The 2017 European Street Food Awards were, quite simply, brilliant. Check them out here. But the 2018 Awards were even better. With the street food revolution sweeping the continent, it’s no surprise we had signed up lots of new countries who wanted to launch their own national Awards and send their winners to compete at the European finals in Berlin. The end result was one HECK of a food fight….
The finals, hosted by Bite Club, were tough to ignore. The press knew all about them. The news channels all knew about them. Punters came from across Europe to try food from so many different countries. Like last year, they took place in the capital of Germany. Unlike last year, they took place on the cobbles of an abandoned malt factory. Doh’hut didn’t get the memo – last year’s venue was locked up, so they had to camp overnight at the airport.
Doh’hut drove the furthest to compete. Some 1,400 kilometres, plus the 15 kilometre detour round the airport. But they’re be glad they did – the guys from Britain picked up Best Dessert for their trouble, remarking on how they’d never sold quite so many jam doughnuts. They were in the home of the Berliner, after all. But theirs were ‘better than we anything have here in Berlin,’ said the judging panel’s Max Strohe – the chef behind the city’s Michelin-starred Tulus Lotrek.
Best Main Dish went to Russia’s iFry, for their intelligent use of pork tenderloin and the deep fat fryer. ‘Their seasoning is so fucking good,’ added panellist Edwina Bishop, head chef at Hallesches Haus. And iFry’s fellow Eastern Europeans, Cimbru, were are a real judges’ favourite too – Evgeny Vikentiev, the St Petersburg and Berlin chef, took a mouthful of what Edwina described as Cimbru’s ‘deconstructed sandwich’ and paused. ‘I wasn’t expecting that’ he said. The Romanians went on to win Best Snack.
To the point Edwina raised – what even is a sandwich? Is a burger a sandwich? Is it all a bit subjective? Anything between two slices of bread doesn’t quite cover it. Amongst all the existential angst, Britain’s Jah Jyot stepped into the ring with their crispy masala dosa, winning Best Sandwich by a country mile — and the hearts and minds of the European public in the process.
Burgers were big. But when you do them in 2018 you have to do them good. Especially with competition coming from all directions – Sweden, Germany, Latvia, and Finland. Panellist and EuroSFA founder Richard Johnson praised the Finns (Social Burgerjoint) for a Korean patty with kimchi ‘that gave the burger a depth missing from the others,’ and the Germans (Piekfein) for a menu that ‘appealed to locals who recognised good pulled pork when they saw it.’ But then in stepped Swedes Matsas Mat, with a burger harbouring ‘more interesting flavour combinations’, as Evgeny called it, than their competitors. Plus a LOT more cheese. In the end the judges couldn’t split the Swedes from the Finns, and called it a tie.
Piekfein didn’t make the very short trip home empty handed, scooping the People’s Choice by a mere seven votes over Frittenwerk. Then it was Jah Jyot in second, with Cimbru and Tapiocaria following up not far behind. Hats off to Germany’s Frittenwerk and Tapiocaria – the former for putting on poutine-inspired dishes Edwina thought had ‘good texture’ and were ‘nice and smoky’, the latter for an açai dessert bowl Edwina called ‘pretty as a picture’.
Indeed, if there was an award for Best Looking Dish, Tapiocaria would have won it for almost anything on their menu. Then again, Vanilla from Georgia would have felt robbed, with plating that was as pretty as a picture. People loved Vanilla so much (Edwina was ‘so down with that spinach and the super tender chicken’) that they seemed to forget how to queue politely,
Vanilla were serious – they had come a long way to compete. So had 3 Brothers, who travelled 1,200 kilometres from Latvia. They occupied three parking spaces with their grey and orange Mercedes truck, and many more stomachs with their barbecued pork cooked over Latvian alderwood. Journalist Gisela Williams said it was ‘nice and nutty. I like.’
Gisela was also won over by the ‘super authentic’ Scottadito. What can you say about the Italians? Beautiful food, cooked up in a cute little Ape and served by beautiful people. As good as they were, their categories proved just too competitive. Same went for Cupákos – the Hungarians impressed the judges, Richard in particular, as the pork knuckle sauerkraut toast looked like it could be a winner from the start.
And what of the French? Billig brought some of their crepe-fuelled tenacity straight from Paris. Wanted to show that France, more known for its haute cuisine, also has an appetite for street food. And they weren’t far off from proving it, going up against the likes of Portugal’s Sopa No Pão and Poland’s B.B. Kings for Best Main. Sopa were described as ‘deeeeeelicious’ by Edwina and ‘really good’ by Max. There were arguments whether B.B. Kings’ tomahawk steak was street food at all. A steak big enough for five? But looking at what was left of the steak afterwards, they clearly resolved their inner conflict.
Oh, and how about the vegetarians? There was Jatta Food of course. Or should we say, Jatta Food INTER-NATIONAL. His Domoda peanut stew bagged the Best Vegetarian category, but he gave us more than food. ‘Jatta has the real spirit of street food,’ said Richard. ‘There is a joy to what he does. He came to party and share his food, which turns out to be fresh, surprising and inventive. With his colourful stall, reggae boombox and drum barbecue. Peace out Jatta.’
Who are we missing? Only the newly crowned 2018 ESFA Champion Jah Jyot. Going back to Sussex in England with the biggest grins on their faces. They fought a close fight, and won because of two really strong dishes reflecting a depth to their menu. But with so many good traders in the ring, it’s a they couldn’t all win. Europe, we have to say it – you’ve been great. More than great. Bloody fantastic. Stay beautiful, and see you next year.
August 31-September 1
The European Street Food Awards 2018 – The Final