It has been a rough year for hospitality. To be honest, it’s a miracle that the 2020 European Street Food Awards happened at all. There was the small matter of a global pandemic. We had to rearrange national heats – in one case, three times – changing dates, traders and locations. And we had to give up on the idea of a grand European final – with all the travel restrictions in place across the continent. Like everyone else we’ve been at the mercy of factors beyond our control. Goodness knows how, but we got there in the end.

And the world, so it transpires, is hungrier than ever for street food. Informally, in the open air – or big high-ceilinged warehouses. Not at cramped tables in restaurants. Street food is the food people want to eat right now – served up in the way people want to eat it. The European Street Food Awards is part of the biggest street food competition in the world – and it always tries to find the best that’s out there. Pandemic or no pandemic. And in 2020 we parked up everywhere from Italy and Russia to Iceland and Poland.

The Icelandic Street Food Awards were held at Miðbakkinn in center of Reykjavik 18-19 July with the country’s 20 best street food vendors. The Saturday started off with a storm (and when Icelanders say storm they mean STORM) so Reykjavik Street Food, the organisers, had to postpone the event until the Sunday. Despite Covid restrictions – and the damage caused by the deluge the day before – Reykjavik had a great turn out, and the judges had one of their best meals ever.

This summer, the weather was the least of our problems. All across Europe, from Italy to Russia, and Wales to Poland, our partners were busy tiptoeing round government regulations to deliver events that were safe AND sound. But all the last-minute news on reinfection rates made any serious planning impossible. Traders wanted to compete regardless. They still needed to make money. But above all else, they wanted to end the year with a bit of good news.

Porcobrado was voted the Champion at the Italian Street Food Awards in Codogno, hosted by Eatinero, one of the most important street food organisers in Italy. Codogno was the municipality where the Italian authorities identified the first case of Covid-19. Eatinero chose the location to represent the resilience of food trucks in the midst of the resulting economic crisis. A point well made….

A Tuscan food truck, from the province of Arezzo, Porcobrado cook up sandwiches stuffed with Cinta Senese and Grigio Chianino pork from its farms in Cortona, where pigs have been growing in the wild for over a century. Italian champions back in 2017, the team went on to win Best Sandwich at the finals of the European Street Food Awards in Berlin. Nice to think that their pork shoulder – lightly smoked with cherry wood, marinated with natural spices and cooked on the barbecue – are now bewitching Europe for a second time….

The final of the British Street Food Awards supported by Hellmann’s only happened because the organisers, Blue Collar and Food Mutiny, agreed to run at-table ordering – to stop queuing and to minimise the amount of milling round on site. So the payment partners for the Awards, SumUp, adapted their very cool app to make it work for street food traders. The end result? Everyone loved it. Maybe 2021 won’t be that different. Maybe live events will remain socially distanced for the foreseeable future. But whatever 2021 has in store, the Brits are ready.

Congratulations to Greidy’s wings and strips – overall UK Champions. With a genius chicken offer paired with legendary sides and gravy. After the organisers appeared on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen with food from five of the finalists, they could have sold out the 2020 grand final 10 times over. Any other year they would have squeezed everyone in – but not in a time of virus. Next year it will be different. Roll on 2021.

In Poland, the Championship trophy went to old-school barbecue specialists Pastrami Summer. The team presented two BBQ dishes baked in hot wood smoke. The first was a classic Ruben sandwich – beef pastrami, pickles, fried cabbage and pear mustard served on rye bread – and a beef rib, with pickled shallots and peppers, bbq sauce prepared with smoked tomatoes and plums, all topped with black garlic mayonnaise and a tangzhong wheat roll.

The only down side to Street Food Polska’s amazing event? That there was no after party to go to. “Due to the pandemic” Pastrami Summer wrote on their Instagram account, “the grand final of the European Street Food Awards planned for the end of September in Sweden was cancelled. So the organizers of the Polish Street Food Awards have decided that we’ll automatically jump into the national finals next year. This win motivates us to work really hard for 2021.” Believe.

2020 was the fourth time we’ve partnered up with Kaliningrad Street Food to hold the Russian Street Food Awards. This year, traders from 12 Russian cities travelled to Kaliningrad to compete – everywhere from Moscow and St Petersburg to Yoshkar-Ola, Yaroslavl and Ulan-Ude. The esteemed jury chose from a total of 30 dishes – including the new dessert category. The overall winner, chosen for an interpretation of the Tatar dish “Kalitki”, was the gifted Alexander Bykov.

Like the rest of Europe, Russia found that 2020 has been marked by an overwhelming sense of gratitude. From traders, to be out and earning. And from the public, tired of the rigours of lock down, who want to break bread together again in a safe and responsible way. There were positives. If you looked hard enough. The relationship between street food and the delivery apps is finally starting to work. And we’ve seen some exciting new talent (restaurateurs for instance) looking at street food for the first time. Wait til 2021. Exciting times ahead.

European Street Food Awards – Iceland 18/19 July

European Street Food Awards – Russia 28/29/30 August

European Street Food Awards – Poland 11/12/13 September

European Street Food Awards – Italy 11/12/13 September

European Street Food Awards – Wales 26/27 September

European Street Food Awards – Scotland 9/10/11 October

European Street Food Awards – Britain 31 October/1 November

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