the waiting game

so. we thought the van would be ready by the end of last week, but the english weather has delayed things in its usual troublesome way. it couldn’t be sprayed until the rain stopped and was rushed off during a sunny gap, but managed to get wet en route and has had to be put in a giant oven to dry off before it finally gets its sleek black coat of paint. with any luck, we should be up and running at the start of next week.

there is still a fair amount to organise before we hit leather lane. ben is courageously throwing himself into costings, supplies and other manly duties, while i am planting spring veg and herbs on my windowsill and preparing to sew a canvas roll to keep our knives safe on the road – and well out of reach in case of heated bickering.

and as every londoner knows, being in the city and not spending any money is a challenge in itself. our favourite treat at the moment is the all you can eat indian veg on chapel market, where you can stuff your face over and over for only four pounds fifty. date night doesn’t get any better.

a little bit on how we got here

one of our main motivations for doing the van, aside from a deep passion for delicious and healthy food, was to wake up each day and do what we loved. meeting new people, exploring new horizons, cooking till we drop, answering only to each other and ourselves. what that really meant was no more daydreaming and moaning about the 9 to 5, but instead getting on with it and making it happen.

like most big life changing decisions (moving abroad, marrying a farmer, becoming a fruitarian…), it is easy to say but difficult to do. and if this blog should offer anything of value to its readers, apart from candid insights into life behind the wheel of a street food truck, it should provide an honest and thorough account of what happens when you wake up every day wondering why you are doing what you are doing when your heart’s not really in it, and finally decide to get up and out.

for me, it took a while. for a year or so after university i sat non-committedly behind a computer, imagining what it would be like if i ignored what everybody said about knuckling down and climbing the ladder and, instead, just doing what felt good and right and fulfilling. as anyone who has them knows, such cliched moments are all-consuming and deeply unproductive. and the more you have the lonelier and more stuck you feel. when i met ben, i happily discovered he felt the same thing, and we bonded immediately over (among other far lovelier things) a loathing of tedious work colleagues, limited holiday and pointless excel spreadsheets. we longed instead for travel and adventure, and still do.

we were lucky, though, in how we got into street food. petra barran, who owned a chocolate van and has since become a fundamental and indomitable force in growing britain’s street food scene, needed someone to run her van for the summer and we got the job. for four months, we gave it all we had, and it was great – exhausting, inspiring and always surprising. we fell in love with the whole street food life, and all the brilliant traders, and the next chapter of our story was set from there.

but even though we were given a rare and invaluable apprenticeship, giving in our notice and proclaiming our new career path was no easy feat. we came up against many walls. money was in limited supply and everywhere we went we were faced with the widespread (and ridiculous) belief that if you jump off the career ladder you will never, ever, get back on, and will be left to fester in a pit of regret and misery having wasted a good education.

well, we ignored all of it and are about to embark on a street food journey all our own. of course it helps if you have a partner in crime, and we have no idea where we will end up, but we haven’t yet woken up and thought, ‘man, i wish i had never left the office’.

 

mastering the art of gyoza

with their pretty crescent shape, warm comforting filling and endless versatility, choosing gyoza as our street food of choice was not a difficult decision. mastering their art to a tee, however, was a little more tricky.

for although it originated as a quick and affordable peasant food, the humble dumpling is more complex than it looks. whether a dim sum, a momo or a gyoza, it invariably contains a whole host of ingredients in tiny amounts, and achieving the perfect balance in each and every little bite – on such a small scale – is harder than you might first think. not for the slap dash cook, the dumpling is the perfect incarnation of eastern patience and attention to detail – something i think us brits could do with a little more of.

in our quest to perfect our flavours and technique, we embarked on many weird and wonderful research trails, from extensive reading on the history of the dumpling and its various incarnations, to weird and wonderful youtube videos and sampling every gyoza we could get our hands on.

one book, however, was central to our understanding of the art of the dumpling: Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More by andrea nguyen. it is one of the only good dumpling books around and it is full of recipes, tips and inspiration. from the tibetan momo to the indian samosa, the chinese dim sum and more, andrea takes you through every variety with invaluable advice and a contagious enthusiasm.

anyone who loves a dumpling should definitely invest*. you will be rolling them out for supper in no time.

andrea also has a wonderful website called asian dumpling tips which is well worth a visit.

* you should also come to our van in leather lane and try our gyoza. we promise you won’t be disappointed.