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John Li, street food trader at Dumpling Shack, Old Spitalfields Market
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you’re a street-food trader

By Amira Arasteh

…according to John Li, 34.

Some of London’s best street eats are made by amateurs

‘I’m not a chef. I was working in a bank and just wanted a weekend hobby. In fact, I had no experience making dumplings – it was just that no one was selling them at London’s food markets, so I started Dumpling Shack. It’s not just me who turned around to do this: Mandy from Sambal Shiok used to be a lawyer and now makes the best laksa around.’

Slinging dumplings takes a thick skin

‘This is a passion project. It has to be, as I’m here seven days a week.  You’re not going to please everyone, and you do get people who don’t love the food. I used to ignore bad reviews – I’m pretty sensitive about that stuff. But it’s a business and you have to take the rough with the smooth. Besides, seeing people love your food is incredible.’

Rain is a trader’s worst enemy

‘We make the dumplings fresh, so we have to make everything on the spot and then clear down at the end of the day. If it’s a rainy day, you still have to be there all day. And with street food, when it rains, people disappear and you have to throw a lot of stock away. It’s heartbreaking.’

Londoners are incredibly fickle

‘One minute people want cronuts; the next, it’s all about the freakshake! Trends come and go, and that did scare me about opening seven days a week at Spitalfields: I wasn’t sure if we were just a weekend hype thing. We just have to keep believing that we’ve gone past the trend phase. You need to create something that people think is tasty, well-priced and quick, and I think that’s what we do here.’

Find Dumpling Shack in The Kitchens at Old Spitalfields Market.

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