snag the very last item of the day: a vegan burger.  A sweet potato and lentil patty with a smear of relish on a wholemeal seeded bun.  It came with a delicious kale salad, for extra health points.

The lovely Cat and her cake creations.

The lovely Cat and her cake creations.

Never one to end a meal without having dessert, I popped over to Cat Food Cakes, to see the lovely Cat and her crazy creations.  The market took place on Hallowe’en, so there were some beautiful cupcakes and brownies with spiderwebs, pumpkins and ghosts.  Spying a chocolate cupcake decorated with candy corns, I quickly nabbed it.  A candy corn in the UK is a difficult thing to find.  Sadly Cat did not have a supplier: her boyfriend brought them back from a trip to the states.

Bite will be taking place on the last Friday of every month at Chrisp Street Market in Poplar.  If you should find yourself free on a Friday lunchtime, it is definitely worth a trip over to check it out.  The vendors are not those that you will find at the bigger street food markets, such as KERB, Brockley or Broadway; but they are an excellent representation of cooking in the diverse east end.  I also spied a Ghanian lady selling jollof rice, and a young man making Louisiana gumbo, but could not manage all of these in the same afternoon.  It seems another visit is in order.

Also: Canary Wharf office workers, take note.

For transparency, I was invited to visit Bite Street Food.

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Perfecting the Meatball Sub

October 9th is Submarine-Hoagie-Hero-Grinder day in the US.  For those that are unfamiliar, these are all types of sandwiches, mainly using a submarine roll.

A good sub is a thing of beauty, my favourite subs in London are from the street food van Sub Cult.  Their ‘Submarine’ sandwich, an unusual yet delicious combination of pulled pork, scallops and squid with lemon mayo is one of my new favourite obsessions.  They can be found at both Broadwick Street Market in Soho and at a pop up at the Duke of Wellington in Dalston.

If making your own sandwiches is more your thing, below is a post from my other blog, 607 Square Miles, on how to make the perfect meatball sandwich.

Six Hundred and Seven Square Miles

The meatball sub of my dreams The meatball sub of my dreams

As the summer turns to autumn and the days get shorter and cooler, I find myself with an urge to fill up the freezer for winter.  One of the first things I make is a stash of meatballs and tomato sauce which can quickly be defrosted and turned into a quick and hearty meal when it’s just too cold to leave the house.  As well as this, they can be used to make one of the greatest sandwiches ever invented: the meatball sub. 

I first encountered this Italian-American creation at the Southampton branch of Subway in the 1990s during the dark days of sandwiches when few were available outside of chain restaurants, supermarkets and what you could buy in the buffet carriage of the train to Waterloo.  20 years, a move to London and two trips to New York later, not only have I tried…

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Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

This weekend, I was back in Southampton and went to the excellent 7Bone Burger Co. for dinner.  I’ve written a bit about this place before.  If very, very good burgers are your thing you should definitely go.  This visit was the best yet and I have written about it on my other blog, 607 Square Miles, here.

One major downside to eating a double cheeseburger of that size and a side of chilli cheese fries and a scoop of coffee ice cream from Sprinkles on the way home, is that you enter the following day not being able to face eating anything.  Being off my food is something of a rarity for me, and I am seldom ever completely full, but in this case it was 7pm the following day before I could even think about a meal.  I subsisted the entire day on coffee.

Such an indulgent feast requires something healthy and restorative to follow it.  I decided to make myself some soup.  Autumn really is the best season for soup, and not only because it is getting cooler; the crop of beautiful root vegetables make it so delicious and comforting.  Walking home from the market with arms full of big amber pumpkins and gnarly parsnips, I cannot help but think soup.  Especially good if you have some freshly baked bread in the house and a good blanket.

This particular soup is autumn itself: butternut squash, apples and onions, given warmth with a few spices and then cooked in cider.  The smell alone will be enough to rid you of any chills.  You can use other types of squash, or even pumpkin, if you prefer.  I used Gala apples as they have a good flavour, but any would work really.  Eating in front of a good movie or your favourite box set is essential.

Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

50ml olive oil
1kg butternut squash, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cardamom
275ml dry cider (I used Weston’s Stowford Press)
1l chicken or vegetable stock
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground white pepper

Heat the oil in a very large saucepan and add the butternut squash, apples and onion.  Stir to coat in the oil and cook for 10-12 minutes until the onion is translucent.  Add the spices and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cider and bring to the boil.  Cook for three minutes before pouring in the vegetable stock.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the squash is tender.

Remove from the heat and blend using a hand-blender (if you do not have one, you can use a regular blender, but you will probably need to do it in batches).  Once smooth, return to the heat, stir in the seasoning and cook gently for a further five minutes.

Ladle into individual bowls, top with a swirl of cream and a few pumpkin seeds.

Serves six.  Adapted from a recipe by Orangette.

One Year Ago:  Band of Bakers Short and Sweet Event

Pastel de Nata

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

The first time I had a Portuguese custard tart, I was hooked.  This was some time ago and, unlike now, they were a rare find.  We use to trek all the way to the Lisboa Patisserie on the Goldborne Road and have one as a treat, and you can imagine how much of a mission that journey was from south-east London in the pre-Overground days.  I would buy one to have there and then, and one to keep me awake on the Hammersmith and City line as it trundled, painfully slowly, towards my connecting station.

Now, of course, times have changed and you can buy them in more or less every London neighbourhood.  The boom in street food markets has made them even more available, and now it seems that all of London is enraptured with the pastel de nata.  Londoners’ love affairs with certain baked goods are well-documented: we went nuts over the cupcake, briefly flirted with the cronut (or whatever you’re allowed to call them without infringing copyright) and now it seemed that this little treat from Lisbon is king.

I have heard that the best example of the pastel de nata can be found in its birthplace, more specifically in a bakery called the Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem.  Apparently, these tarts are so good, people go on pilgrimages for them.  With no trip to Portugal on the horizon, I instead decided to make my own.  I’ll be honest, these are not the easiest thing to make.  Flaky pastry is always a bit temperamental and requires a lot of time and care to get right.  The custard is relatively straightforward, but as with anything that combines hot milk, hot sugar and eggs, there is often a potential for it to go wrong.  You could, of course, use shop-bought pastry to save time and effort if you wish.  I have tried these tarts with both shop-bought puff pastry and the homemade flaky pastry in the recipe below; and, of course, the latter is better, but it also takes a considerable amount longer.

The recipe below is the most straightforward of those I’ve tried.  The key is to chill the pastry overnight, anything less and it will be difficult to work with.  If you have better skills than me, you could replace the pastry below with an all-butter puff.

Pastel de Nata

For the pastry
225g plain flour
¼ tsp sea salt
200ml water
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the custard
3 tbsp plain flour
310g whole milk
265g granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 strip lemon peel
1 strip orange peel
165ml water
½ tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks

Start to make the pastry the night before you want to finish the tarts.  Combine the plain flour, salt and water in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Using the dough hook, mix until the dough forms a smooth ball, about 30 seconds.  Place the dough on a floured surface and pat into a six-inch square.  Cover with clingfilm and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Roll out the dough until it forms a large square – it should be about half a centimetre thick.  Take one-third of the butter and spread it across the left two-thirds of the dough, leaving a border of 1inch around the edges.  Neatly fold over the unbuttered part of the dough, then fold over the left third in an envelope fold.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers.

Turn the dough 90 degrees so that the long edge is facing you.  Repeat the buttering and folding process again.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers and turn the dough 90 degrees once more.

This time, roll the dough out into a rectangle with the shorter edge facing you.  Spread the butter over the whole surface, again leaving a border at the edges.  This time, roll the dough away from you in a tight log.  Cut the log into two halves, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight.

To make the custard, whisk together the flour and 65ml of the milk in a large bowl and set aside.  Place the sugar, water, cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel in a small saucepan and bring to the boil without stirring.  At the same time, scald the remaining milk in a separate saucepan.  Keep an eye on both.

Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.  Remove the cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel from the saucepan and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the bowl, whisking constantly.  Add the vanilla and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before whisking in the egg yolks.

Preheat the oven to 250ºc and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.  Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and roll out to the thickness of a £1 coin.  Using a large cutter, cut out circles of the pastry, removing a small section so that they can be pushed into the muffin tin without any excess.  This should look like a pie with a wedge missing or like ‘pac man’.  Push the pastry into the muffin tin and seal any gaps.  The pastry should reach the top of the hole.

Fill each cup ¾ full with the warm custard.  Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until the pastry has browned and the custard is puffed up and a little coloured on the top.  Allow to cool in the tin for half an hour and then transfer to a wire rack.

Plum Upside Down Cake

Plum Upside Down Cake

Plum Upside Down Cake

There are a few specific things that start happening around the middle of September that signal that autumn has arrived in London.  As we are lucky enough to live in a city with so many beautiful parks, the colour change from green to amber makes the seasons so obvious and distinct.  As the last few of us return from our summer holidays, we start settling into this new routine of putting on warmer clothes, walking the streets hugging paper cups of coffee and going home earlier at night.  Fewer people go to the parks at lunchtime, and almost nobody sits at the once-crowded outside tables of the cafes.  We collectively move inside. 

For me, it is other small things that mark the beginning of autumn:  the arrival of the circus on Peckham Rye Common, the return of schoolchildren to my morning bus journey, the slow drip of Christmas products in to the supermarkets and the complaining about it getting earlier each year.  Most of all, though, it is the change in what we begin to cook.  Beautiful summer salads, bowls of berries and barbecues give way to a more comforting range of foods:  we start to embrace the winter fruits and veg and the stews and soups that protect us from the nip in the air.  Comfort food becomes the order of the day.

Plums are one of the most-used fruits in my kitchen throughout the autumn.  They start to make an appearance in mid-August, and by September they are everywhere.  There are a wide variety of plums available and they lend themselves to being used in a variety of ways.  Two of the winter dishes I love best are a plum and hazelnut crumble and a spiced plum chutney.

I had some plums leftover from a tart I made earlier in the week for some friends, so decided to use them to make a plum upside down cake.  Some friends on Twitter told me that this is very straightforward to do.  I actually feel a little silly writing up a recipe for what is essentially a basic sponge mix poured over some chopped fruit, but it really is an excellent way for using up any fruit you have.  Once baked, cooled and turned out, the plums become incredibly tender and almost melt into the sponge, creating a kind of plum jam topping.  It would be excellent as a pudding with custard.

Plum Upside Down Cake

3 plums, halved, then cut into thirds
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease a 8-inch loose bottomed cake tin and line the base and sides with greaseproof paper. 

Arrange the plum slices in the base of the tin.  Try and squeeze in as many as you can.

In a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined.  If the mixture looks like it is curdling at this point, add a tablespoon of the flour to bring it back together.  Fold in the flour until just mixed, be careful not to overwork it.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tin, being careful not to dislodge any of the plums underneath.  Bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin.

Once cool, remove the tin but keep the base intact.  If the cake has a dome, cut this off carefully using a serrated knife to create a flat surface.  This will be the bottom of the cake.  Turn upside down on to a plate or cake stand and carefully remove the base of the tin and the greaseproof paper.

Silk Road, Camberwell

There seems to be little point in crafting an introduction to this restaurant as it has, in recent years, become the worst kept secret in south London.  If you want to show off your knowledge of hidden restaurant gems, this is not the one to mention.  Unless you’re in the company of north Londoners, for many of them will barely have been to Camberwell, let alone Silk Road.  In days gone by, you could rock up to this little cash-only restaurant without a reservation and be seated almost immediately.  More recently however, following a number of rave reviews, including one by Jay Rayner, it is rammed almost every night of the week and nearly impossible to get a table before 9.30.

Of course, the glaringly obvious point would be that it had become a victim of its own success, however I can’t in any way declare this to be true.  In fact, it seems to get better and better with each visit, which keeps us going back more than perhaps we ought to.  Aside from the quality of the food, which I will get to shortly, this is one of the best value restaurants in London.  Our bills have never exceeded £20 a head, including alcohol, and for that price we have feasted on an amount of food so obscene, an extended lie-down was required.

The funny thing is that Silk Road is one of those unassuming places on the busy Camberwell Church Street that you would just walk past if you didn’t know it was there.  The ‘Cash Only’ sign in the window, the slightly faded red sign and the utilitarian communal benches inside does not give any indication that inside is some of the best Asian food in London. And it doesn’t have a website.  I suppose that is part of its charm.

The cuisine at Silk Road could lazily be labelled ‘Chinese’, however it specialises in food from the Xinjiang region (the bit bordering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), with a few Sichuan dishes thrown in to boot.  The central Asian influence is clear, with the smell of lamb and cumin wafting through the restaurant, and the prevalence of offal on the menu.  Being a landlocked region, there is very little fish on offer, but some very good meat and vegetarian dishes.  Forget any ideas of sweet and sour chicken and prawn crackers, you won’t get them here.

Despite the variety of carnivorous options, my two favourite dishes on the menu are made up of vegetables.  The famous home-style aubergine is one of the most delicious dishes I have ever tasted: tender aubergine and tomato cooked with a huge amount of garlic and an underlying pop of chilli.  The ‘cucumbers in sauce’, also known as ‘smacked cucumbers’ are served raw in a sharp soy-based sauce, also heavily laced with garlic and chilli.  They are wonderful as a cold starter, but I have to say that I prefer the smacked cucumbers from nearby Wuli Wuli (sorry).  Another excellent dish is the home-style cabbage, which I sadly always pass up in favour of the aubergine, but fully intend to order next time.

Cucumbers in sauce

Cucumbers in sauce

Home-style aubergine

Home-style aubergine

The aforementioned smell of lamb and cumin comes from the lamb shish skewers that seem to be on just about every order in the restaurant.  Heavy with cumin, with the afterburn of chilli, these come straight from the grill and smell so good, you will almost inevitably burn your fingers trying to pull the meat from the skewers.  The pieces of lamb are interspersed with little cubes of lamb fat, which I am not overly keen on, but which my husband loves.  These skewers are £1 each (yes, £1) with a minimum order of five per table.  For me, ordering any less than three for just myself is not an option.

Lamb shish skewers

Lamb shish skewers

Another favourite is the twice-cooked pork, which is a one of the few Sichuan dishes on the menu (the countries bordering the Xinjiang region are muslim, so pork is rarely eaten there).  I have had this dish in a number of other restaurants and it consists of slices of belly pork, boiled then fried (hence ‘twice-cooked’) with an oil-based sauce of chillies and lip-numbing Sichuan peppercorns.  Silk Road’s offering doesn’t quite have the level of heat that we usually expect from Sichuan dishes, but it does have an unexpected sweetness which makes it pleasant, if slightly inauthentic.  The best part about it is the soft, sweet Chinese onions that I pick out and eat with a little boiled rice.  I could happily live on these alone.

Middle-plate chicken

Middle-plate chicken

Silk Road’s speciality is, undoubtedly, their noodle dishes.  The ‘large plate’ and middle plate’ options are huge bowls of soup with meat and wide ‘belt’ noodles of at least an inch wide.  A lot of Chinese friends favour the tripe, but we will often order the chicken.  Pieces of chicken on the bone, served in a spiced thick soup with the enormous noodles slithered in by the waiter at the table.  Middle plate is ample for two, especially if it makes up part of a wider banquet – those noodles are incredibly filling.  Best of all are the smaller, and more manageable, hand-pulled noodles – glutinous and soft without being sticky – the person who makes these obviously knows what they are doing.  Ours came with lamb and cabbage, as well as the obligatory punch of chilli and onion that characterises the restaurant’s dishes.  These came last to the table and we were unable to finish them, so our waiter kindly packed them in a box to take home.

(If you do find yourself with an extended wait for a table, put your name down in the book and head down to Stormbird, a few doors down, for a pint)

Silk Road, 49 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5 8TR

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When Life Takes Over

This week, I have had the most difficult task of admitting that I was wrong.  In my naivety, I honestly believed that planning a wedding would not impact on my other activities (how clueless I was) and that my baking club, blog and various food-related activities would not suffer as a result.  As you may have seen, Band of Bakers is on a little summer hiatus and my blog posts are becoming fewer and further between.  They are all buried under dress fittings, menu tastings, endless emails and trying to co-ordinate a number of guests who are all travelling to San Sebastian for the ceremony in a little over three weeks.  Add to this a rather monotonous healthy eating regime and an attempt to save money by not eating out and you find that, even if you had the time to write, there would be little to actually write about.

Bottom line:  weddings take over your life.  And I have a wedding planner!

Of course, this is a temporary situation.  My wedding is taking place in the gastronomic capital of Europe, so there will be plenty of subject matter there.  It seems that most people I know have either been to, or are planning a trip to, San Sebastian.  If you haven’t been, it is definitely worth considering for your next holiday, especially if eating and drinking is your thing.  In addition to this, we are embarking on a honeymoon road trip through Andalucia, again very much with culinary endeavours in mind.  I will be returning to London in July when, hopefully, normal service will be resumed.  Until then, I simply ask that you bear with me.

Instead of writing up one of my recipes (I haven’t cooked anything in days) or writing a nice long post about a restaurant I’ve been to (too stressed to pay too much attention), I have instead cobbled together a few things from the last week that have popped up on my food radar.  Kind of like the old days of ‘Monday Miscellany’ but, of course, on a Wednesday.  Even the days all roll into one these days.  I must buy a diary.

 Pizza Making

Anchovy and olive pizza

Anchovy and olive pizza

Last week could have easily been entitled ‘Life in Salad’, so I was obviously thrilled to come home from a particularly gruelling Friday to Ollie making pizza in the kitchen.  Needless to say, I devoured them all.  I looked back through my previous posts for something on pizzas and was surprised to find I had written nothing.  I even have a list of ‘London Pizzas I Love’ scrawled on a piece of notepaper and tacked up next to my desk, so I will write that up at some point.  The picture above is one of three pizzas he made using Dan Lepard’s absolutely foolproof pizza dough recipe, and a topping of anchovies and olives. Bliss.

Southampton Street Food Market

Pork souvlaki - Southampton style

Pork souvlaki – Southampton style

To the sounds of a chorus of “it’s about bloody time”, street food has finally arrived in Southampton.  Yes, I know the majestic 7Bone had a burger stall, one that even featured on the BBC’s Restaurant Man, but that was ages ago.  This market has taken over the strip along the pedestrianised part of the city centre at weekends, the spot previously occupied by the ahem, German market at Christmas.  It hasn’t quite reached the standard of similar markets in London, but is a good starting point (and far cheaper).  I had a perfectly decent pork souvlaki from Greekville, that certainly helped to undo the hangover I had from sinking G&T’s in The Alex the night before.

The Grazing Goat, Southampton

Goat curry with dumplings

Goat curry with dumplings

This is the first of two visits I am making to this new Southampton gastro pub, so will leave the review until I have time to write up the full post.  I just wanted to praise their goat curry with dumplings, which was sublime.

Toast, East Dulwich

Quail with gremolata

Quail with gremolata

Orange cake

Orange cake

Toast may be the perfect place to hide out when the heavens open during a Lordship Lane expedition – warm, cosy and with a good wine list – you could find yourself there for hours.  I have been several times before, but only for coffee and a slice of their delicious banana bread (OK, and some wine), and used to go regularly when it was the old Green & Blue, but yesterday was the first time I actually went in for lunch.  We started with an off menu order of quail with gremolata, £10 including a glass of Cote du Rhone (bargain), then shared a slice of moist orange cake alongside our espressos.  As soon as I am back from Spain and eating out again, I expect Toast will become a regular spot, not least because it is great to have such quality food within walking distance of our flat.