Food & Drink: Interview with Matt Simkin, author of Food, Culture, Latin America

The author of a book which explores Latin America and how it is shaped by its cuisine says that London is one of the best places in the world for a start-up food business to find success, writes James Twomey.

Matt Simkin – author of Food, Culture, Latin America – swapped the rat race for tacos to write his travelogue.

The book, which came out in February, gives the reader an insight into Latino culture through a backpacker’s eyes.

The book moves from Mexico down to Argentina and steps away from the “gringo trail” to explore everything from islands to jungles, mountains, beaches, favelas and cities.

“I’m not a chef, and this is by no means a cookbook,” said Matt. “But cuisine goes beyond what you get from tourism and sightseeing.

Food helps you understand the culture and how the culture is shaped by food.

“I’ve always been a keen traveller and I always choose to go on holiday based on the cuisine available.

Food, Culture, Latin America by Matt Simkin

I feel like when people talk about going travelling in the movies they never talk about the food and to me that’s the most important bit.

“The book provides a travelogue of Latin America with a backpacker’s voice and ties in some things you might find in a cookbook – it is about food after all – but it is much more an exploration of how that food affects the society.

“I am a guy who lived in London and got sick of the rat race and I pursued my dream with food, that’s what this book is about.”

But Matt, who lives in New Cross, says Londoners do not have to step too far from their front doors to experience some of the world’s best food.

“London is one of the most multicultural cities in the world and so it has some of the best food in the world.

“You’ve got Nigerian food on the Old Kent Road, Jamaican food in Brixton and there’s amazing Bolivian and Columbian restaurants in Elephant and Castle who are bringing upmarket fusions, which is a really honest way to eat the cuisine.”

Matt also believes that London provides excellent opportunities for those trying to break into the food industry.

He said: “Street food traders coming up see London as almost like the place of the ‘American Dream’, it’s like an academy where you can learn everything and make a real success of yourself, like Franco Manca or Honest Burger who started in Brixton Market.

“Some parts of the city are still really accessible to develop your cuisine and can be an amazing platform to start a food business.

“South London is really worth travelling to for that and for absorbing authentic food experiences. It’s an amazing part of town for food culture to develop.

“But certain things need to be done to help pop-ups. People were turfed out of the railway arches around London and gentrification has caused a lot of problems for multicultural cuisine.

“The councils need to do more to reduce business rates so that other food pop-ups can do well.”

You can find Matt’s book Food, Culture, Latin America on Amazon.

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