In recent years, we have watched with eager eyes as Leeds has cultivated its thriving street food scene, offering an eclectic mix with a little something for everyone. Whether it’s a mouthful of spice or a bite of Yorkshire goodness, there seems to be no end to the assortment of street food vans out there, and more and more are hopping on the bandwagon. The food is quick, it doesn’t sacrifice quality even though it’s not created in a Michelin star kitchen, and it is wonderfully social – this style of eating brings people together across Leeds, and across the country
To discover what makes the cogs whir in Leeds’s street food scene machine, we chatted to the masterminds behind the menus born and bred in our city, to hear their take on what it means to play a part in the food trend of the moment.
Nick Prince – Diamond Dogs (@diamond_d0gs)
Having been involved with catering all his life, street food was a natural progression for Nick. His enterprise started out in Leeds, and since has moved onto bigger things appearing at the big festivals such as Glastonbury and Boomtown.
“People seem to be doing more eating out which is good”, says Nick, “and street food seems to have brought more communities together socially.”
Despite street food events like Belgrave Feast and the new EatNorth popping up all over the city, Nick wants to see more appearing, “hopefully more semi-permanent events maybe, like the ones in London. That way more opportunities open up for vendors to trade.”
Favourite vendor? “I really enjoy the food from Holy Crab! I love Truly Crumptious too, if they’re at a festival I always head for them.”
David & Annika Richardson – Sabroso Street(@sabrosostreet)
David and Annika had always wanted to run their own business, and after ten years in finance and nursing careers, they finally pursued their passion, and from their love of cooking, Mexican and food sprung Sabroso Street.
The couple say “street food has taken a bit of a sweet spot in between quick, convenient food and restaurants. It’s really allowed people’s palettes to be opened up to the world’s cuisine.”
The street food scene is consistently evolving across Leeds and the North, and Annika confesses “it’s the best community I have ever worked in – all the other street food traders really want you to do well, and there is such a great network of advice and support out there.”
Favourite Vendor? “We absolutely love Manjit’s Kitchen and Pizza Loco who are in Leeds. Further afield we adore MacDaddies and HipHopChipShop. Not only do we love serving our street food, we love getting stuck into the food of others too!”
Chris Hargroves & Emily Cotton – The Ball Box (@theballbox)
After attending a friend’s festival-themed wedding and noticing the glee radiating from the staff of street food vendors, Chris and partner Emily decided to bite the bullet and turn to street food catering, and according to him they haven’t looked back since!
Chris says: “Street food allows people to have restaurant-quality food at a fraction of the cost, and provides an alternate lunch as opposed to the standard sandwich. It has also made cuisines all over the world more accessible to the public.”
Although street food traders seem to love what they do for a living, it’s not always an easy ride; “the biggest struggle is something we cannot control, the great British weather,” adds Chris, “it can completely ruin an event that you’ve been prepping for all week.”
Favourite Vendor? “Little Bao Boy based here in Leeds. We had the pleasure of working alongside them at EatNorth a couple of weeks back and we were blown away.”
Tom Stafford – Doh’hut (@dohhut)
While paying a visit across the pond, Tom experienced the stardom of street food first hand, and after extensive research into the UK’s market, he found a gap where his gourmet donuts could flourish.
“I remember growing up and ‘UK Street Food’ was a white box burger van. People have stepped up their game with street food. Popular foodie events such as Brandon St Night Market are appearing across our city, and you get a great atmosphere – music along with good food.”
What is it that makes the life of a street food vendor so great? “For me, creating tasty donuts, personally handing each one to a customer and seeing people enjoy them,” says Tom, “it keeps me motivated and eager to sell more.”
Favourite Vendor? “The Dilla Deli is one of Leeds’ greats, also Ollie from Pizza Loco. Beyond Leeds I’d say The Gravy Train from Sheffield. And I have to say myself of course!”
Ifty Patel – Ruby’s Street Kitchen (@rubysstreetkitchen)
From helping the homeless on the streets of Leeds, to working alongside a range of chefs in Greek locations, Ifty invested his passion for food and desire to feed people into opening up his own street kitchen.
“Because we don’t have a base, we really depend on getting our food out there in the streets to make a living,” he says, “it’s great because the process allows customers to interact with chefs face to face and it’s much more satisfying that way!”
Even though the street food scene in Leeds has bloomed over recent years, Ifty believes we’re not far from for the starting line: “I think we’re still in the early stages. I’d like to see the council open up more areas where people can trade regularly and go in the evenings. Leeds is massively involved with food but there’s definitely room for more pop ups.”
Favourite Vendor? “He’s not quite street food but I love Dan at Grub & Grog. There’s a nice vendor in Manchester, Nasi Lemak, Jim’s been doing some good stuff recently.”
Dan Burgess and Felicity Richardson – The Sausage Box (@the_sausagebox)
Dan grew tired of his daily commute, as we all do from time to time, and after considering his financial commitments he channelled his enthusiasm for cooking into his and Felicity’s own street food solution: The Sausage Box, in which they serve gourmet and European sausages. Their motto: ‘Local Produce, International Flavours’ emphasises the fact that this is some good sausage.
“I think a lot of the change [in Leeds’ street food scene] can be attributed to the attitudes of Leeds City Council. They seem to want to curate the best of street food for people. I think we will see more indoor events, as models like Belgrave and Leeds Indie Food has shown there is a platform for traders that isn’t so exposed to the weather!”
With Leeds flaunting an already impressive line-up of independent eateries, street food vendors have to up their game to survive: “traders have to differentiate themselves. They not only have to do something different, but they have to do it with the best ingredients, the safest practices and the most stunning Instagram-worthy finished products.”
Favourite Vendor? “My personal favourites are Dim Sum Su and The Gravy Train. Banh & Mee have an awesome set up in Kirkgate Market too, so you always know where to get your Pho hit.”
Jen Kruger – The Dilla Deli (@thedilladeli)
In 2013 Jen spent the year travelling the world, enjoying the cuisines and street food of each country she visited, and from this realised she needed a change to a career working with food – so she created The Dilla Deli, in which she creates amazing quesadillas from all around the world.
“When you visit a food event you’re able to try food from Malaysia to West Africa all in one place; this changes expectations and the demand for an exciting variety of foods. I think we’ll continue to see an expansion in the types of street food on offer. Some Cambodian maybe? Scandinavian too.”
Street food has spread its wings and permeated the structures and spaces of Leeds, and Jen declares that “it’s no longer just a street-corner thing. There are high-quality street food events happening regularly now, like EatNorth and Belgrave Feast, and we have dedicated street food spaces like Trinity Kitchen.”
Favourite Vendor? “Pizza Loco make the best Neapolitan pizzas. I have so many! MorMor, Delice D’Ivoire, I also love Manjit’s Kitchen in the market.”
James Ooi – Little Bao Boy (@littlebaoboy)
Self-confessed foodie, James, grew up in a multicultural household and witnessed the workings of the cooking world first hand in his parents’ noodle bar. Living within this food environment spurred him on to take on his own street food business.
“Street food is no longer associated with greasy junk food,” he says, “the industry has created events which have a real community, family vibe which has opened its doors to anyone and everyone.”
As is already known on Leeds’ independent food scene, eateries are far from rivals but rather a network of aid for one another, and this extends to our street food culture: “You become part of a really supportive association where the majority of traders and event organisers are open to helping you out.”
Favourite Vendor? “I’m a massive fan of ParmStar, a duo from my hometown of Middlesbrough. They serve up great food and they’re a great set of people as well!”