I feel I must begin with a confession: I am not someone who is naturally drawn to the concept of eating outside. Obviously I've attended some excellent barbecues, but on reflection these have largely consisted of me lolling on the swing seat or other comfortable equivalent whilst assorted menfolk bring over charred offerings with all the loving pride of a thoughtful cat bringing you a half-eaten mouse, before going inside at the first sign of a chill and putting on a pair of nice warm socks. Similarly, I cannot think of a picnic where I wasn't troubled by a/ damp grass; b/warm wine; c/hungry wasps anxious to share; or d/all of the above.
So I'm quite clearly not an obvious candidate to have my head turned by the thought of Guerrilla Eats, a new initiative being brought to Manchester by a collective of passionate food producers who want to prove to prefer-it-in-the-warm people like me that actually, street food can be brilliant. Until recently, my own personal experience of food purchased and consumed on the street would have been limited to the hideously claustrophobic annual ordeal of trying to eat half a pig stuffed in a bun at the Christmas Markets whilst an actual million other people make it their business/sport to try to push you over, an experience often followed up with finding that you have apple sauce on your chin only when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror in Top Shop some three hours later. Having conducted extensive research*, however, I am aware that a healthy and - dare I say it - tempting range of street food has been available in London Town for some time, so it seemed only fair to give Manchester's new initiative a quick look.
*watched those bits on the Lorraine Pascale programme where she goes and menaces various street food sellers
I do not get off to a promising start when I can't find it. Eventually a kindly/despairing man from Port Street Beer House takes pity on me and points me in the right direction - and indeed, in a little car park at the top end of Port Street I suddenly espy some stalls that seem to be laid with the most tempting of food items (and also, Sarah - who has invited us - is standing there with a clipboard, waving - this provides an additional clue). The collective currently consists of seven traders (although more are set to come on board), and the idea is for them to pop up in various locations all over Manchester - there was a recent, small-scale trial run but this is their first full weekend of trading: hence we have been invited to a sneaky preview to see what it's all about.
And I'll be honest with you - it's cold in the car park, and it's raining a little bit, but the welcome is warm and the food is spectacular. We try cupcakes from the Sugar Bun Sisters (yes, they ARE sisters, and yes, they ARE the girls who made those amazing vodka cupcakes that I once ate about 15 of in Almost Famous); extraordinary rump steak burgers served up by The Barnhouse Bistro from their corrugated iron-clad trailer; traditional Indian street food from Chaat Cart, who give us samosas and samples of dosa that are SO good that I think Mr Liz completely fails to notice they are all vegetarian; chorizo and spicy, garlicky patatas bravas from Las Paelleras; chilli dogs from Dirty Dogs that prove that a hot dog doesn't have to consist of sad, mechanically recovered meat scrapings (although I do find it hard to eat this daintily, and get chilli on my chin); pulled pork from Fire and Salt BBQ, where we marvel at Mal's ability to coolly demonstrate the pulling apart of the meat (seen here, before being set upon by pack of hungry bloggers) whilst simultaneously running around trying to sort out the lighting for the car park; and finally, for dessert (yes, I know we started with cake) some Chorlton Crack (salted caramel and peanut butter ice-cream) from the legendary Ginger’s Comfort Emporium van - they are old hands at this street food lark, having won ‘Best of the Best’ and ‘Best Dessert’ at the British Street Food Awards 2012.
And do you know what? Despite the cold, the rain, the encroaching darkness and the chilli-chin incident, it is all wonderful. Look out for Guerrilla Eats popping up in all sorts of places in the New Year, but if you're quick you can catch them today (Sunday 9th December) between 11am and 4pm - I'm seriously thinking of going back myself. There is a covered seating area in the car park, or you can even buy your food from the stalls and then go and eat it in the warmth of the nearby Port Street Beer House...unfortunately no-one told me this until AFTER my fingers had frozen themselves to my tub of Chorlton Crack.
For full details on each of the traders involved, visit their websites/twitter feeds or - better still - go and chat with them this afternoon!
Fire and Salt BBQ
Sugar Bun Sisters
Dirty Dogs Hot Dogs
Ginger's Comfort Emporium