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BUSTLER MARKET AND THE TRADITION OF STREETFOOD

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There’s something exciting happening in the city of Derby, Derbyshire, England. For two days each month the Bustler Street Food Market is held in a retail unit within the upcoming Riverlights complex (near to the city’s central bus station). At the time of writing, Bustler has had a total of eight events spanning four months. Yet, in spite of its infancy, Bustler has already become highly popular among the people of Derby.

On the 25th August 2017, I was fortunate enough to attend one of the Bustler events in person. It opened at 5pm and closed at 11pm. Entry was free between 5pm and 7pm. From 7pm onwards a £2 entry fee was required. On the 26th August (that month’s second Bustler event), the market opened at 12pm and closed at 11pm. Again, a £2 entry fee was required from 7pm onwards. I arrived at 7pm on the 25th August and, moments after, the market reached its capacity limit for visitors.

Though there were 500 people inside both the unit and the market’s designated outdoor area, I didn’t feel confined or fenced in. Those people within the unit were given the choice of high tables to stand around or tables-with-benches to sit at. Both these high and low tables were concentrated in the centre of the room with ample space to move around the food sellers located at the room’s edges. There was also enough space to enable people to stand in line for food, or at the bar, without causing an obstruction.

One would be forgiven for taking a cynical standpoint by pointing out such a large number of visitors usually equates to long waiting times. I can honestly say though, at Bustler, the wait for food and drink wasn’t unreasonable. This was wholly down to the speed at which the sellers and bar staff worked. I purchased a bacon and cheese burger from the Holy Cow seller located in the outside area. Despite the amount of orders they had, and the limited space provided to the seller by their van, I didn’t have to wait for very long at all. Furthermore, the entire meal—the burger, cheese, bacon etc.—were fresh, hot, and delicious. As I waited I was also able to see the burger meat being prepared and cooked by the seller.

My friends and I next partook in some potato fries covered in beef gravy with cheese, courtesy of Gravy Train. I have to admit I was sceptical at first about whether or not I would like the experience. I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised. After finishing this course, I indulged in a chocolate orange cookie dough dessert from the Cookie Dough Co. It was the first time I’d ever had cookie dough but, again, I was pleasantly surprised by the taste. Needless to say, after all this food, my stomach was rather full! None of the dishes I had myself, or those bought by my friends which I tasted, were disappointing in flavour, freshness, or presentation. I also found the prices (of alcohol bought at the bar or the food purchased from the sellers) were very reasonable, too.
bustler market 2

Throughout the entire evening, a non-threatening, relaxed atmosphere was maintained both inside the unit and in the outdoor area. There were parents with their older children, parents with their middle-aged children, students, working professionals, and respected members of the Derby business community in attendance. The music wasn’t too loud either, which made for a perfect environment to converse with your friends without being drowned out. The lights, draped from the unit’s rafters, also helped to create a welcoming, warm atmosphere.

This atmosphere was supported, and enhanced, by the attentiveness of the Bustler staff. Upon first arriving, my friends and I were met by two staff members behind a main desk. Both engaged in friendly conversation with us. They also stamped the back of our hands for us to prove we’d already paid should we have the need to temporarily leave the market. When my friends and I went to the bar we were served within minutes and our drinks order was fulfilled to perfection. While we were eating our food, Bustler staff members were diligently clearing empty (plastic) glasses, cardboard food cartons, napkins, etc. from the tables. These same staff also took the time to speak with their guests to ensure they were enjoying their time at Bustler and to enquire if they had any questions. Throughout, the floors, tables, benches, and bar of the market were clean and well-maintained.

Though Bustler Market is a relatively new addition to Derby, it’s nonetheless following a tradition of street food in cities that goes back to the Victorian era and earlier. Henry Mayhew, in his publication London Labor and the London Poor; 1851, 1861-2, states the following:

Men and women, and most especially boys, purchase their meals day after day in the streets. The coffee-stall supplies a warm breakfast; shell-fish of many kinds tempt to a luncheon; hot-eels or pea-soup, flanked by a potato “all hot,” serve for a dinner; and cakes and tarts, or nuts and oranges, with many varieties of pastry, confectionary, and fruit, woo to indulgence in a dessert; while for supper there is a sandwich, a meat pudding, or a “trotter.”  The street provisions consist of cooked or prepared victuals, which may be divided into solids, pastry, confectionary, and drinkables.

Mayhew goes on to explain which foodstuffs fall under each of the aforementioned “street provisions”. The “solids”, he states, are “hot-eels, pickled whelks, oysters, sheep’s-trotters, pea-soup, fried fish, ham-sandwiches, hot green peas, kidney puddings, boiled meat puddings, beef, mutton, kidney, and eel pies, and baked [potatoes]”. The pastry and confectionary are, he explains, “tarts of rhubarb, currant, gooseberry, cherry, apple, damson, cranberry, and (so called) mince pies; plum dough and plum-cake; lard, currant, almond and many other varieties of cakes, as well as of tarts; gingerbread-nuts and heart-cakes; Chelsea buns; muffins and crumpets; ‘sweet stuff’ includes the several kinds of rocks, sticks, lozenges, candies, and hard-bakes; the medicinal confectionary of cough-drops and horehound; and, lastly, the more novel and aristocratic luxury of street-ices; and strawberry cream, at 1d. a glass, (in Greenwich Park).” Finally, the “drinkables” are, he writes, “tea, coffee, and cocoa; gingerbeer, lemonade, Persian sherbet, and some highly-coloured beverages which have no specific name, but are introduced to the public as ‘cooling’ drinks; hot elder cordial or wine; peppermint water; curds and whey; water (as at Hampstead); rice milk; and milk in the parks.”

Even in 1902, in George R. Sims’s publication, Living London, a description is included of “little shops with windows removed and counters open to the street. These establishments may include some other business, perhaps cigars or sweets or newspapers or general items,
but the trade on which they rely is the hot temperance beverage.” The arrangement of a counter “open to the street” is, in my mind at least, akin to the food vending vans found at the Bustler Market. Indeed, serving hot food from a mobile unit isn’t a modern concept—as seen by the photograph of the baked potato van below. This, too, is from Sims’s Living London publication.
bustler market 3

According to Henry Mayhew, French Regents potatoes were preferred over British potatoes because they were cheaper. He goes on to describe the process the baked potato seller underwent in order to prepare his product for sale:

The potatoes are picked, and those of a large size, and with a rough skin, selected from the others, because they are the mealiest. A waxy potato shrivels in the baking. There are usually from 280 to 300 potatoes…these are cleaned by the huckster, and, when dried, taken in baskets…to the baker’s, to be cooked. They are baked in large tins, and require an hour and a half to do them well…They are taken home from the bakehouse in a basket, with a yard and a half of green baize in which they are covered up, and so protected from the cold. The huckster then places them in his can, which consists of a tin with a half-lid; it stands on four legs, and has a large handle to it, while an iron firepot is suspended immediately beneath the vessel which is used for holding the potatoes. Directly over the fire-pot is a boiler for hot water. This is concealed within the vessel, and serves to keep the potatoes always hot. Outside the vessel where the potatoes are kept is, at one end, a small compartment for butter and salt, and at the other end another compartment for fresh charcoal. Above the boiler, and beside the lid, is a small pipe for carrying off the steam. These potato-cans are sometimes brightly polished, sometimes painted red, and occasionally brass-mounted…The baked-potato man usually devotes half an hour to polishing them up, and they are mostly kept as bright as silver.

So, if you would like to walk in the footsteps of those in the Victorian era and enjoy some delicious street food, Bustler Street Food Market is an excellent place to start. You may find out when the next market is to be held by checking out the Bustler website: www.bustlermarket.co.uk . You may also follow their Facebook and Twitter pages. Don’t forget to use the #iamabustlerbaby hashtag, too!

Sources:

Bustler Street Food Market’s website: www.bustlermarket.co.uk  George R. Sims (ed.), Living London, 1902, courtesy of Lee Jackson’s Victorian Dictionary website. London Labour and the London Poor; 1851, 1861-2; Henry Mayhew, courtesy of Lee Jackson’s Victorian Dictionary website.

T.G. Campbell is a British Crime Fiction Author living just outside of London, England. Her debut novel, The Case of The Curious Client, won the Fresh Lifestyle Magazine Book Award in April 2017. A month later she was honoured to accept the opportunity to become a monthly columnist. Her novels follow a fictional group of amateur detectives operating in 1896 London called the Bow Street Society. She undertakes extensive research and study of the British Victorian Era to ensure accuracy in her work; study/research which includes visits to museums, attending Victorian Era-themed events, and a whole lot of reading. It’s her passions for history, true crime, and British Victorian culture which she wants to share with Fresh Lifestyle Magazine readers. All her works may be found on Amazon and more can be found at www.bowstreetsociety.com  

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