They were the 21 best street food traders in Europe. Just check out this little lot. After a summer of national competitions, the Champions and People’s Choice winners from 15 different countries parked up in a cool warehouse in Malmo. Some travelled for four days to get there. Through the night. Crossed mountain passes in vintage vehicles with a top speed of 20 kilometres per hour. While pulling a trailer. Some had problems with paperwork at border control (talk to the Russians about how they explained away their black pudding), but everyone made it to Sweden’s coolest city in one piece. Apart from Portugal, who withdrew with a broken leg. Everyone deserved to win something.
Malmo, you beautiful thing. You came, you engaged with our Facebook event page, and you voted in your thousands. Like, the kind of numbers our vote-counters didn’t even know existed. Out of 21 traders, descending on Stora Varvsgatan 14 from just about every corner of Europe, the people of Malmo and beyond picked Thrilla in Manilla as the People’s Choice. Was it the free tasters that did it? The unyielding spirit of the team? The squid ink bao that judge and Michelin-star chef Titti Qvarnström said was “so wrong, it was right”?
Probably all of that. To pick the overall winner, we had an amazing panel of judges. Titti, food writer Karin Ericson, ESFA founder Richard Johnson and the two-star Malmo chef Daniel Berlin didn’t have an easy time. One winner from 42 plates of food. 42 plates. It’s a miracle they didn’t need to go home in a wheelbarrow. But the unanimous winner was Homeboys, who set the house on fire (at one point, literally) from Day One. As Daniel said, the “super tasty” open sandwich set them apart from the rest, while the “great texture in the meat” of their pig’s head croquettes – which also won them Best Snack – got them the trophy.
Homeboys lifted the Champion trophy (thanks as always to EC Awards) but they were up against the likes of Irvin’s BBQ, Tabemasu Ka-Jen, Pabellon, and Bao Bun Latvia for Best Sandwich. Par Magnusson of Irvin’s REALLY wanted to be the champion of Europe, his custom-made BBQ wagon reaching speeds it shouldn’t have reached to get to Malmo. But then a fellow Swede, Tabemasu Ka-Jen, rolled up with a poke dog Richard “wasn’t expecting” to like as much as he did. Pabellon put up a titanic weekend, competing with 11er for the longest queue. Pabellon clearly were at a “very high level” said Karin, with Daniel referring to THOSE sweet potato fries as “super super nice”.
Bao Bun Latvia brought along Thai-Latvian rolls of joy. And all the energy. Daniel said of their filling, “you can actually taste the sweetness of the meat”, with Karin adding “I want to eat more” – even though we’d barely got past the starters. In the end, the judges declared it a tie. Irvin’s and Bao Bun Latvia ripped the certificate for Best Sandwich in two. One for their “perfect for street food pastrami in high quality bread”, said Karin. The other for a true, hand-made bao that showed up the commercial alternative for the sham that it is.
There were loads of nice things in between bread. The burger was, like last year, the toughest category. We had something big, red, all the way from Bulgaria – also known as Famous Burger’s repurposed fire truck. 2,700 kilometres separated them from home, but as for competition – coming from Italy’s Rock Burger, Finland’s Social Burgerjoint, and Sweden’s Tabemasu ka-jen – there was a lot less in it. If you want to know how to do provenance, go take a look at Rock Burger. These Italians had Piedmont veal up their sleeve, along with pecorino cheese, radicchio, and their homemade bun to have it all in.
Meanwhile, Social Burgerjoint were smoking out competition with their BBQ – it was fire vs. fire out there in BBQ Alley – and they picked up Best Burger for their efforts. Social BJ were strong showers in the Best Vegetarian category too. “Really good patty and cheese” said Titti of their meat imitator burger. They squared up against Georgia’s Chacha Time, their khachapuri cheese boat “perfect for a hangover” said Karin, with some “nice flavours” and bread that Daniel “really really liked”. Jomm were in there, earning extra points for their commitment to sustainability – which, with edible plates, re-usable cups, and biodegradable cutlery – was on fine form over the weekend.
FutoBuri and Bubu Arare were also in contention for Best Vegetarian. FutoBuri is what happens when Japanese sushi collides with Mexican street food in a German city on the French border. A fusion celebration, if you will. Them and Bubu were heavy on the experiential, the latter getting credit for their small portions (we prefer to look after judges’ waistlines) and what Karin called their ‘very nice presentation’. Their bento box was “ambitious” – but it couldn’t stave off the category’s winners, 11er Genuss-Bus. The Austrians’ production value was off the charts, with branded keyrings, drones, TV menus, and probably the best kitted-out trailer we’ve ever seen. But the food? Innovative and delicious, slicing a thin, crisp homemade rosti and stuffing it with a generous filling.
Then was time for Best Main Dish. Up first was Smoke & Meat and their tagline – “the best that can happen to meat”. Now, S&M means something else in our country, though their BBQ was anything but. They conquered Budapest with their Mangalitsa pork ribs – could they do the same in Malmo? There was the small matter of Triller’s Genussmanufaktur in the way. “Nice texture and crunch,” said Titti of Triller’s truffle schnitzel. “My favourite so far.” Daniel was also a fan. Then came the other Germans – Marokkanische Spezialitat, whose Moroccan couscous showed early promise. “The mint makes it fresh and interesting” said Titti. Meanwhile, Eastern Express, winners in Russia, were serving traditional intestines from a lovely vardo. An inspired setup, and the judges loved their “traditional” approach. But it was the Danes – Dhaba Kitchen – who picked up Best Main for the “freshness” in the lamb chop curry that Titti thought ‘perfect’.
Things got even more serious from there – competition for Best Dessert was the most inseparable we’ve seen in years. Waffle soldiers came in from Utter Waffle, who’d picked up three awards in Britain on their way here to the European final. “Innovative’” was what Titti called their general approach, with Daniel pointing out “it probably would’ve won” if their batter came out “more crunchy.” But Gettergoda thoroughly deserved the Best Dessert title. Hundreds of years from now, people will romance about those gelato-stuffed milk buns. At 9pm on both days, most had packed up and gone home. Yet there they were, with a queue a dozen deep.
So there we have it. Thank you Malmo, especially for your people and your city council – this wouldn’t have been possible without either. And as for the rest of Europe – you’re all heroes. Adjö for now.