A decade ago, rooting out decent vegan food in the Big Smoke took the foraging spirit of Bear Grylls. And look at London now, a city so full of roaming vegan merchants it takes a list devoted just to vegan street food to do them justice.
The nature of these food vans, stalls and pop-ups is that they’re on the move. We’ve listed some of the best places to find them, but hit the links to their websites and social media for the latest locations.
Chai donuts at Rubys of London
There’s no obvious reason that Greenwich Market should be such a vegan heartland, but it is. Things have reached a critical mass, and fledging street food stalls turn up knowing they’ll find a readymade vegan audience.
Among the market’s regular vegan traders are Return to Shashamane – covered later – and Vegan Garden London, but Rubys of London shouldn’t be missed, even if you’re just hitting their vegan patisserie stand to stock up for later. We’ve yet to make it there on a day when they have any of their chai-spiced baked donuts left so the moral is: go early and buy hard.
Breakfast muffins at Joey’s Kitchen
A relative newcomer but already turning up all over the place at markets, bar pop-ups and event spaces, Joey’s Kitchen serve what they describe as plant-based comfort food. We’d call their menus equal parts recognised comfort food (like breakfast muffins and meatball marinara subs), and maverick disregard for the natural order of things (we refer you to the grilled cheese and vegan currywurst sandwich). But comforting staples or experimentalism, it’s all reliably good and surprisingly low prices.
Cardamom hummus at Return to Shashamane
‘Vegan world food’ is the tagline, and that translates into salads, soups and a lot of raw eating. If it sounds spartan, the density of the stews, the richness of the cardamom hummus and their liberal hand with chilli will set you straight.
Return to Shashamane. Where to find them: Tuesday to Friday at Greenwich Market.
BBQ jackfruit at Club Mexicana
Carnivores, prepare to get indignant at the way jackfruit’s somehow become the territory of vegans — and the BBQ jackfruit from Club Mexicana above all. We’ll be straight with you: although it does shred down like pulled pork, think of it as a meat substitute and it’ll be a disappointment. Think of it as a dish in its own right and it’s brilliant – smoky and sticky, substantial as a slow-cooked meat and harder to eat elegantly than any spare rib.
Massaman curry at Buddha Bowls
These turn up a lot at festivals, like beacons of wholesomeness. Buddha Bowls rice boxes are filled with massaman curry, potatoes, kimchi, greenery and wholegrain rice - decline the extra halloumi to keep it vegan. They taste much nicer than anything so full of nutrition rightly should.
Buddha Bowls. Where to find them: Whitecross Street Market on Thursdays and Fridays, and a host of festivals in the summer.
Falafels at Hoxton Beach
Who doesn’t love a falafel? A barbarian, that’s who. Hoxton Beach also sell salads and baked goods, all entirely vegan and broadly Middle Eastern. But the wraps are the real reason to visit one of their market stalls or outposts (there’s one inside London Fields Lido) – chickpea or fava falafels, freshly-fried on stall, along with their signature pickles and an impressive amount of (controversially, no-garlic) hummus.
Ornate cakes at Vegan Sweet Tooth
Chamomile and zucchini cake? Blueberry and lavender gateaux? Giancarlo Roncato’s Italian food stall has you covered. His bakery specialises in ornate, curlicued cakes on commission, but if you don’t have a big-ticket occasion you can hit up his stall for slices of the day’s specials.
Doing a bit more than it says on the label, Vegan Sweet Tooth also has a few savoury tricks up its sleeves. If you’re starting to feel soy-chocolate frosting fatigue, try the slabs of rosemary and olive oil focaccia or spinach quiche.
Schiacciata flatbreads at Just Fab
Comprehensively proving that veganism doesn’t have to mean buying into the clean-eating cult is the schiacciata – stuffed Sicilian flatbread – from Just Fab. These Hackney traders serve hot dishes from a double-decker bus on Hackney Road, and manage to make their mostly Sicilian street food – polenta, lasagne, spinach arancini - feel just as indulgent as the non-vegan version.
Just Fab. Where to find them: 455, Hackney Road, E2 9DY, 11am to 10pm.