Credit The Dockyard Social via Instagram

The streetfoodification of Glasgow

By Rothery Sullivan

Rothery discusses the role of gentrification and working-class tourism in driving the rise in outdoor food markets across the city.

Street food, originating in Asia, has started to spread to all corners of the world. This has allowed people to present a part of their culture to their community and profit from their diverse recipes. Street food has been around for years in Glasgow, in the form of food trucks like MacTassos, or venues like The Dockyard Social. But there has also been a steadfast increase in the number of street food markets and warehouses around the UK, representing a growth of 20% per year. In particular, the pandemic has seen a rise in people’s desire to eat food from trucks in an outdoor setting. This could be the result of increased (or enforced) outdoor eating after lockdown – ventilation and social distancing made this the safest dining option in 2020 and 2021. Or maybe the trend is indicative of the UK wanting to feel more European by adapting an outdoor style of dining. What we know for sure is that the streetfoodification of Glasgow is on the rise.

Writing for The Guardian, Dan Hancox named street food markets as “the most extravagant swindle visited on the middle classes”, criticising the middle-class practice of over-paying for small portions in the name of “culture”. This begs the question: does eating from a food truck count as experiencing diversity? The irony is that instead of offering a global array of choices to customers, these new food stalls often promote over-priced vegan burgers and £8 halloumi fries. In an attempt to diversify their cultural palette, customers are willing to pay higher prices for “authentic” street food from new businesses, which erases the traditional way street vendors looked and functioned. Overpaying is now trendy. The new design of street food – especially in boujee converted warehouses and fairy-light lit streets – erases the working class essence that traditional street food once emanated.

But what is so appealing about assimilating the street food aesthetic? Is it an attempt by middle class people to sample customs they perceive as alien to their own? Working class tourism, even? Street food was indeed invented with labourers in mind: cheap, easily accessible food on the go is ideal for a short break. So perhaps this represents a middle class fixated on trying to appear working class. After all, Glasgow’s streetfoodification feels most prominent in one of its whitest and wealthiest areas: the West End.

The scary thing about this trend is its effect on restaurants, particularly ones which are family-owned or essentially working-class. These markets are targeting already-busy areas, as seen through spaces opening up at the Glasgow Quay as part of the riverside regeneration scheme, or the StreEATFest market on Ashton Lane. The risk is that temporary food stalls put long-established local amenities out of business. Erasing culture for the sake of tourism can be seen in the changes in Asia’s street food scene: a once bustling street – filled with authentic food and culture – has now been replaced with over-priced items targeted at visitors. 

This is not to say that the streetfoodification of cities cannot offer financial and social opportunities for budding cooks. Pre-covid, food trucks were rising in popularity in Los Angeles due to the freedom they offered creative chefs. As noted by Roy Choi, an LA food truck “king”, food trucks allow for chefs to “[introduce] themselves to the world, without having to gather up a million dollars or credulous partners”. Street markets offer the potential of bringing talented chefs together, and gives them the freedom of mobility to take their talent wherever they want.

However, our post-Covid-19 food landscape looks less optimistic. The pandemic has drawn our attention to the importance of sanitisation at our food outlets, but the reputation of street food vendors as unhygienic has been used as a weapon against them for years, ultimately leading to a ban of street food in Bangkok. Here lies a strange phenomenon: street food is simultaneously thriving in Glasgow, and declining in Thailand. Sanitisation lies behind both these trends. In East Asia, the prioritisation of tourism has led to a moral panic over food safety. Here in the UK, we risk a sanitisation of culture as the original essence of street food becomes distorted and gentrified. While the streetfoodification of Glasgow may not be an inherently bad thing, it is always worth thinking about where these customs come from and who they affect.


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