Last weekend, over two days of patchy spring sunshine, 35 street food trucks came to Mainz. They parked up on the banks of the Rhein and, at midday on Saturday, sparked up their grills, ovens, hotplates and woks for the first ever Street Food Festival in Mainz.
The location, Planke Nord, is a beer garden and event space that’s part of Mainz’s industrial port zone. Surrounded by shipping containers but filled with grassy spots, plenty of recycled crate chairs, wooden tables and a sandy play area for kids, it’s a surprisingly scenic spot for some summer fun. And with food trucks from all over Germany parked round its perimeter, it makes for a great place for foodie fun, too.
I arrived with a couple of friends at around 1pm, empty bellied and ready to get stuck in to some of the sort of international flavours that Mainz and Wiesbaden are otherwise sadly lacking. We ambled round all the trucks and stands, weighing up our lunch options amongst a mixed crowd of students, hipsters, young families and proper Mainzer locals, many of the latter of whom, faced with unfamiliar foodstuffs from Sweden, Japan and Senegal, appeared a little overwhelmed by the whole thing.
(I don’t mean to sound patronising: the first Street Food event in Germany only took place in Berlin in 2013 and this sort of thing is an entirely new phenomenon round these parts. Street food in this region has, until now, generally meant Currywurst, spit roast pork sandwiches and potato fritters slathered in apple sauce. Which explains why, on the way into the Mainz Street Food Festival, I was handed a flyer encouraging me to try new and exotic things).
The modern day street food classics – vast burgers spilling out of their buns, pulled pork sandwiches dripping bbq sauce – and the renowned offerings of some of Germany’s best known street food vendors (I’m looking at you, Fräulein Kimchi ramen burger) were out of bounds for me (see: gluten), however there were plenty of other interesting-looking options on offer to choose from. Pork tacos from Los Carnales were sadly disappointing, being extremely light on both content and flavour and not vastly improved by a choice of unfiery salsas (3€ each or 2 for 5€). Arepas from Maria Maria Arepas were better: 6€ each for a naturally gluten-free corn flatbread pocket stuffed with – in my case – beans, avocado, salad and some very meaty chunks of chorizo (most of which ended up down my top).
A toasted slice of brioche carefully layered with onion marmalade and seared duck breast and drizzled with an orange jus (6€, Jäger & Sammler) went down well with one of my companions, though something so relatively dainty and refined seemed a little out of place at a street food bash (same goes for the tiny Swedish cupcakes from Kiki Lento and the pretty individual cheesecakes at Fräulein Fine).
Other dishes tried, tested and recommended by friends included a Jamaican chicken stew, gluten-free Swedish almond cake, 65-hour cider steak, Lebanese hummus, Taiwanese gua bao and Berlin-style pierogi. And despite my rather meat-biased review, there were plenty of options available for vegetarians, though fewer for vegans, plus one or two stands that were on a proper health kick, too (anyone for a low-carb chia and linseed pizza?).
Bags were searched and bottles of water confiscated at the festival entrance, but once in, drinking options mainly consisted of a fresh juice stand and a bar selling an interesting selection of bottled beers, including German IPA from Aschaffenburg and München, and soft drinks such as sweet, refreshing Kelterei Heil spritzers.
One small criticism: I couldn’t help feeling irritated by the 3€ entrance fee. Having to pay to enter a space where you’ll be spending money is in my mind, a bit cheeky; it also means that rather than wander around a bit, have a bite to eat and wander off again, folk felt compelled to hang out for much longer. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it meant that the relatively restricted space was quickly packed with people and the lines for food soon became lengthy. In addition, by the time we left the queue to get in was very long indeed, and friends who arrived later on in the day were told they’d have a 90 minute wait. They went elsewhere.
But plus points to the organisers for considering other, arguably more important issues: at an event such as this, where you’re encouraged to sample lots of frequently generous portions of food, one of the worries is that much of it will end up being chucked out. So, gold star for equipping each truck with a bell to ring if you wanted to find someone to share your food with. A novel and timely idea.
And of course, dix more points* to Street Food Festival for putting Mainz on their map in the first place. It was an enjoyable way to spend a warm Sunday afternoon, and from what I’ve heard, an even better way to spend a Saturday evening – with friends, a few beers, plenty of good grub and the sun setting over the shipping containers.
Thank you to all the food vendors involved for driving down to Mainz. We’re looking forward to seeing you again soon.
*Eurovision joke. Sorry.
The next Mainz Street Food Festival will be taking place at Planke Nord on 5-6 September 2015. Details (in German) on the Street Food Festival website.