Tollcross Street Food: Radge Chaat, Kaptain Karaage, Exile Cooks
A trio of shipping containers bring the colour and chaos of street food to central Edinburgh – we check out Kaptain Karaage, Exile Cooks and Radge Chaat
It’s November, in a cold, northern European city constantly on alert for wind and rain. What, you may be tempted to ask, is the need for street food right now? Hunker down in the pub and live off Monster Munch, book weeks ahead to get into your third-favourite restaurant, you could even bite the bullet and cook your own dinner… anything but eating Out There, in That Weather.
Street food’s bloody-mindedness is one of its great traits, whether it’s vans hewing to their esoteric principles or punters simply pretending that it is not, in fact, pissing it down. Sticking to your guns and using your limited space and odd set-up to your advantage are two of street food’s best weapons, and they’re both on display in a pink shipping container in Tollcross.
Kaptain Karaage have a few things on their menu, but only one of those things is in the name above the hatch. Their focus on the delicate yet very definitely deep-fried Japanese snack pays off; the paper-thin coating stays crispy even after a brief stroll to the canal, and the trio of spicy, soy-rich sauces blend together pretty effortlessly. The Chicken Karaage (£6) is sweet, savoury and surprisingly light, while the Cauliflower Karaage (£6) swaps the fat and umami for a freshness that matches the small pile of pickles in the corner of the tray. Fried chicken where the veggie alternative *isn't* a poor relation? These street food folk can do anything with enough practice!
But then again, maybe ‘the point’ of street food is that it gives chefs the space to try lots of different things, and to experiment in an informal environment. That’s the vibe behind the yellow door at Exile Cooks, with a menu loaded with intriguing and occasionally head-scratching flavour combos. We roll the dice on the Soft Shell Crab Burger (£8), because we like to see big dramatic moves, and they don’t come much more dramatic than a whole crab poking out of a jet-black bun.
Char sui jam, kimchi mayo, deep fried soft shell crab, a charcoal bun… it’s just a little bit too much all at once. It’s well made – the crab is nicely cooked, crunchy outside and softly flaky within, and the kimchi has a suitably puckering impact. It’s an interesting idea, and a visually striking object, but one that doesn’t really work as an actual plate of food. We admire the gusto, but when you experiment a lot, they won’t all be winners.
On the other hand, does street food need to have ‘a point’? Does it not spark joy to walk through Tollcross’ architectural hodgepodge and find three brightly coloured shipping containers wedged between a nightclub and a fire station? Isn’t it lovely to be able to grab an enormous pile of crunchy, spicy Indian treats and eat them in the shadow of a bronze swan?
Radge Chaat’s take on the classic chaat is a perfect encapsulation of this joyous anarchy, and it’s also ideal for the autumn. There’s plenty of heat to distract you from the cold, and the brilliantly crunchy pakora are a great reminder that, even if your shoes are a bit damp, ‘soggy’ doesn’t need to be the default at this time of year.
The Big Radge (£10) offers endless flavours to dig into, from sweet pomegranate and tamarind to the earthy spice of the chana masala, as well as being a serious amount of food for the money. Great flavours, exciting aromas, all presented in a box so full that the lid won’t stay on. This is what street food has to offer – layering up and bringing an umbrella seems like a fairly small trade-off.