Navina Bartlett, founder of StrEAT Food Collective (@streatuk) – the ingenious name the inspiration behind our StrEAT Party – and Coconut Chilli (@coconutchilli), will be trekking into London from Bristol to dish up regional Indian delights on the streets at #FBC5.
So, just who are you Navina Bartlett?
I’m the founder of StrEAT Food Collective and Coconut Chilli. I’ve travelled across India and I’m well known for regional Indian cuisine – from the fiery coconut based dishes of the southern states, Portuguese influenced Goa, the region around the capital Delhi and even Sri Lankan cuisine.
But I also take influences from South East Asia where I discovered ingredients and differences in cooking styles, which in turn lead to my passion for authentic street food. I’ve has spent time in far flung countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Jamaica, Malaysia, Kenya and Sri Lanka, learning about the local cuisine and cooking techniques, mainly from street hawkers.
It was this passion that drove me to set up StrEAT – a collective of food vendors from around the world. As a vendor myself, I pride myself on showing my personality through my food and creating new street food dishes which are a fusion of East and West.
What inspired you to start Coconut Chilli?
Four years ago, I moved to Bristol – a city with a vibrant food scene. I needed an extra source of income to support my daughter and myself. I’ve always been a keen foodie and was eager to get into the food industry, but flexibility was a must. I set up my Coconut Chilli street food stall and then the StrEAT Food Collective because there were limited trading opportunities for ethnic food vendors.
And where do you see it going?
I’d like to expand Coconut Chilli so more people can try my delicious food and so I can create employment for other people who are interested in working in the food industry. Trading on the streets is tough, but it’s so rewarding as customers often offer praise and encouragement – it’s what gives me the will to carry on.
Tell us a bit about food from your stall?
My food is a fusion of East and West. I make salt marsh lamb koftes by hand and serve them in Abu Noor pitta – pillow soft Middle Eastern breads from a local bakery. Salad is sourced from the Chew Valley in Somerset and mint raitha is blitzed in a blender and free of any nasties. Mango & apple chutney and fermented hot chilli sauce are made the artisan way, as is cardamom-flavoured ghee. For veggies, I have spicy potato with caramelised onion, green chilli, coriander and tempered with black mustard seeds.
What does it mean to you?
This isn’t traditional Indian food, but I take inspiration from local ingredients, such as the salt marsh lamb from the Gower Peninsula, and then add spice and flavour. It makes sense to use seasonal ingredients – I use European radish rather than mooli (Indian white radish) in my salad – it gives a kick and I support a local grower too.
What makes the food you serve so special?
It’s special because of the sheer hard work that goes into making it fresh and tasty. There are no shortcuts taken and it shows in the quality. I use local ingredients, but have taken inspiration from my Indian roots, particularly from the Coorg coffee region, in the hills above Bangalore in the South of India. It’s where my aunt owns a plantation. The land is fertile and produce and spices are abundant.
After your stall, what other street stalls/pop ups/supper clubs out there do you think are really good?
Mi Casa is a pop up operating in Bristol serving amazing, inventive cuisine. Alexis, a Canadian and Kristjan have been running a North American inspired menu – think meaty filled sourdough, rustic fries & grilled cheese. Mi Casa is a communal affair run in a variety of eclectic venues. Mi Casa is just about to start a three-month residency at The Big Chill bar in central Bristol.
Do you have a food blog?
My street food blog can be found at www.streatfoodcollective.com
I don’t really write about the food detail so much as there are lots of bloggers who are doing that anyway. I concentrate about street food and how it’s helping to build close-knit communities in the UK, vendor profiles and about unusual street foods. I like to tell people about street food around the world – whether it’s in upmarket suburbs of India or the vibrant food truck scene in California. I’d love to start video blogging too.
Who is your favourite food blogger?
I love ABCD’s of cooking who is based in NYC. First of all, the blog name is humorous, it’s an acronym of American Born Confused Desi, a term often bandied about in 2nd generation immigrant communities. Chitra, the author, is passionate about South Indian cooking – especially as its predominantly vegetarian and super healthy. She’s my guilty pleasure as we’ve got lots in common.
Tell us why you want to take part in FBC5?
I want to take part in FBC5 because I love putting faces to names I’ve come across online and having a good old chinwag. And I want them to be able to taste my food! It’s a wonderful way for virtual communities to come together in real life and shows how the world really can be a very small place these days.
What effect are food bloggers having on the country’s food scene?
Bloggers are real time, independent journalists and influencers and they are really passionate about their craft. Social sharing and the blogger community are the perfect way for food producers and brands to spread ‘word of mouth’ in a genuine way. Bloggers are at the forefront of so many food movements in the UK, whether it’s street food, frugality, vegetarianism, supermarket backlash and this is set to continue and grow.
What’s your favourite new ‘trend’ on the British street food scene at the moment?
Street food vendors are bringing unusual food and drink from all over the world and introducing it to British food lovers. Whether it’s bubble tea, which originated in Taiwan, or anticuchos – ox heart skewers from Peru, street food vendors are daring, as well as passionate. And I love these tech savvy entrepreneurs who know the importance of selling to their customers. Apathy is dead when it comes to street food.
Where can we find you?
Coconut Chilli will be trading across Bristol, Bath and the SW. For details check out the StrEAT Food Collective website. Coconut Chilli also trades in other street food ‘hot-spots’ such as Digbeth Dining Club and hopefully in the capital in 2013.
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