Community and Making It On Your Own

Putting this market together has been one heck of a journey. There has been so much to do and think about in order to make it happen and try to make it a success. Sadly, it’s meant I’ve not really been able to blog about it as much as I’d have liked to.

However, one thing that has really struck me is how despite sometimes feeling like you’re on your own with the long hours spent planning and publicising, sorting out equipment and facililties, persuading our amazing stalls to come on this journey, marketing and meeting, printing and leafletting; the truth is that in a few months I’ve grown a network of amazing partners and friends who have been incredibly supportive and helpful in providing their experience, knowledge and wisdom, trust in the idea and project, enthusiasm, hands-on practicality and good humour.

Early on, I had approached one of our partners, BanhMi11, to take part in the market. I had seen them a couple of years ago on television in Nigel Slater’s cooking show about contrasting and complementary flavours, making delicious grilled fish summer rolls and at the time had sat up and taken interest. I was enthused to see two Vietnamese women creating authentic SE Asian food from their home country and family experience on prime time television. Nigel didn’t give many clues as to who they were – just mentioning that they were from a market in East London. This set me on a mission to track them down and sample their food.

The street food scene was already burgeoning in markets at the time but this was probably about the start of the great pop-up markets like Kerb, StockMKT and Street Feast; and in general East Asian food stalls were not widely represented. From trusty Google, I managed to work out that they were probably one of two stalls in Broadway Market selling Vietnamese food; and my money was on BanhMi11, judging from their website. It was interesting to read their story – two friends with day jobs, who had given these up to follow their passion for the food of Vietnam. I visited the market and, on a cold rainy winter’s afternoon, sat in our parked car with a steaming cardboard container of their 3-day cooked beef pho, savouring the light flavoursome stock, delicious herby beef and noodles and blow your head off fresh-cut bird’s eye chillis.

But East London was so very far away…

Nonetheless, I visited when I could and watched their progress, as they grew and expanded – running deliveries to Canary Wharf, setting up their dining club and opening more stalls. Then, when my office relocated to Soho, I found one day from their website that they were opening a new stall on Berwick Street in the lively week day market. How excited was I? Hopping and skipping excited I can tell you.

On their first week I was there 3 times in the same week. Their banh mi, French baguettes filled with incredible meats or tofu cooked to their own delicious recipes, were always the most popular and there was often a long queue. For me, though, I loved the Imperial Pork BBQ on Vietnamese bun noodle salad or the delicious heady beef pho with lashing of fresh chilli.

When my office moved again, I was so disheartened and said to the friendly stall manager that if I could find a spot down in Southwark for them would they come? She said – find us a spot and we’ll see what we can do.

Fast forward 9 months…

In my new setting, I’d spent my time wandering around the local area, looking for new places to eat that satisfy my cravings for the food from home and other parts of SE Asia; but also trying to find ways to entice restaurants and street stalls down to this neck of the woods. This part of Southwark/Bankside sits in between two busy hubs – the London bridge area and Waterloo/Southbank areas, with lots of tourists nearer the river around the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe. Yet, the businesses which are moving in aplenty, and the local resident communities are poorly served for independent local eateries and shops.

Fortunately, things are changing and there are some gems that have been around a long while, like Pickles caff on Great Suffolk Street, or relative newcomers, my local favourites Woolfson & Tay and Bangkok Kitchen. When I took the challenge to put this market together, BanhMi11 were amongst the first I contacted hoping they would be able to join us. Since I’d seen them last, they’d opened two shops and become stars of the street food scene, demonstrating in huge shows like the recent Foodie festival at Battersea Park. So, it was a long shot…

They were incredibly supportive, saying they’d like to help however they could but they were hoping to move into a new direction, exploring ideas in events that would explore different concepts or the role food, the preparation and eating of it, plays in Eastern culture. Would I be interested in an event like that? This intrigued me as, being Malaysian, our food culture is very much centred around communal eating and sharing of dishes. We sit around the table, sharing the same food and many foods like dumplings or summer rolls are prepared together, with everyone sharing the workload. Steamboat is a great favourite of mine, where we sit together at the table, plunging all manner of delicious meats, seafood, vegetable and noodles into steaming hot broth to cook and then devour it all, drinking the flavoursome soup at the end of the meal.

I am thrilled therefore that they are going to be at 5 Foot Way’s first market, talking about their fond experiences of Vietnamese culture and food, drawing upon the recipes in their first and new cookbook, The Vietnamese Market Cookbook, to draw us into that experience of shared communal eating. In this extraordinary event, diners will get to try their hand at making delicious summer rolls together, guided by Van and Anh, the friends who founded the company, and enjoy that communal sense of sharing whilst still making it on their own.

This has been a great journey and I’m looking forward to a spectacular day and event.

UPDATE: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, BanhMi11 have had to cancel this event. Apologies for any inconvenience caused and we hope you will enjoy the rest of the market.

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