A long queue of hungry punters winds around the corner of a corrugated iron shack. Everyone waits patiently to get their hands on one of the mouth watering pulled pork sandwiches or the beautifully arranged platters of smoked barbecue meat with heaps of sauerkraut, pickles and baked potato. Big Stuff Smoked BBQ is a pioneer of Berlin’s street food scene. They co-founded Street Food Thursday in Markthalle Neun, a historic market hall in the trendy Kreuzberg district. The street food market began less than two years ago with thirty stalls and trucks. Today there are around 120 alternating vendors. Every week, five thousand Berliners and visitors come here to sample arepas from Mexico, Taiwanese pork buns, Korean Ramen, Peruvian ceviche, Vietnamese sandwiches and many other delicious finger foods and snacks from around the world.
Globetrotters will know some of the scrumptious street food dishes from countries such as Mexico, Thailand, India or Morocco. In these countries, each stall usually focuses on one or two regional dishes and they are always freshly prepared. For locals and travellers alike, it is a cheap yet tasty way to get by. So it was only a question of time until street food hit the taste buds of Europeans and Americans. The craze for exotic flavours first began in California. The liberal regulations in Los Angeles made it possible to set up trucks and stalls to sell Korean and Mexican inspired casual food without much fuss. New York soon followed. The idea of gathering vendors in one location, just like in the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa marketplace in the heart of Marrakesh, became popular. Eventually, the wave spilled over to Europe. In London, food trucks first set up at weekly markets. Soon celebrity chefs and restaurant owners made themselves a name in the street food scene.
So it does not come as a surprise that it needed a Londoner to start a street food revolution in Germany. Six years ago, Kavita Meelu came to Berlin – and stayed. The British-Indian found a very innovative and creative city that was home to people from all over the world. But all of this wasn’t reflected in the way Berliners ate. So together with Anna Lai and Tobias Bürger, the duo behind Big Stuff Smoked BBQ, as well as the team from Markthalle Neun, she came up with the idea for Street Food Thursday.
It was their aim to create a unified space where food entrepreneurs and food lovers could meet. “We wanted to get rid of the fuss and show that you don’t need a restaurant, a menu, stiff rules and regulations to eat out”, Kavita Meelu says. And the popular market made it possible for amateur chefs and young creative people to get a chance to start a business without needing yearlong training and having to invest a fortune in a restaurant. Vendors apply for a spot at Street Food Thursday every day. First they have to get past Kavita Meelu, who is always on the lookout for new talent. The dishes have to be of the highest quality. At the same time, they should be affordable. An experimental, artisanal and sustainable approach to food is also important to the 31-year-old.
Since the launch of Street Food Thursday, more and more markets and events are popping up around Berlin and the country. Regulars such as the Bite Club in Treptow and the Berlin Village Market in Friedrichshain are a welcome addition to the scene. Come January and a new street food market will be launched in the district of Prenzlauer Berg. For Kavita Meelu, this development is a big success. “We wanted to inspire others around the city to come up with similar ideas”, she says. Needless to say that Kavita Meelu is already planning to bring Street Food Thursday to the next and tasty level.