The evening before I am scheduled to volunteer at Sambal Shiok’s stall at Street Food Union on Rupert St, Mandy the Ladyboss and chef of Sambal Shiok texted me to say it is okay for me to cancel if it is too difficul to travel to Soho during peak hours. I told Mandy that I will work out a way to be at her stall the next morning as it is very rare that I have a free day on Thursdays.
Rather than waking up super early to fight for a space on the bus and sit in traffic for hours I opt to walk from Kentish Town to Soho. Thanks to city mapper for clear directions and giving me an estimate travel time on foot - 60min of ‘walksersize’ . The weather was nice, I got my Aasics trainers on, Spotify tunes in my ears and £10 Top Shop sunglasses to complete my swag.
I was on a mission.
Mandy and her assistant Chris were setting up the stall when I arrived. I got to see the opening process, learnt how to unpack the prepped food, reheating and displaying them, putting up the menu boards, arrange cutlery and all that. According to Mandy, in her experience of running this street food business, regardless of how well one is preparation is one must be prepared to improvise. For example, today we have limited gas for the stove so we had to try and cook all the chicken and lentil patties before it ran out. Mandy was also quick to get a hot plate from a nearby supplier shop so we can still toast the brioches for the burgers if the gas failed on us. I was so in my element that I forgot to take a selfie with Ladyboss Mandy herself!
Regulars started coming out for their lunch at about noon. I was in charge of preparing the food while Chris was busy cooking the patties. Mandy took orders and handled payment. We chatted with the customers while our hands were busy making the food. Aside from the fact that the male customers in Soho are mostly good looking, I can see why this creative business is worth leaving her previous high earning desk job as a partner of a law firm. For Mandy, who is proud of her heritage, the feeling of satisfying her customers with her own unique creation of modern Malaysian food is gratifying. One German tourist came back for a second chicken satay with rice and one regular customer asked information about her weekend business hours at Southbank because he would like to bring his whole family. Mandy introduced me to one of her regulars named John, who not only has a full time job but who also runs a street food stall in Broadway market on Saturdays selling dumplings. I was fascinated by John, who is willing to work his way to pursue his passion in the street food business. Mandy explained to John that I was working on a new play and I was there for character research. He though I was very ‘Method’. My immediate reaction was to burst into what my mother calls ‘unladylike laugh’ and I replied back by saying it isn’t easy being Mandy.
My handiwork helping out at the stall was paid with yummy lunch of beef rendang with rice topped with sambal sauce, a chicken satay burger, more leftover chicken satays to take home and a couple of jars of her homemade sauce. All this in the name art?? Well an actor’s got to do what an actor’s got to do … EAT!
Don't sing in the kitchen, or you'll marry an old man
a performance project about food, home and belonging