Eat Beastie Boys-Inspired Onion Rings at This Hip-Hop Chip Shop
Inside a boombox-shaped food truck, onion rings inspired by Beastie Boys and crispy fries inspired by Mos Def lyrics are giving England's classic fish and chips fare a run for its money.
"I came up with the name 'Hip-Hop Chip Shop' in 2010 and was surprised that nobody had thought of it before," Jonathan Oswald tells me ahead of our meeting outside his boombox-shaped food truck in Manchester. "Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was actually mentioned in a song lyric from a satirical rock band from Birkenhead called 'Half Man Half Biscuit'."
It took Oswald and his two business partners over four years to get their music-inspired street food venture off the ground.
"After to-ing and fro-ing with a few concepts, it was just a matter of finding the right design once we settled on the idea of a boombox style trailer."
Stan Chow, a globally recognized artist from Manchester, got the gig.
"I saw this picture of Eminem that he made and I approached him to see if we could use the boombox design in the background of the pic for our trailer," Oswald explains. "He kindly agreed."
Surrounded by the new BBC headquarters in the recently developed Media City area in Salford, the silver Hip-Hop Chip Shop boombox merges almost seamlessly into its environment, catering to workers at television and radio studios and Salford University students.
"The licensing laws are better in Salford than in the city center and as far as I'm aware, we're the only place selling fish and chips around here," says Oswald of his choice to pitch his boombox up here, rather than central Manchester.
The food side of Hip-Hop Chip Shop falls to Oswald's business partners Luke Stocks and Holly Robson. The couple have worked in catering and hospitality for over a decade.
As is to be expected from a hip-hop-inspired food truck, the name of each dish comes with a nod to a song or artist. There's the "Feastie Boys Box" of fish, chips, and peas; a vegetarian "Halloumi, Myself, and I" meal containing deep-fried cheese; the "Ms. Fat Butty," includes triple-cooked chips.
The ingredients used also break from the average chip shop fare.
"Instead of the usual cod or haddock, we get sustainably caught coley delivered every morning," explains Robson. "I think it works really well with the crunch of the egg and dairy-free batter. If we end up in a bigger kitchen, I'd like to go gluten-free too, but being limited here, we have to find other ways to get creative."
She points to the salts lining the counter.
"These are all homemade. I like to experiment with unusual flavors like citrus or beer, and instead of malt, we have white wine vinegar."
I order a halloumi wrap and portion of chili onion rings. Everything is on just on the right side of satisfyingly greasy, but with the depth of taste you'd expect from dishes at a top-end restaurant—further confirmed when I try the tangy tartare sauce.
"I make the batter on site every day and the chips are triple-cooked," Robson continues. "But because we're only open between 12 PM and 3 PM, there's never any danger of the food sitting around."
As well as Manchester's Media City, the Hip-Hop Chip Shop does catering jobs at festivals and weddings. It's here that Robson and Stocks can be more adventurous with their menu.
"On weekends, we get to make dishes like jerk batter fish with battered plantain or Vimto-battered pineapple fritters," says Stocks. "Although some people just see the van and book us without even asking about what we can make I like to blow them away with the food."
Hip-Hop Chip Shop's unique branding may have brought in business, but billing yourself as a venture "inspired by the inventive and experimental ethos of hip hop culture" can have some downsides. The trio were criticized for appropriating this very culture when they uploaded a video of Oswald talking about the business at a corporate event. He is quick to defend the hip-hop-inspired branding, however.
"Fish and chips started out as peasant food and hip-hop is a culture originally created by people who didn't have anything, so they have more in common than people think," he says.
And besides, the team are all diehard hip-hop fans themselves.
"We like to play instrumental stuff from Apollo Brown, Ta-Ku, Tall Black Guy, Eric Lau, Freddie Joachim, Pete Rock, J Dilla, Onra, Elaquent, Kev Brown, and Samiyam," Oswald tells me. I also clock that he's wearing a Suff Daddy t-shirt.
While Hip-Hop Chip Shop is growing steadily, Oswald is nervous about expanding. The brand has received requests to franchise in America and they've got a US trademark pending.
"I don't want to just get a shit-load of money off an investor. I want to see where I can take it just the three of us," says Oswald.
Mo' money, mo' problems, after all.