The Bold Street Festival celebrated its fifth birthday yesterday, and as far as I’m concerned, birthdays are all about food. Luckily, then, Bold Street is renowned for its coffee shops and eateries, and as I weaved my way around the performers and vintage stalls, there was quite literally plenty to sample.

Street food at the Bold Street Festival, 30th September 2012

Left to right, top to bottom: char siu bao; vegetable chow mein; m’smen;
watermelon boba; spring rolls; Moroccan mint tea.

My first port of call, Bold Street newcomers Cafe de Pearl, served up marinated meat, paper-thin egg-shaped waffles and metal steamers laden with dim sum. Bite-sized shao mai – pork in sunny yellow wonton wrappers – crowned the top of the first steamer, while the lightest char siu bao – clouds of snowy white bread, filled with ruby-red pork – nestled underneath. While I’m fiercely loyal to the bread from the Sweet Heart Bakery around the corner, these bao were textbook-good and easily survived their paper-bagged trip home.

What I actually came for was their flagship boba: row upon row of pastel-toned tea drinks served with black pearls and chubby straws. Fresh bubble tea is simple to make but better to buy, and I can vouch for their watermelon flavour. At £2.90 each and packed with sugar and creamer, they’re a minor splurge, but a fun one.

A place like Pearl could make any other look frankly dull by comparison, but Yums Oriental Buffet, scarcely ten paces away, held their own well with a strong selection of cheap and cheerful Cantonese-style dishes. £1.50 for a dish of chewy, satisfying, vibrant vegetarian noodles is more than reasonable, and my £1 spring rolls were hot and golden to perfection – the perfect antidote to the grisly weather. My impatient palate longed for Singaporean spice or bells and whistles, but Yums were by far the most classic and affordable on the street.

Across the road, News from Nowhere had a bargain book stall out front, but inside also deserves a mention for some tasty (and free!) vegan truffles. I’m all for anything that proves that vegan food is doable and delicious, and these were perfectly velvety and rich – enough to sway even the staunchest omnivore. And did I mention that they were free?

My last stop and the last stall, Moroccan café Kasbah drew a crowd further down the street, dishing up glossy, nut-studded baklava and pancakes cooked to order. I ordered a m’smen – savoury or sweet? – and watched as the vendor kneaded out a flaky, buttery pancake and filled it with olive and onion salsa, then cooked it on a griddle. While I don’t even want to think about its calorie count, the final product was amazing – like an Indian paratha crossed with a French crêpe. Rolled up and washed down with a shot glass-sized serving of sweet mint tea, it was oily perfection on a paper plate; total YOLO food, best eaten on the move.

I walked home in the evening with bags of food, lighter pockets and a lighter heart. If the festival aims to open up Bold Street businesses to the casual passer-by, it more than does its job. How many times have you passed a café and resolved to go in some time, but never got around to it? Consider this girl a convert.