The recent resurgence of street food in London has shown us that fast food and street food doesn't have to be unhealthy or poor quality. Twenty or even ten years ago, 'street food' in England conjured up images of illegal hot dog stalls; dodgy vans or hand carts with questionable hygiene, which you probably would only frequent if you'd had a skinful. Or 'Mr Whippy' vans who allegedly sell ice cream. But food fans and food adventurers often love to travel, and sampling the far flung delights of street food in more exotic climes has been an inspiration for many. So now we have our current street food revival, which can be sampled at Borough, Whitecross Market, and the South Bank to name just three locations. Even Leather Lane market near my workplace has handful of stalls where people queue up for enticing and exotic delights.
Picking the best of this kind of food globally is a big challenge, and a challenge that Chowzter is keen to embrace. From their website http://www.chowzter.com/ the Chowzter organisation have the aim of finding the tastiest food on earth. They don't want to recommend unhealthy, lazy or poor quality fast food. Their concept is to find 'Fast Feasts' - food which is healthy, made with love and from good ingredients. As they say, they "hope to provide amazing tips to foodies around the world about where to get delicious fast feasts of the highest quality at a good price anytime and anywhere".
They intend to do this by recruiting passionate food specialists and bloggers to represent their city who are willing to find the best Fast Feasts in their city. Their team of 70 recommend the offerings of the best informal restaurants, cafes, delis and street food joints they know, so that the rest of us food lovers can benefit from their knowledge. The current list of bloggers can be found here: http://www.chowzter.com/fast-feasts/bloggers-list
I was really pleased that the people at Chowtzer invited me to their Inaugural worldwide awards to find the best Fast Feasts. They intended to give awards for:
Best Chicken dish
Best City for Foodie
Best Food Item In The World
Held at Village Underground, Shoreditch, we had a mini street food extravaganza with food available from Pizza Pilgrims, Ambriento, Big Apple Hot Dogs and The Ribman. Anyone who had a ticket for the event was given an armband so they could walk in and out as they pleased to sample the street food offerings. A lovely touch, given the spirit behind the awards themselves.
Jeffrey Merrihue, founder of Chowtzer, kicked off the evening with an explanation of the thinking behind the organisation. The idea that people who live in the cities in question who are passionate about food put together the lists of the best dishes, is to me a good one. I look forward when I plan future travel to check Chowtzer to find out the best Fast Feasts in my destination city!
Our host was the irrepressible Alexander Armstrong, self confessed 'journeyman comedian', actor, 50% of Armstrong and Miller (please don't get me started with how much I love the 21st Century WW2 Airmen sketches) and Host of BBC1's cult tea-time quiz show Pointless.
The great and the good of the London and international food scene were in attendance. I had the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as I saw food legend and food luminary walk around and take their seats for the award.
I was totally amazed when I saw Chef and legend Angela Hartnett come in, mill around and say hello to people. I have admired her for years! She is a remarkable woman who has climbed to the top of a male dominated profession with style and class. She has published cook books which have been loved by gourmands, chefs and simple food lovers like me. I have cooked and loved her recipes and thoroughly enjoyed reading her food writings. Anxious and unsure - after all, she might have told me to go away and leave her alone - I felt I had to meet her. So I gingerly walked up and introduced myself. It turns out that she is a lovely person as well as extremely talented. She was kind, accommodating and very pleasant.
The first award, for Best Sandwich was suitably international. There were shortlisted candidates from Venezuela, China, the USA, and England. The winner was Banh Mi Thit as served at Huynh Hoa, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Banh Mi sandwiches are made from crusty baguette bread, an influence from when the French ruled what they called French Indochina. They are filled with a healthy amount of vegetables, herbs and meaty goodness, frequently pork or possibly chicken. A sauce is often drizzled over the meat to give some spice and zing.
The Best Sausage award was contested by candidates from Korea, USA, Ireland, and Argentina. The winner was the Kielbasa of the Kielbasa Truck, Krakow, Poland, who grill their sausages on a wood burning barbeque. Their Kielbasa, served in a bread roll with mustard and onions is said to be worth the trip to Poland alone.
The Best Pizza award was fought over by competitors from Italy (Naples, of course, the birthplace of Pizza), Argentina, UK, USA and Tokyo. The winner was the Story Deli in my own beloved London town! I will confess it was a pleasing shock to me to find that the Pizzeria in Naples had been beaten by home-grown talent, and now I must dust off my Oyster card and sample the Margherita Pizza as served by Story in east London.
The Best Curry award was presented by the author of Cook In Boots, Ravinder Bhogal. The award went to the Mutton Vindaloo from the Ritz Classic, Panjim (Panaji), Goa, India, beating off another contender from India, and rivals from Canada, Cambodia, and the Philippines.
Jonathan Downey, the noted Michelin starred chef presented the award for Best Burger, which went to perhaps the earliest producer of the burger, Louis' Lunch, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Founded by Louis Lassen in 1900, Louis' Lunch still uses the same presses to form their burgers. Rival burgers were from Istanbul, London, Sydney and India.
Petra Barren presented the Best Chicken dish award, which went to HanChu of Seoul, Korea for their Fried Chicken wings. I love chicken wings, all fiddly finger food deliciousness, so I now have a place to put on my list when I travel to Seoul!
Martin Morales, founder of Ceviche restaurant, presented the Best Taco Award. This went to the BBQ Goat Tacos at Barbacoa Santiago, Queretaro, Mexico. Interestingly, the other shortlisted taco dishes (from Mexico, London, Arizona and California) had very varied fillings, including Tuna. Of course, a taco is very versatile, allowing for all sorts of meaty goodness to be served inside!
So, which cities were up for the Foodiest City award? Well, not everyone was going to be happy about the shortlist, mainly because it had to be a short list and omit many amazing cities noted for excellent food. The shortlisted cities were Lima, New Orleans, London, Portland (Oregon) and Hanoi. Of all the categories (and I have to say they all made me come all over with wanderlust), this was the one which made me want to pack a case and book the first plane out, because it went to Hanoi. I love travelling, particularly in south east Asia, in no small part due to the food. One day I will make it to Vietnam, a country whose food I love, and hope to have a steaming bowl of Pho, a bowl of Bun Cha and some Ban Cuon there.... although there are probably so many other dishes I'd want to chomp my way through, I might never come back!
The Outstanding Contribution Award went to Tuba Satana, for her work on the Istanbul Food website, showcasing the best food in that amazing, vibrant and historical city. Tuba is a professional photographer who has published a book of her photographs entitled Güneşin ve Ateşin Tadı (A Taste of Sun and Fire), and calls herself a 'food storyteller'. Her website, which is a must if you are planning to visit Istanbul can be found here: http://www.istanbulfood.com
Finally, there was the award for the Best food item in the world. This was the most anticipated award of them all, and was given by Russell Norman, the restauranteur behind Polpo Soho, Polpo Covent Garden, Polpo Smithfield, Spuntino, Polpetto and Mishkin's who has recently treated us to the Polpo cookbook, featuring his unique take on Polpo's Venetian inspired food. The award went to Story Deli (currently at a temporary address at 123 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London) for their Margherita Pizza. The pizza, in the ultra-thin style is made from Molina Grassi SpA organic flour. It is literally 'shown the oven' since it is only baked for 30 seconds! Lee Hollingworth of Story Deli accepted the award.
My final surprise of the evening was when I went to fetch my coat to drift back home after an evening of food and drink. I had managed to get my coat on when I pretty much stumbled into someone tucking into the Ribman's rib meat roll.... none other than Giles Coren! He was a real sweetie - I was really impressed by his kind and engaging manner. He really could not have been nicer to me. What a memorable end to a great evening!
I would like to thank the organisers of the Inaugural Chowtzer Awards for inviting me to attend as a guest.