Words and Pictures by Emma Collins
Roti, talapia and okra from a metal box
Meandering out of Brixton tube station, I was already salivating in anticipation of the cultural hot-pot of cuisine that would be on offer. The air was thick with hypnotic spicy scents. Steel pan music could be heard in the distance. I was hungry. People were walking and jostling in only one direction so it seemed sensible to follow.
I’ve been to street food events before. Lots. Usually it’s an array of Vietnamese tuk-tuks, mock Victorian ice-cream carts, Mexican tacos sold out of a converted camper van to name but a few of the street food outlets catering for the crowds.
This was different.
A jenga style jigsaw of shipping containers appeared on the horizon; some high, some low but all connected, creating a huge other-worldly structure.
‘Welcome to POP Brixton’.
A psychedelic green and yellow shipping container perched precariously over a wide alleyway marked the entrance to my food adventure. I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t cool enough for this place but I was quickly put at ease. Families, older couples and hipsters were all enjoying the environment and the food.
Each shipping container had been converted to a fully functioning catering outlet. Sizzling beef ribs were slow cooking on a barbecue within one of these boxes, another was a shop selling organic macaroons whilst a third was a Japanese tea house serving up an array of exotic hot beverages.
My senses were immediately drawn to the Caribbean metal box. Adorned in red, white and black, and belting out loud soca music melodies, I knew that hearty Trinidadian cuisine was going to be the order of the day. Weaving my way through the sea of people I reached my destination. The thick corrugated iron of the shipping container was reminiscent of a rustic beach shack. Warm smiles of those responsible for the mouthwatering scents welcomed me to sit at their homemade bar.
A lady at the back of the shack was frying roti on a tawa, occasionally brushing it with melted ghee. Steaming okra was warming on the stove as tilapia was blackening under the grill. Aromas of the Caribbean were attracting an audience. I was happy to have already located my seat. The bombardment of senses was preventing me from making a final decision when choosing my meal.
“Try the roti cone. The tamarind sauce is out of this world,” a twenty-something with a guitar on his back and a big grin on his face suggested as he was leaving.
I was relieved for the advice. Decision made.
Expertly wrapped in a soft roti bread was sweet pumpkin, curried chickpeas and spicy potatoes. Slipped into a greaseproof paper sleeve, the roti cone was topped with cucumber pickle, fresh cilantro and that renowned tamarind sauce. I stuck in my bamboo fork, no airs or graces, and took my first bite. Indeed that tamarind was legendary. Sweet with a hint of spice and slightly sticky, this was a sauce that was unlike anything I had tasted before. Many more bites followed, each one finding a new combination of flavors to savor.
With a swell of people ready to take my place in the tropical shipping container, it was time to leave but not without picking up a chili and chocolate brownie to take away; I wasn’t ready to leave all the flavors of the Caribbean behind just yet.
Eating Caribbean food in a shipping container in south west London was a unique experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat. POP Brixton is somewhere I will definitely return and as a food event it is, without a doubt, boxing clever.