Food halls are booming, for better or worse

Time Out Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon
Time Out Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon
Photo: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis (Getty Images)

In Chicago, the food hall phenomenon is in full swing—we’ve even seen one high-profile fancy food hall close after five months, perhaps because of the competing food hall that moved in on the same block. Other cities are dealing with a similar boom, which looks a lot like a bubble on its way to bursting. This week, the opinion section of The Guardian has a few things to say about these food halls, and the writer does not mince words.

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According to opinion writer Dan Hancox, trendy, upscale food halls are “exemplars of the financialisation and privatisation of urban space, of a middle-class ennui and yearning for authenticity, and a profits-first, pick-and-mix version of diversity.” Ouch. He goes on to unpack how “street food” as a culinary designation has become a marketing term that everyone from commercial real estate developers to the makers of Lunchables have latched on to, divorcing it from its roots and applying it in ways that just make very little sense once you take street food off the actual street.

While food halls with individual stalls serving top-dollar versions of ramen, tacos, and fish and chips might deliver, as Hancox says, “a sanitised smorgasbord of multiculturalism, available at an inflated price” (again, ouch), there are some potential benefits to their model. For one thing, whether a restauranteur is paying the food hall to rent a stall or a parking spot for their food truck, it costs far less than opening a brick-and-mortar location, and the lowered barrier to entry might allow chefs to experiment more with the cuisine they can offer customers, rather than having to rely solely on the dishes that pay the bills. But with all these food hall concepts competing for our business, we are in a position to hold them to a higher standard of actually showcasing diverse chefs, rather than take a facility’s diverse array of foods at face value. Or, assuming other options are available in the area, we can decide to take a pass on these (oft overpriced) entities entirely.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

bammontaylor
Bammon Taylor

So I’m assuming a “food hall” is a modern, more expensive version of what I’ve always known as a “food court?”