Last night The Florence pub in Herne Hill held a little gathering of SE London’s best street food traders. Among them, our sweet-toothed Brixton lass Chocstar, Yianni from The (legendary) Meatwagon* and the amazing Angus Denoon, with his Kolkata street food.
Just look at that van. I was like a moth to a neon light. An Aladdin’s Cave, decked out with cosy cushions and flower garlands. Bags of Indian limes hang from the doors; incense and gas stoves burn. Angus sits outside in front of his prep bench, surrounded by steaming pots and garnishes.
It was a freezing evening and nothing appealed more than a carton of warming dahl. Angus lifted the lid on one of the silver containers and portioned out the tender, spiced lentils. But this dahl is all about the garnish. He quickly and skilfully chopped ginger, shallots and coriander. The end of a cucumber was deftly criss-crossed and shaved into tiny chunks. A few thick slices of coconut and a slick of dark tamarind sauce; a squeeze of Indian lime juice. The final topping was a handful of small crunchy bits, which looked like short lengths of fried vermicelli but were actually ‘sev’, made with chickpea (gram) flour. Angus explained that it’s similar to the stuff you get in Bombay Mix but better because it absorbs less oil.
What had started out as quite a plain dahl base was now an in your face mix of textures and bold flavours. It blew my socks off. I’d never tasted anything quite like it.
Angus spends much of his time in Kolkata and he’s made some amazing films there which get down and busy with the streets of the city and the way that food weaves right the way through them, binding communities together. I’ve only watched a few of the short films so far but my favourite is one about chai. The film opens with a shot of a man’s hands forming clay on a wheel – he is making cups, with incredible skill and precision – hundreds and hundreds of identical cups. The film moves on to the streets to see cup after cup filled with hot chai and ends with them smashing on the floor as they are discarded. A fascinating film about an everyday life-cycle in Kolkata.
Angus told me he is planning another screening of his films soon and I urge you to go and watch. You can enjoy his vegetarian street snacks at the same time. I’ve never been to India, but I hear his style is very authentic and it certainly tastes the business. Thank goodness for people like Angus, eh? Going and getting all inspired then bringing it back home to make our lives more exciting.
*Yianni soldiered on without his Meatwagon last night, because it was tea-leafed from his house in Peckham. If anyone sees this then get in touch. Free burgers for life as a reward for information leading to its recovery.