Soul Shack, Leeds: ‘This is exciting street food’.

It was late on a Saturday night. My clothes smelt like barbecue smoke, again. My hair reeked of it. Straight into the shower, clothes straight into the wash. Again. The reason? I’d eaten food from Soul Shack.

Two weeks in a row that time – but it didn’t matter that my favourite jumper smelt like Jerk chicken for the next month because it meant that I’d enjoyed a box of Soul Shack’s life-changing Jerk chicken. This summer, my boyfriend and I ate food from Soul Shack so often, that it might as well have been incorporated into our weekly meal plans (“Food for Saturday? We’ll probably be eating Soul Shack then”). When promoting a menu for an event, the chef behind Soul Shack would tell his social media followers to ‘Look for di smoke’ and like a moth to a flame, we’d find ourselves instantly drawn to getting food from Soul Shack at any opportunity.

It’s the ultimate comfort food; irresistible home-cooked Jamaican-inspired classics freshly-made from scratch, using good quality, sustainably-sourced ingredients, combined with the chef’s genuine love for Jamaican cuisine. He showcases ‘real yard cooking’, constructing handmade smokers and grills out of upcycled oil drums and car rims, all within a rustic wooden shack with a tin roof, lined with Jamaican flags. It’s not every day you come across a street food trader who’s made their own stall, smokers and grills and is simply slow-cooking food over fire and pimento wood (imported from Jamaica) and letting the flavours speak for themselves. It certainly ignites a primal instinct within you, to gather round and be a part of the experience.

‘It’s not every day you come across a street food trader who’s made their own stall, smokers and grill and is simply slow-cooking food over fire’.

My first taste of Soul Shack was at World Island, a three-day music festival in the city centre of Leeds. My boyfriend and I sat in complete silence, as we devoured Jerk chicken, dipped plantain chips in chicken back gravy and scooped up coconut rice and peas. The next time we saw Soul Shack was at the British Street Food Awards Northern Finals at Leeds Dock, where we discovered the iconic G.O.A.T.-fried chicken with jamrock rice. Then, it was tropical cheesecake at North Brewing Co.‘s Eat North; followed by roasted breadfruit with thyme at Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen; and plantain crisps and jerk nuts at Chow Down at The Piece Hall in Halifax.

Another date in the diary was the cookout and kitchen takeover at Distrikt Bar in Leeds. My boyfriend and I took one look at the menu and ordered everything. To start, we snacked on twice-fried green plantain chips with a trinity of dips; zingy Jamaican pear, hot pepper salsa and cooling coconut cream.

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We nibbled on this while sipping pints of Beavertown Gamma Ray before the main event arrived: two boxes brimming with rice and chicken. The G.O.A.T.-fried chicken wings were drizzled in sweet, sticky caramel-like Appletons rum honey. A satisfyingly crispy, crunchy molten rock-like coating encased the chicken and it was spicy and peppery with a subtle heat.

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In the second box, there was incredibly moist Jerk chicken, smothered in smoked chicken back gravy and accompanied with colourful jamrock rice. Once again, we found ourselves sitting in a comforting silence as we tucked into this hot, hearty and soothing food, our fingers sticky and our noses running. You’re probably thinking we were quite full at this point, but don’t worry, we made room for dessert: which was a sweet potato yum yum, called a Pum Pum. It was amazing and I could have eaten five more.

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Still on a Soul Shack high, it wasn’t long after this event that Soul Shack did a boxfood drop – an occasion where he goes above and beyond in creating a unique customer experience by packing up generous amounts of food into a brown paper bag and doing a drop-off at a particular location. Ordering takes place via direct messages on Instagram and this was probably one of my favourite Soul Shack moments. For £15 we got a three-course meal for two, featuring freshly made Jerk chicken patties, Jamaican curried chicken with coconut rice and spiced banana cake with rum cream. The famous Jerk chicken pattie (they sell-out at most events) was heaven encased in pastry and the rum cream was dangerously addictive (in a good way).

‘The famous Jerk chicken pattie (they sell-out at most events) was heaven encased in pastry’.

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This was home-cooked, delicious street food, straight to our door. An experience that demonstrates Soul Shack’s knack for constantly innovating and experimenting and always offering his customers something new. From selling homemade banana ketchup,  to serving up the likes of guava-glazed Jerk pork shoulder, smoked banana ice cream, Jerk-fried sprats, plantain waffles and introducing me to breadfruit. This is exciting street food.

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This weekend, my boyfriend and I headed over to Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton for a Soul Shack kitchen takeover. As we tucked into a spread of mac and cheese, fried plantain, G.O.A.T.-fried chicken roti and Jerk chicken with coconut rice and peas (of course) it felt like things had come full circle. Five months ago, were were eating Jerk chicken at a sun-soaked festival with the taste of warm beer in our mouths and the smell of sun-cream in the air. Now, we were in the cosy indoors, hats and scarves off, tucking into hot food which filled our bellies and warmed our faces. Soul Shack will be heading off to Jamaica at the end of year and we, along with many others, can’t wait for what Soul Shack will be serving up next year!

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