One of the best things about a blog- apart from the act of scribbling one’s ill-considered, regrettable and occasionally unhygienic thoughts online- is stumbling upon something that inspires you. Sometimes you go somewhere with high expectations, and an accompanying price tag; and sometimes you just find people doing something for the love of it. That’s what excites me: sometimes, you’re lucky enough to be able to use the aforementioned ramblings to tell people about something special.
And that’s what we found a couple of weeks ago at Pop Up Cardiff.
We found a Greek Cypriot family, beaming, some bent over charcoal as long skewers of chicken and pork bobbled away over the heat (literally- the staccato rhythm of the rotation was almost hypnotic) while others toasted pittas and crammed them full of salad and slathered them with hummus and tzatziki. We found a family- not an established restaurant, or the local branch of a franchise- having a go at feeding anyone who fancied chancing their arm on their food. A group of people who, having eaten at a previous Pop Up Cardiff, had the germ of an idea; and who, a handful of days before the event, thought, ‘You know what? Let’s have a crack at it’.
No polished website, no Twitter teaser campaign, no manufactured controversy or vulgar logo. No online presence to speak of, really. Just a family doing it because…why not? We know our food is good, we’re used to feeding large numbers of people at community gatherings, we even cook in the open air when there’s snow on the ground. We know this food, there’s not enough of it in the city and we think people would enjoy what we have to offer them. Let’s have a go.
No wonder they were wreathed in smiles as the queue grew and the smiles on the faces of well-fed customers widened. They looked so damn happy to be making people happy with their food.
Now this may seem an odd counterpoint to the polished skills of JOL’s Food Co, another debutant who is doing mightily impressive things. There are no chef’s whites here, no gleaming six-burner Burco, no blanching or braising. There’s a distinct lack of reductions and confit. What you get for your buck is good, honest, put-a-smile-on-your-face food. Chargrilled meat. Salad. Toasted bread. Sauces. Balancing it so you don’t overreach and drop a chunk of that precious meat. Eating it standing up in the sunshine, not caring you can’t find a seat because the food is just begging to be wolfed down. In their words: ‘There is no refined way of eating our souvlaki, I’m afraid you simply must gorge yourself. ‘
And I see no earthly reason to disagree.
I suppose the point is that it’s a sign of good health in a nascent street food scene that it offers both impromptu chargrilled chicken and pork stuffed into toasted flatbreads, and the more ‘cheffy’ intricacies of confit duck , crispy rabbit belly and triple-cooked chips.
Photo: Jordan Harris
And that is about as good as it gets, surely- that immediacy, of people drawn in by the smells of marinated meat cooking over coals, then getting stuck into no-frills food and just loving the experience, while those who had the bright idea serve customer after customer and can’t believe their luck.
Now that’s street food. And if I was gilding the lily, I’d mention that these souvlaki qualify for #cardiffonafiver…
It’s the extreme opposite from the years of professional kitchen experience on show at JOL’s. It’s cooking from the home, born out of feeding their community. But in their own way they have announced themselves as street food stars, and if there’s any justice they will be rushed off their feet at the next Pop Up Cardiff.
Good to see, no?
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.