Tuesday, 22 December 2009

St Georges Market, Belfast

St Georges Market, on the south eastern edge of Belfast city centre, is one of the best places in the city to catch a glimpse of Belfast's past and present. Dating back to 1896, this beautiful structure of red brick and cast iron was initially built to house an outdoor food market that had been in the area since the 17th Century.

Over the years it has been put to a number of uses. It was used as an emergency mortuary for the victims of Nazi bombing raids during World War II, and gradually developed into a general goods market. By the early 90s the market had fallen into disrepair, and a massive renovation project was undertaken to restore it to its former glory. Today, the market is home to a vibrant Friday and Saturday morning market, and is occasionally used as a live music venue and exhibition space.

When I visited on Saturday morning it was easy to see why the market is so popular. The high, vaulted, glass ceilings allow plenty of natural light and ventilation, while the expansive floor space allows for easy browsing of the multiple food stalls.

Following a rather disappointing experience at the Belfast Christmas Market involving Paella and Chicken Tikka, I decided to go local for the day and try some good old fashioned Norn Iron grub.

First up was a homemade sausage roll from one of the bacon, sausage and burger-style purveyors. At only £1, this was the cheapest item on the menu and exceptionally good value. Light, crispy pastry surrounded a substantial filling of coarse, well seasoned, sausage meat. Sausage rolls can sometimes feel processed, watery and gross, but this one hit the spot nicely.

Next up was a bowl of hearty Irish stew. This involved a semi-liquid mass of roughly mashed carrots, onions, potatoes and what looked and tasted like shredded, slow cooked beef. Eaten with plenty of salt and brown sauce, it was tasty, warming, and brought back good memories of primary school dinners.

Elsewhere, there was more exciting food on offer. The market has a real focus on quality, local produce and it's great seeing the Northern Irish food industry get some good exposure.

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Sunday, 13 December 2009

Partick Farmers Market

Today was my first full day back in Glasgow, and although I had planned a full gastro-tour of my old chomping ground, a late night and way too much Guinness ruined my plans for an early rise (not to mention my appetite.)

One place I did manage, however, was the Partick farmers' market. The market has been running on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month for a quite a few years now, and was a common feature of my fortnightly schedule back when I lived here.

It's typical FM stuff: Pates, cheeses, hunks of organically raised meat etc. Way to many things to spend my money on - at prices that make my overdraft wince. It's also one of the very few places you can get anything resembling street food in the city.

After a quick scout, I grabbed one of these Aberdeen Angus burgers from a stall on the market's fringes. The burger had been pre-cooked on a hotplate, and came simply in a roll with cheese.

The patty was pure quality - a hockey-puck sized slab of meat, well reared and well seasoned, with just a suggestion of pink at it's beefy heart. This combined with a tasty wedge of cheddar that equalled the meat and almost made it more of a beef and cheese sandwich than a burger. The roll for its part was largely non-descript, but did a good job of holding the thing together (don't you just hate it when it falls apart in your hands?)

The result was a decent, all-round burger made with quality ingredients. Enjoyable, reasonably priced (£3) and worth braving the cold. It also gave me an excuse to throw up some FM signs


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Please ignore once more

Again sorry about this! I'm in the midst of trying to switch from blogger to wordpress and having a few teething problems. NORMAL SERVICE SHOULD BE RESUMED SHORTLY.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Best Street Food 2009

With my Asia trip fresh in my mind and the year coming to a close, I thought it would be a good time to recommend some of my favourite street food and street food locations of the past year. The list is of course subjective, and I am positive there is alot I missed, so please feel free to chip in with any suggestions of your own!

Best Breakfast - Lijiang Baba

Breakfast vendors often provide some of the best, and most elusive, street food around. Many of these stalls start early and are finished by the time most tourists even consider waking up. We stumbled on Lijiang Baba whilst on an early morning, crowd-beating stroll around the beautiful (but over-touristed) Chinese city of Lijiang. I had to be dragged out of bed that morning, but the combination of fluffy freshly cooked flat bread, egg and the tarty hotness of the chili sauce proved the perfect wake-up call. If you visit, beat the crowds and the bland and overpriced cafe fare for one of the best breakfasts around!

Best Beverege - Ca Phe Sua Da

Not something I always consider street food, but Vietnam's Ca Phe Sua Da is one drink that simply can't be missed. Served hot or with ice, this thick Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk is strong, sweet and a great example of the country's appropriation of some its former colonial masters' culinary heritage. Indeed, Ho Chi Minh once worked as a pastry chef under Le Coursier himself!

Best Street Food City - Penang, Malaysia.

Delving into Penang's street food feels like being a steel ball inside a pinball table. Make sure to bring an appetite as the city bounces you between cultures and vendors with little thought for the constraints of appropriateness or digestion. Three dishes in particular (Char Keow Tay, Hoikkien Mee, and Laksa Assam) should not be missed, but as with anywhere, most of the fun is in pointing, tasting and discovering for yourself. You might want to steer clear of the Oysters though!

Best Overall Country - China

It's a toughie, but for sheer quality and variety I'm going to have to go with China. From grilled lamb kebabs dusted with cumin to intricately flavoured noodles, China's expansive size and myriad of cultures makes for one hell of a street buffet! Places of note include Xi'an (home of the terracotta warriors and a lively Muslim quarter) and Yunnan, in the country's Southwest. Ignore the scorpions on sticks and spend your money on some real food instead. You won't regret it.

Best Rice Dish - Com Ga

So ubiqitous are rice and noodles in Asia that I decided to give them a categories of their own. On the rice side of things, Vietnam's Com Ga takes the first prize. Rice is cooked in turmeric, chicken stock and coconut milk until fluffy and flavoursome, then mixed with a killer combination of coriander, shredded chicken and chili. Hands down one of the best street dishes ever and one I intend on recreating as soon as I get access to time and a kitchen.

Best Noodle Dish - Yunnan Noodles

I never did find out the name for this popular Yunnan cold noodle dish but after a while I didn't much care. Many versions exist, but most include raw onions, crushed peanuts and up to a dozen sauces, oils and pastes. Spicy, filling and refreshing at the same time, I've yet to come across anything similar anywhere else. I'm still amazed at how intricately these ladies were able to balance and cajole some combustable flavours into something approaching perfection. A must eat if ever there was one!

Best Market - Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market

Every Sunday night Chiang Mai's main street shuts to traffic and turns into a celebration of shopping and eating. This market is notable not only for Thai classics but also for the refreshingly international vibe of many of the stalls. In addition to the usual curries and noodles, novelties such as sushi and pie 'n' mash were also on the menu. A great place for a wandering graze, and something that any trip to Chiang Mai should be planned around. The nightly market outside the old town pales woefully in comparison and isn't worth the sole rubber.

Best Korean Street Food

One final mention should go to my past and future home, Korea. I spent 12 months in the Hermit Kingdom and my intial experiences there sparked the idea for this blog. In my opinion, Korea's best street food is Pajeon, a pancake made with flour, chili, spring onion and squid. Pajeon tastes best when eaten huddled around a street cart and dipped in salty soy sauce.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Daddy Donkey Mexican Grill

Yesterday I braved the London cold for my first taste of UK street food in ages. My destination was the Daddy Donkey Mexican Grill in Leather Lane Market, Holborn. The grill comes highly recommended, and I was interested to see how UK fare compared to its Asian counterparts.

Daddy Donkey started off as a wooden stall four years ago, and since then has upgraded to a fully fledged burrito mobile . It's a slick operation, staffed by a friendly and dexterous 4-5 man crew that churn out burritos to a long line of customers at a frightening pace.

Ordering is simple - decide between a burrito, tacos or a salad, then choose a filling and either mild, medium, hot or extra hot salsa. I went for a Daddy D burrito with steak and hot salsa. The steak had been marinated in chipotle adobo and grilled, and the burrito included lime rice, black beans, lettuce, sour cream and cheese.

I've never been to Mexico, but this was up there with the best burritos I've had. The steak was great - charred, flavoursome and substantial, and the fillings worked a charm. I particularly enjoyed the black beans, which were slow cooked to form a wonderful, viscous mass that gave the burrito an extra dimension.

All this made for an excellent lunch and a great intro to British street food. At £5.75 it didn't come cheap, but the quality ingredients and large servings made it just about worth it (this is London after all.)

One thing I noticed about the stall was the heavy branding that was going on. To be honest the logos, slogans and t-shirts took me back a bit, and my single burrito was served in what I considered an unnecessarily expensive looking paper bag( I do realise however that the branding is a central reason for its success and without it I probably never would have been there in the first place.)

A great feed, and an essential stop on any self-respectin', mex-lovin', street food freak's London itinerary

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Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Last Supper

A few nights ago my Asian Street Food experience came to an end on a Kuala Lumpur back street. We'd taken an overpriced taxi from our hotel to a reputable street food market in the Kampung Baru area of the city, only to find that a public holiday the previous day had curtailed the night market, meaning a rapidly dwindling pool of vendors. Ignoring the satay stalls and cat calls from the adjoining restaurants, I quickly settled on a popular noodle stall and it's smiling Malay vendor for what was to be my parting shot.

This was classic one dish one vendor stuff, cooked on a huge, circular pan and served in hot, heavy paper parcels like fish and chips. The noodles were a wide and flat runway variety, reminiscent of a rogue strain of linguine, and had been mixed in with liberal amounts of beansprouts, chili and soy sauce.

The result was a dish that was more texture than flavour. The chili and soy sauce were good, but it was the juxtaposition of the smooth, soft, slightly sticky flat noodles and the crunchy, fresh beansprouts that piqued my interest. Faced with this mean pair, the flavours sidled off into the background and kept their presence to mere taste bud fodder. I gobbled the lot right there on the sidewalk (sorry, pavement) then went to buy some fake DVDs

I felt that this was a good dish to end on. It was simple stuff - quick, sustaining and unpretentious, and the type of thing that I'd be pushed to find any other place at any other time. I loved the rusticity of the serving methods and the fact that it only cost about 20p.

I'm in London now, and its going to be interesting to see how the street food here compares. Next stop Borough market!

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