UK music festivals: where’s the street food?
Not so long ago I wrote a piece for the Standard picking out one or two dishes that people might enjoy trying at various UK music festivals. In some cases this was easy because of the interesting selection of quality food available, but at some of the bigger, more commercial festivals, it seemed like noone appeared to care what their ticket holders would be eating all weekend and I had to work a lot harder to find something decent.
Now we are nearing the end of the festival season and it turns out that a lot of the big guys still aren’t getting it right – except in the VIP areas, which doesn’t count. I don’t particularly like ranting – especially so long after an event – but this thing has got under my skin. First, I wish I’d taken a picture of the greasy, overpriced, boring plate of food that I ate at Latitude festival not so long ago. That way I could have compared it with other festival food that I’ve eaten recently and asked you to choose which you would rather eat. That I had made the choice to hand over around £8 for a dry samosa, some over cooked potatoes and a nondescript curry either says something about how little effort I had put into finding something to eat that evening in a rush to see the headliners, or more likely it shows what little quality food there was available. Instead of scampering off and celebrating, fuelled by something homemade, I plodded off feeling like I had a dead lump in my stomach.
If they were so keen to have people eating delicious, homemade Indian street food, could they not have consulted someone like Horn Ok Please? Or Everybody Love Love The Jhal Muri Express? Or Baba Gupta? And sure, at that festival there was a “healthy” stall – the one that sold falafel and bean salad and wraps and had a long queue – but even then it was eight quid for something dry and bland. Meanwhile the frozen yoghurt – that should have come from a van like Daisy Green (pictured) or The Little Mixing Factory – tasted like it had been made with milk powder, and the toppings available were still-frozen fruit from a packet scraped out of a bowl. Incidentally there was a tent hosting the Rotary Bar & Diner which I like but didn’t get to this time and, while excellent, I am not including Gizzi Erskine’s Kitchen Stage Tent in this discussion because it wasn’t a stall but demonstrations.
I do not understand how a festival with one of the best music and entertainment line-ups could sweat so little over the food program. This goes for Bestival too. I understand that cooking at a festival is a logistical nightmare, as you are stuck in a field without regular electricity and godknows how many hungry people turning up. But this is where the best street food traders excel, cooking well under pressure.
So to festival organisers out there planning next year’s arrangements, please listen: we are in the middle of a British street food boom, and we should be celebrating these traders and the great food they can serve us. My suggestion to Latitude and others would be to create – at the very least – something like a British Street Food area or a travelling KERB, Street Feast or #R3D market. This way those who don’t want to run around stoked up on expensive grease can find something decent instead.
The other option is to take inspiration from Secret Garden Party (and other smaller festivals like Green Man, Wilderness or End of the Road) and get the food right all the way through.
At SGP the food offering is worth seeking out, not only because the organisers clearly put effort into making sure there is an assortment of excellent things available (and not all at extortionate prices), but also because this is prepared by independent traders who I believe have been subsidised a little. Most of them can’t afford to pitch at the huge festivals – which is why the baddies get through. At SGP, it was hard to choose because the options were endless and enticing.
On that note, here are some…
TOP FOOD HITS FROM THE SECRET GARDEN PARTY FESTIVAL MENU
After a big Friday night, drinking cool coconut water out of a Thai coconut and later scooping out its flesh was the only thing I could begin the day with. It’s incredibly fresh, satisfying to pick out and soothing on the stomach.
Where from: £4, Coco Face (shared between two)
By this point we wanted a bit of a crunchy health kick and, since my friend is a vegetarian, settled on a spicy bean burger and a spicy mushroom burger, each served in a bun with salsa and garlic mayo. Greasy? Pah, not a bit of it. To boot, the girls on the team were friendly and we queued for no more than about four minutes.
Where from: £5, Fresh Organic
Ryan Chong aka The Great Stone Baker makes wood fired pizzas which are basically generously sized slabs of comfort food. Caramelised onion and brie (pictured right) was sweet and heavy but probably better as a lunch option than just before you’re going to be dancing all night, while his Lahmacun – Turkish pizza – was a really hearty combination of mint yoghurt and tender Korean chilli-marinaded lamb (pictured left).
Where from: The Great Stone Baker
A fresh gooseberry caipirinha did the trick from the place that describes itself as an art-car-boat-bar. It’s a good example of how something can look a bit out there (fitting the festival vibe) and still send out quality drinks.
Where from: Apocolypso
WAKEUP CALL & BRUNCH
When your head is hurting, a gigantic slice of fresh, crunchy watermelon while you’re queueing is a pretty good option. The breakfast wrap here (Mike & Ollie is an LSF favourite) had all the elements – oozing eggs, a luscious red pepper in chilli sauce and seeds for some crunchy texture.
Where from: £5, Mike and Ollie
There is always a moment near the end of a festival when you need to flop down in a heap and have a hot drink. We had ours at Coffee World where the chai remedy was milky and fully spiced. The accompanying flapjack had a hint of cinnamon and gave me the sugary hit I wanted.
Where from: Coffee World
Next up: Brixton Village street food…