In depth: Street Food Cardiff – get it while it’s hot

Previously described as chain-centric, Cardiff has experienced a street food revolution, as collectives and pop-up events bring a wave of edible success to the city

One of the trendiest things a Cardiff local can do on Friday or Saturday night is walk down a dark and inhospitable street to the trader door of an abandoned industrial warehouse. The exterior is bleak – visitors have to pass through a curtain of plastic sheeting at the entrance. Inside, though, this once-empty space is thronging with stalls, traders and customers. Music blares over the hum of talk and the smell of frying lingers in the air. This is Street Feast Cardiff, the hottest pop-up event of the year.

Street Food is Dead, an Alt.Cardiff article declared, exactly a year ago. Extensive council prohibitions currently prevent stalls from selling their goods on a vast majority of the city’s pedestrian streets, and independent traders must go through an extensive application process to obtain a license to trade.


Foodies rejoice – Cardiff Street Food is back

“I think until about 12 to 18 months ago Cardiff was predominantly quite a chainy city,” Jane Cook, author of local food blog Hungry City Hippy, says. “All our main restaurant areas were populated by the same places…but over the past 12 months that has started to change.”

A new wave of entrepreneurial spirit, seen particularly in the growth of food collectives, has given way to a surge of pop-up successes. Cardiff’s street food scene has done a Lazarus, and it tastes spectacular.


Getting it Together

 Tired of the city’s council restrictions, increasing numbers of independent street food vendors have formed food collectives. United in their love of food and finding strength in numbers, they are out to revolutionise the city’s eating habits; and in the past year these collectives have hosted a series of highly successful pop-up food events around the city.“The scale of a collective allows them to punch above their weight in terms of marketing their offerings,” commented Hannah Poulton, author of food blog Love To Dine.

Deri Reed, entrepreneur and vegetarian food vendor better known as the “Ethical Chef” partnered with head of the Riverside Farmers’ Market Gareth Simpson, to create the collective Cardiff Street Food in 2012.  “It’s a lot easier to do an event with someone else,” he said. “No one was doing street food in Cardiff, so I thought we’d try something together and see what happened… about 800 people turned up to our first event.”


Simon Thomas and Neil Young, members of Street Food Cardiff

Think Creative

 Something Creatives are another collective – a community of Cardiff entrepreneurs who run projects dedicated to improving the city. Feeling the need for a new street food event, they collaborated with The Depot (the industrial warehouse on Dumballs Road), to create a space where independent vendors could come and trade without incurring council fines. “It took us eight months to negotiate the trading license with the council,” Simon Thomas, a partner of the Something Creatives collective and founder of Chucks burgers. “We’ve always been naturally attracted to a DIY aesthetic and a high street alternative, and with it being such a global trend we thought we’d give it a go.”


The Street Feast hosts a stellar line-up of traders each week. Among the many dishes on offer customers have a choice of burgers from Chucks, flamingly spicy stir fries from Bangkok Café, the slow-cooked meats of the Hang Fire Smokehouse, or a cocktail from Milgi. Anyone with a sweet tooth can get always go for a tub of churros – Mexican street sweets, lightly fried in oil and dunked in a chocolate dipping sauce. Dishes are roughly eight pounds a head, but people split and share their food.

 It’s not just a bunch of beards and hipsters.

Neil Young- Dirty Bird Fried Chicken

Food, Music, Identity

 Individuality and small business drives the Cardiff Street Food and Something Creatives collectives. The vendors at the Street Feast are not only marketing high-quality food but making statements; a regular at the event is the Dirty Bird fried chicken truck, which provoked an international response earlier this year with its arguably phallic logo. “People want to try their own thing.”Derri says. “This is a great way to try out an identity, and a brand.”


Bangkok Cafe stir-frying at the Street Feast

 In the three months since its launch, The Depot has been filled with hundreds of visitors. Its success lies not just in the food; local musicians and promoters have also been drawn to the collective, bringing live music, DJ booths, and works of art into the mix. “I think they’ve tapped into the fact that people want something a bit different.” Jane said. “Street Feast are only doing this uniquely for Cardiff – but when you’ve got a captive audience as accessible as Cardiff is, they’ll continue to be successful.”

The Street Feast ends its run  at The Depot on December 31 – but for now the vendors filling the warehouse, and the stream of people visiting the stalls, are testament to the captive audience the collectives have hooked. It makes sense. Food, after all, is made to be shared.