Street food bursts out from its exotic enclave in Glasgow and Edinburgh
Enjoy casual pan-Asian dining at restaurants including Bar Soba, Tuk Tuk and The Hanoi Bike Shop
From the crowded streets of Cambodia to the hustling alleys of Singapore, street food is an everyday occurrence for millions of people. Something that’s so mundane (to them) as a pandan pudding in Kuala Lumpur or a kimbap in Seoul suddenly becomes trendy and exciting when introduced to a set of new palates and perceptions on the other side of the globe.
The concept in the UK has taken a slight detour in terms of presentation. Instead of hurried street vendors hawking their wares, the realities of climate and eating habits means these foods are brought inside, whether to supplement an existing restaurant menu, liven up a takeaway menu or to spark up a bar snacks offer. In urban Scotland, Bar Soba is one example of a venue that has latched onto the appealing combination of beer and pan-Asian street food, developing the concept over a decade ago in the centre of Glasgow, and more recently in outlets in Glasgow’s West End and Edinburgh’s New Town, mixing the energy of humid South-East Asian streetlife with the popularity of casual, small-plate eating and the rise of the indie bar.
It is common for food to follow people, as has been marked over the decades with well established Chinese and Indian cuisines in many parts of the world. Yet these genres, as well as some of the more traditional Thai styles, are becoming hackneyed in comparison to less formal expressions of their cuisine, as testified by the popularity of casual eateries such as Ting Thai Caravan or Tuk Tuk. In addition, lesser-known nationalities have pushed their way forward, even from relatively small bases in terms of immigrant populations. Koreans and Malaysians have achieved a dynamic local foothold in restaurants such as Edinburgh’s Kampung Ali Malaysian Delight – now making a bigger deal of its street food offer, and Ong Gie in Tollcross with its table-top grills. Likewise, Scots themselves are bringing back the flavours they’ve experienced while abroad: The Hanoi Bike Shop in Glasgow’s Ruthven Lane or Saiko Kitchen in Marchmont in Edinburgh being two of the more impressive local examples.
Informal eating opportunities, lively flavours, open-minded diners: the stage is set for pan-Asian street food to grow and grow. It’s just a shame our often cold, wet streets aren’t playing their part.