Having been on the halal food scene for four years, Halal Gems joined forces with Penny Appeal to launch London’s first Street Food Festival at Old Spitalfields Market on July 28th and 29th 2017. The festival aimed to showcase the best of London’s street food for the halal conscious dining community, all in the absence of alcohol (shock horror, muslamics know how to have fun too!). Vendors included Chit Chaat Chai, Bintang, Rola Wala, Oli Baba’s Halloumi Fries, and Stacked Dutch Pancakes among other well-known eateries.
My family and I are 2 weeks away from embarking on the magical journey of Hajj, however, this also means we won’t be around to go to the Halal Food Festival later this month. As a result, we were determined to make the most of the Street Eats Festival. I was particularly looking forward to trying Blu Top Ice Cream and Oli Baba’s Halloumi Fries (which I had been drooling over forever). These two particular vendors were only trading on the Friday. So after work, ShakerFries and I decided to go to Spitalfields and then back again on Saturday to ensure that we covered all bases.
We reached the festival at around 6pm on the Friday. The market was busy, full of office workers and families alike, but the queues were bearable. The first thing that struck me was that although this was a (free) ticketed event, nobody was checking tickets, which meant anyone could freely join the queues to grab their Friday night dinner. I suspect that Halal Gems required registration pre-event to gauge attendee numbers, rather than to observe a strict entrance policy to manage capacity and customer experience – potentially a key learning point judging from the annoyance of the majority of people running thin on sabr in the queues.
I was STARVING, and I only wanted one thing: a plate of hot halloumi fries topped in fresh pomegranate and mint. So I searched frantically, and after performing two rounds of all the stalls, finally resorted to enquiring where I could find the most anticipated street vendor. Much to my disappointment, I was told that Oli Baba’s had sold out by 4pm due to popular demand, and after restocking once during the day already. My heart sank. On the plus side, this gives me the perfect excuse to find them at KERB Camden on another day, where I’ll probably discover a few other hidden gems.
Feeling a little deflated I made my way to the Blu Top Ice Cream stand, where I bought a tumeric and chocolate brownie ice cream cookie sandwich topped in honeycomb (as recommended by the vendor) to drown my sorrows. I didn’t have to queue for long for this, and it was worth the short wait! Although the combination of flavours sounds strange at first, the reality was that they came together nicely. The ice cream was perfectly creamy, and although the cookies were hard (understandably, to prevent the sandwich from falling apart following contact with the ice cream), they were dark chocolate chip cookies, which are my absolute favourite. I was (half) cheered up.
Company/Restaurant: Blu Top Ice Cream
Description: Tumeric and brownie cookie ice cream sandwich with honeycomb topping
Worth a visit? – Yes, if you’re into novel flavours and have a sweet tooth!
Half an hour and 1 ice cream later, ShakerFries and I decided to call it a day, and return the next day with reinforcements to conquer our top choices.
Turns out that the reinforcement was a great idea, but turning up at 1.30pm wasn’t. To call it a ‘lunchime rush’ would be an understatement. The queues were long, and it was unclear where the lines started and ended. This could go 1 of 2 ways, either the queuing would be worth it (like queuing for the Tidal Wave ride at Thorpe Park), or an utter drain on your life, (like a Summer work trip through airport security where everyone around you is dressed for the beach, but you’re there in your business attire pondering over whether you really need this job). Nonetheless, after yesterdays defeat against the halloumi fries, I was determined to try a variety of foods on the Saturday. My friends and I strategically split up and joined different lines, swerving Bintang and B.O.B as we had eaten here before, with the intention of meeting back in one place to have a mini buffet.
1 hour 15 minutes later I was still standing in the Little Mangalore queue for Indian fish and chips. In my hangry state, after almost having a spat with an aunty who deemed it appropriate to push in at the front of the queue, I finally got my hand on three portions, and made a dash for the bench that KO cakes had managed to secure.
Company/Restaurant: Indian Kitchen
Description: Slow cooked Raan burger with slow cooked, Indian spiced pulled lamb leg, jalapenos and wasabi filling
Worth a visit? – Yes, especially if you’re a fan of Indian flavours and can appreciate well cooked meat!
The long queues were, to some extent, forgotten after we finally started to tuck in. Of all our purchases, I was most impressed with the Raan burger from Indian Kitchen. This consisted of a soft fluffy brioche with a 6 hour pulled, smoked leg of lamb filling, which was marinated in Indian spices and served with homemade wasabi, sour cream sauce and jalapenos. For Shakerfries, this was the creme de la creme, and the best item we collected by a mile. The flavours all came together beautifully, and the taste of the Indian spices in the tender pulled leg of lamb was novel and refreshing.
Company/Restaurant: Meat & Shake
Description: Slow cooked beef brisket burger
Worth a visit? – hmmm… my view is that you’re not missing out. But a trip to the restaurant may be different
Oraby was the least amused as he queued the longest to pick up 3 brisket burgers from Meat & Shake. He may have waited in vain as I actually preferred the Raan burger to the slow cooked beef brisket burger from Meat & Shake which was a bit dry and disappointing. ShakerFries agreed with me. I could tell by the way he devoured 75% of the Raan burger which we were supposed to share!
Company/Restaurant: Little Magalore
Description: Indian fish & chips
Worth a visit? – Yes if you are adventurous! Could be hit or miss as it isn’t to everyone’s taste
The Indian fish and chips wasn’t loved by all of us. Some of us were left underwhelmed, however I quite enjoyed this dish from Little Mangalore. The chilli South Indian sambal topping gave this original British favourite a beautiful spicy kick in my opinion. Extra points for originality.
Company/Restaurant: Chit Chaat Chai
Description: Dahi puri & samosa chaat
Price: £6.00 for both
Worth a visit? – Yes, Chit Chaat Chai has great reviews and chaat is best enjoyed fresh
Selma approached the mayhem strategically and efficiently, quickly picking up portions of Dahi puri and samosa chaat from Chit Chaat Chai (they had run out of most other chaats by then). Unfortunately, the chaat wasn’t something to write home about on this occasion, but I will be visiting Chit Chaat Chai at some point as I think this is something I could potentially enjoy more when served fresh, in-house!
Company/Restaurant: Khao London
Description: Lamb kaho suey
Worth a visit? – Good lunch option
ShakerFries grabbed some chicken and beef khao suey after an equally long wait at the Khao London stall, before uttering expletives about how he should have gone cafe carribean (permanent food outlet in Spitalfields) instead.
Although it was a little cold by the time we got to try it, the khao suey was also something a little different. Khow suey is originally a Burmese dish, which consists of noodle-soup made of egg noodles and curried beef or chicken with coconut milk, served with a variety of contrasting condiments and a squeeze of lemon, which added a refreshing tanginess to the dish. Compared to the other dishes though, I wasn’t overly blown away.
After coming out of a self-inflicted food coma, we realised that we hadn’t tried any desserts yet. There was loads of selection, so we split up again and queued for the most appealing places, including waffle stick UK, Darlish Persian Creamery, and Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream (Filipino ice cream).
Company/Restaurant: Waffle Stick UK
Description: Oreo cookie (left) and chocolate brownie (right)
Price: £4.50 each
Worth a visit? – Yes, you have the option to choose novel / classic flavours. This option is great if you want the warm dessert option, but is a bit ‘safe’ compared to the other desserts on offer
KO cakes and Oraby got the brownie and oreo topped waffle sticks after a 25 minute wait, but they both seemed quite mind blown with the end product (or so I gathered by the long ‘mmmm’ after every bite) so I gathered it was worth the wait!
Company/Restaurant: Darlish, The Persian Creamery
Description: Chocolate & Halwa, Orange Blossom & Pistachio, Rose, Saffron & Pistachio
Price: £3.50 for 2 scoops
Worth a visit? – Yes! Perfect for those who like alternative flavours
I unfortunately, could not manage to stomach an ounce of their waffle after trying the beautifully creamy Persian ice cream from Darlish. I tried the chocolate and halwa, orange blossom and pistachio (my personal favourite), and the rose, saffron and pistachio (best seller) ice creams. All the flavours were quite subtle, which meant the ice cream was not too rich. Consequently, I finished every last bite myself (#sorrynotsorry).
2 scoops £3
Company/Restaurant: Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream
Description: Black buko
Worth a visit? – Yes, if you’re into novel flavours
Selma queued the longest for Mamasons Filipino ice cream, and opted for the black buko ice cream, which was coconut ice cream with activated coconut charcoal served in a black cone. Bar the black pigment the ice cream temporarily left on my lips and teeth, the ice cream was tasty, but not dissimilar to standard coconut ice cream, although the cone was soft and rather pleasant. I’m left slightly intrigued, and will probably return to Mamason’s to try their Milo ice cream (anyone who knows me knows that I’m a Milo fiend, cue my Singaporean side).
The Halal Gems Street Eats Festival was a success. Between us we had consumed a ton of food. All of us were exhausted, and all of us were too full to move – perfect. We had fun overall, and both days provided us with a great opportunity to try a variety of new foods. The turnout was incredible and waiting times were long, but this is to be expected from a free food festival, and was altogether was unavoidable. That being said, a tad bit more organisation in terms of the queuing system would have gone a long way, which Halal Gems have already acknowledged and promised for next year! Overall, hats off to Halal Gems for organising such a successful event! The great turnout and huge variety of quality food on offer set the bar high as far as food festivals go. Bring on the sequel.