28 | Sep | 23

Richard Johnson

Meet The Finalists

Street food traders are the same around the world. Big mouths. With a genuine passion for what they do – and a lot to say. They survive on their wits. And they flourish with a killer menu. In Germany this weekend, the very, very, very best traders from 16 countries in Europe will contest the 2023 European Street Food Awards. With menus that will blow your mind. Here’s a little bit more about a VERY special bunch of people….

Italy
2023 Champions – Van Ver Burger
Behind Van Ver Burger are two partners, friends and colleagues who share many values. And it shows. “We have been professional chefs for over 15 years and, more than 10 years ago now, we chose for various reasons to become vegan” says Pasquale. “We worked together in a vegan restaurant in Turin and then at the end of 2019 we set up our own project. We want to introduce people to plant-based cuisine, with sympathy and taste.

“Our burgers are the result of a constant search for the PERFECT COMBINATION between the desire to be sustainable and the pleasure of eating with taste. Our mood is very positive, non-judgmental and inclusive. Behind every sandwich we make there is study, experimentation and above all a lot of love – for nature, for animals and for the planet. We want to encapsulate in the sandwich the sense of great respect for ‘mother nature’ and for our ‘home’.”

Italy
2023 People’s Choice – Rock Burger
Ronnie Pizzo always loved hamburgers. But the rock drummer wanted to create something different – to give his burgers a rebel soul. “I played all over the world with my band and, for years, I got people dancing with distorted guitars and maximum volume! I wanted people to feel the same way when they tasted one of my burgers. I also wanted to combine the American burger tradition with the quality of Italian food.” Finally, in 2014, the idea took shape. And Rock Burger was born!

A restaurant felt too staid. Even if the walls were covered in t-shirts, gold discs and rock memorabilia. “We couldn’t deny ourselves the possibility, like any real band, of taking our specialties on tour!” says Ronnie. “That’s is why our food truck was born in 2016. Made to measure and in perfect rock style.” Get ready Saarbrucken!!!!

Germany
2023 Champions – Smokin’ Maple
We all know that truly great barbecue can be made on an old set of bed springs held over a bed of coals by cinder blocks at the corners. But Tim Degener is a perfectionist, and works on an 8m smoker in black and orange. People call it Tuf Tuf because it sounds like an old-fashioned steam train.
Tim trained in a series of grand culinary establishments across Europe but – eight years ago – he fell in love with barbecue. “It’s not like cooking” he says. “I like the easier style – or the chill style – of barbecue. It’s outside, and people are more happy.” Especially when they taste his food.

Germany
2023 People’s Choice – Kikeriki
The Kikeriki concept is based on family recipes. “Diverse and multicultural – like our family” says Kei. “My mother is from Vietnam, my father is from Hong Kong and my wife is from Tokyo. We decided to combine the best of all and conceived the concept of Kikeriki – Asian Fried Chicken, caramelized on a hot grill.

Poland
2023 Champions – U Wędzonych Sopot
These are proper burger 🍔 specialists – who worked under Gordon Ramsay in London. They don’t just have ONE signature dish. “They are ALL delicious” says boss-man Michal Snela. “But at the 2023 Polish Street Food Awards we presented the “don’t burn bridges” burger.

“Its unique taste comes from carefully selected beef – specifically beef brisket.” The meat is marinated in spices and then smoked for 15 hours before being slathered in the truck’s homemade barbecue sauce and garlic mayonnaise, with the chef’s house pickles!

“The burger is loved by our guests” says Michal. “Below is a review from Google. “I never thought I could shed a tear eating a burger. The first bite was like a scene from Ratatouille. I felt like…kissing the cook’s hands. You are doing something beautiful – keep it up.” What will the reviews be like in Saarbrucken?

Poland
2023 People’s Choice – Złote Paluchy Churros
It’s a street food success story. From one trailer, seven years ago, to the biggest street food company in Poland. It all started when, after 11 years overseas, Krzysztof came home to Poland to find churros were still unknown. “I bought a trailer, made a dough and for six months I tested it on my friends” he says. “We still make our churros with just the one type of flour, eggs, sugar, spices – and a drop of sweat as our magic ingredient.” The churros maniacs are always developing new ideas. “Churros dumplings for instance” says Krzysztof. “Sweet and savoury. And we’re probably the only people on the planet to do churros burgers!” Will they do them in Saarbrucken? Let’s hope so!

Norway
2023 Champions – Matologi
It’s a simple concept. Fill top notch bread with top quality meat – everything from roasted duck to pastrami and chicken. And plate up the resulting sandwich so that it looks as pretty as a picture. Job done. The Matologi signature is the Japanese wagyu beef, grade A-5 and one of the best cuts of quality beef in the world. Grilled – crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside – and combined with grilled French toast, truffle mayonnaise, ruccola and home-made kimchi , it’s an unbelievable food experience. Matologi might be new to the street food game, but they’re making a big noise. They just get it. “In a time where cooking is more admired when it’s done by others, and not ourselves, when time is money, and when eating out in a restaurant isn’t affordable for everybody, street food comes to the rescue.”

Norway
2023 People’s Choice – The Raclette Truck
This is raclette done properly. “First up, selected Norwegian potatoes are baked at the right temperature” says Michal. “Then salt and high-quality butter is added. Followed by pickles, pearl onions and dry-cured ham.” Pause to wipe away the dribble.

“Finally,” says Michal, “we add the main actor of the whole dish – the grilled raclette cheese that caramelizes on the outside and goes sweet, buttery and soft on the inside. Our customers love our dishes and we can’t wait to bring what we do to the ESFA finals.” That makes two of us….

Finland
Returning Champions – Kusmiku
Miku has high hopes for the 2023 European Street Food Awards grand finale. Especially after his experiences competing in Munich last year. “Maybe this year we could get to start the European Street Food Awards grand finale with all the ingredients in a same place as the food truck and the staff. That would be a huge improvement on last year when we had to wait till Saturday.”

Miku has a sense of humour. His dessert features liquorice (it’s a Scandinavian thing), and he’s coming to Saarbrucken to have fun. “It’s really rewarding to see food trucks around Europe and to see how awesome street food can be. There’s a lot we all can learn from each other and of course we want to kick some ass in the competition! The past seven years of food trucking has really taken us to places. Maybe we’re not millionaires but we sure have millions of memories.”

Finland
Returning People’s Choice – BULI Foodtruck
“We are the most popular foodtruck in Finland” says Joonas. “We believe we are truly the best and we are coming to take first place in the final. We don’t take shortcuts.” Got to love that confidence. “Our car is the heart of our entire operation – a sympathetic little vintage Mercedes-Benz truck. It served as a fire engine in Lapland since1970. But it didn’t see much real action because it only drove 35,000 kilometers in all those years.” Will it make the journey to Saarbrucken? With confidence like theirs, you can bet your bottom dollar it will!

Wales
2023 Champions – Cosmo’s Mexicana
Cosmo’s Mexicana got into street food in 2021, when Covid forced closure of the couple’s gastrocafe in the Brecon Beacons. “After scouring the country for a unique vehicle” says Michelle, “we came across an ad for Doris, a ‘one of a kind’ 1953 Fisher Holivan living life as a spare bedroom at an Airstream glamping site on the Isle of Wight.

“We instantly fell in love, booked a ferry and within 24 hours she was home on our drive, ready to start her next chapter as our little taco truck. We did every bit of the conversion ourselves, so she’s very special to us and, as far as we know, the only of her kind in the world! Unfortunately at 70 years old, Doris is little too old to make the trek to Germany. But she’ll be with us in spirit!”

Scotland and Britain
2023 Champions – Choola
It’s been an extraordinary year for street food newcomers Ameer and Nicole from Choola. “Being crowned Scottish champions – and then BRITISH champions – was a complete honour (and shock!). As we’re still so new on the street food scene, we never could have imagined being in this position within our first few months of trading. If ever! We want to make Britain proud and bring the flavours of Nepal to the streets of Germany, and continue to make people smile through our food.”

Romania
2023 Champions – Bord13
The Bord13 food truck is dedicated to fast food. Literally. With a pitch on the DN68A in Romania, close to the fast lane of the Holdea motorway junction. And it’s there for very democratic reasons.
“We wanted to share our gastronomic experience with people on the go who don’t have the time to spend two to three hours in a restaurant” says owner Sebastian Stancu. “So we’ve created a network of food trucks where customers can enjoy our dishes.” Just don’t expect him to compromise on quality. The signature BoRD13 burgers are made from aged Black Angus beef served in home-made buns, with red onions caramelized in a reduction of Modena balsamic vinegar, Carpathian honey and brown sugar.

Switzerland
Returning Champions – Food On Wheels
Food on Wheels is more than just a food truck; for Swiss champion Enrico it represents the realisation of a lifelong dream. After two decades of experience in restaurant kitchens, domestically and internationally, he decided to embrace the dynamic world of street food. “The choice brought me a sense of freedom and immense joy, sharing my love for food with others.”

Food On Wheels specialises in hearty comfort food. “Dishes that may not be the most calorie-conscious but that provide solace to the soul” says Enrico. Try the signature Mac n Cheese – featuring Swiss cheese and refined with fried bacon and roasted onions. Or the Honey Chicken with an original spicy honey-chili sauce. You’ll be glad the guy got out of restaurants.

Austria
Returning Champions – 11er GenussBus
Wow. Innovative and delicious, slicing a thin, crisp homemade potato rostis and stuffing them with generous fillings. But SO much more. When the Austrians won the Best Vegetarian category at the European Street Food Awards in 2019, their production value was off the charts, with branded keyrings, drones, TV menus, and probably the best kitted-out trailer we’ve ever seen. Goodness knows what they’ve got in mind for Saarbrucken.

Sweden
2023 Champions – Casey’s
The phrase ‘one and one’ – used when ordering fish and chips in Dublin – dates back to the 1880s. That’s when an Italian, Giuseppe Cervi, bought a coal-fired cooker and a hand-cart to sell chips outside pubs. When he graduated to selling fish as well, his wife would ask customers, ‘Uno di questo, uno di quello?’, meaning ‘one of this and one of the other?’ Fish and chips has been the most popular street food in Ireland ever since. “We keep the tradition alive” says Sean, “but of course with our own little twist. It’s Icelandic haddock, with Guinness batter, and fresh cut chips – all served with salt, malt vinegar and our own tartar sauce. Traditional working-class street food without frills or hipster points.”

Sweden
2023 People’s Choice – Papa Piada. This lovely couple live for piadina, also called piada, an Italian flatbread originating from the 15th century. “Our roots are in Emilia-Romagna where the bread is traditionally baked” says Emma. The Papa Piada fillings are innovative – championing local and seasonal ingredients were they can – and their homemade mayonnaises and sauces keep the piadina fresh, light and surprising.

At the grand finale of the 2022 European Street Food Awards, in Munich, Big Blue, the Papa Piada food truck, won the Award for Best Looking. Papa Piada won the 2023 Swedish Street Food Awards, so they’re back again to compete in Saarbrucken. “We love our food truck. A retired old mail van from the USA. It’s a nice way to think about recycling – now he makes people happy with food instead of mail!”

Denmark
Returning Champions – KUKU
The new Prince of Denmark (that’s a Hamlet reference) is Sean at KUKU! With an Iranian taster menu of Ghorme Sabzi, the national dish, he wowed the people of Copenhagen – and the judges – at the Danish Street Food Awards. The herb stew, with juicy beef, red kidney beans, sun-dried lime and turmeric – served with saffron rice – was the dish that did it. And maybe the Sholezard, Kuku’s exquisite rice pudding. But what has he got planned for Saarbrucken?

Latvia
2023 Champions – Augs
The Augs logo is a tiny plant – symbolising a family business with ambition to grow and develop. The plant, in this case, is managed by Ieva the chef and Gatis with the hospitality experience. “The food we prepare could be described as street food with a gourmet twist” says Gatis And their high-end menu for Germany will be based on a reimagining of soups quinoa bowls and bao buns.

Latvia
2023 Best Vegetarian – Bao Bun Latvia
Everyone loves bao! So, thankfully, we’ve got some of the best in the business to make them for you – by hand. Winners of Best Vegetarian at the Latvian Street Food Awards – hosted by Street Food Latvia in Riga – Bao Bun Latvia won the award for Best Sandwich when they competed at the European Street Food Awards finals in 2019. Will they do it again? Making up a strong Latvian team with Augs, the Latvian Champions? For judging, they’re entering their bao with oyster mushrooms in thyme and parsley pesto with walnuts, cabbage, Korean carrots, cucumber, pickled radish, sesame seeds, and scallions. And they’re also entering bao with crispy chicken and aioli sauce. Come hungry!

Slovakia
2023 Champions – Miki Street Food.
This boyfriend/girlfriend team are known for their smiles – and their “lokša s kačkou” (potato pancake with duck and cabbage). “This meal was our main dish when we started the business and it’s very typical for Slovakia. It is mostly eaten in the fall and winter. It consists of potato pancake, pulled duck that we prepare in the kitchen, red cabbage, and apple-cinnamon dip prepared on caramel. We add crackers from duck skin and fried onion on the top.”

Slovakia
2023 People’s Choice – Suhajici Pri Panvici
With their signature SHX BURGER. “A perfectly balanced burger” says Head Chef Martin. “It’s sweet/spicy/salty/soft/crunchy… it has everything – sweet brioche bun, sriracha mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce, ground beef, cheddar, onion marmalade, pickles. Everything made by us. But why should we explain when you can come and try it and judge for yourself? :)”

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