Saturday, 23 February 2013


Takoyaki: £2.50

Takoyaki stall,
Newport Place,
Chinatown, London

Takoyaki are octopus balls.  Get your mind out of the gutter, you filthy thing.  The takoyaki man pours batter, octopus pieces and shredded cabbage into a converted waffle iron and then fiddles with them in a casually flirty manner.  After determining that everything is as it should be, he plops them into a bowl, artfully dashes Japanese mayonnaise and a sweet soy sauce around them, adds some shredded fishy bits, and hands over the food with a come-hither eyebrow.

They are piping hot and hard to eat and contain cross-sections of octopus tentacle.  The fishy, salty, punchy flavours are strong yet complementary. And even though three-quarters of the octopus is rubberier than it should be, the fourth piece is a meltingly soft delight.

As more and more street food stalls open in and around Chinatown, selling the pancakes, dumplings and waffles of various nationalities, it is worth keeping an eye out for the more unusual offerings.  There might be an abundance of low-quality high-priced food in the area, but the street stalls rarely disappoint in their cheap and cheerful offerings.

Mama Wang's

Roujiamo: £4 (small), £5 (large)

Mama Wang's Kitchen stall,
Opposite the Archway Budgens on Holloway Rd.

My friend Z reminded me that I hadn't written anything since October. Truth be told, it's because I've been on poverty rations while trying to find paying work. No luck yet, but hopefully I'll be able to wangle my budget so I can make the occasional foray into street food.

Today's visit was to Archway market. Jammed between high-class Highgate and hard-to-like Holloway, Archway is little more than a comfortably middle class junction.  Raising it from its torpor is the Saturday market (opposite Budgens....such a middle-class direction).  Here you can get hand-milled Irish breads, free-range duck eggs, salted caramels and roujiamo.

Hold up...I know you were following me until that last one, so let me explain.

Roujiamo are Chinese sandwiches.  Specifically, northern Chinese sandwiches of long-braised pork or lamb, some lightly pickled vegetables, a slathering of piquant tomato chutney and a few crispy bits. An English muffin struggles valiantly to contain the ingredients, but fails: porky sauce covered my hands for the rest of the day while chunks of meat and veg slipped from my grasp and onto the pavement. I'd recommend a two-hand grab, plenty of napkins and a firm bite.

Enough on the logistics.  The flavours are all there: well-spiced pork lost something in having little texture, but otherwise was a pleasure to eat; the vinegar from the vegetables lends a clean undertone to what would otherwise feel like a fatty meal; the tomato sauce needs more punch, but that's probably a subjective statement; and the English muffin holds up well in the face of so much sauce and stuffing.

Archway may not be the most thrilling of suburbs, but it is developing a top-notch market.  Go there to buy the ingredients for the Guardian's latest Ottolenghi recipe, sure, but make sure you grab a cheeky roujiamo, too. It'll make even the Northern Line worth it.