UK music festivals: where’s the street food?

Frozen yoghurt from Daisy Green

Frozen yoghurt from Daisy Green

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

DAY 1

Coconut from Coco Face

Coconut from Coco Face

HANGOVER DRINK
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)

LUNCH
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

The Great Stone Baker

The Great Stone Baker

Great Stone Baker

The Great Stone Baker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DINNER
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

COCKTAIL
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
DAY 2:

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

SNACK
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…

LSF

Comments
14 Responses to “UK music festivals: where’s the street food?”
  1. NICK WEBLEY says:

    A long time ago visiting the Green field at Glastonbury was akin to visiting the third world with plenty of food fascination. But now the price of a festival food pitch means you HAVE to cut the mustard and hope to get your money back before Sunday lunchtime without worrying about your reputation and returning customers. There seems little passion or glamour in providing nourishment at a festival, it’s volume and profit.
    I have run outdoor vegetarian catering (24 years of Medina Cafe) but I would never run a food stall at a festival.
    Your idea of an island of good food outside Babylon is sound and warrants support from the festival promoters in terms of pitch rents and avoiding duplication to give a wide choice.
    This would not hurt the profits of the festival or the mainstream traders, because you only have to go to a food court anywhere in the world and see where the sheep go to graze

    • London Street Foodie says:

      Yes I understand that anyone trading at festivals simply has to belt out the food or they don’t get their money back. But I’m glad you agree that an island could work.

      It just seems crazy from a festival goer’s perspective when you’ve already paid £100-odd to be there and then once you’ve got through the food you’ve brought with you, the only choice is then to spend more on terrible stuff to get you through the next few days.

      Anyway, here’s hoping things improve. Is Medina Cafe in London out of interest?

      • NICK WEBLEY says:

        Hi Ben is spot on with the notion of quality being a positive winning combination for all involved especially the customer. Danny Meyer’s book “Setting the table” offers great insights amidst the management speak.

        Medina Cafe has provided vegetarian food at music and dance camps, that are a whole subculture. We only worked at 2 camps each year at Dance Camp Wales & Sacred Arts Camp South Oxford, preparing about 750 covers a day with volunteer staff. Lots of fun, learning and loving the buzz of providing a canvas hearth in all weathers.

  2. Ben O'Brien says:

    I agree with your comments – there are very big differences between events that get the value that good food adds to an event and those that don’t.

    However, many mainstream event organisers are waking up to the value of good food – witness the very high quality street food on offer at BST Hyde Park this summer. I have to profess self interest here as my company, Sourced Market, was responsible for curating the food offer at the event. I’m proud to say that we delivered a very high quality street food offer that was very popular with the crowd (up to 65,000 people per day). When you offer great food, people will happily spend more – which of course means that traders do well but it also means more revenue goes back to help fund the event, so everyone wins. If you’ve just had a crap, overpriced meal you’re going to tell your friends to avoid that stall – whereas if you’ve just eaten some amazing street food chances are your friends will want some as well.

    Lots of street food traders are relatively new to the scene and whilst they serve up amazing food the logistics of operating at a big event are not to be underestimated – from stock and staff levels to having the right systems in place to serve really good food really quickly. So there is a bit more to getting the food offer right at an event than rounding up the latest street food traders but done well and the audience will appreciate it.

    • London Street Foodie says:

      Thank you for getting in touch. Glad you agree and glad you think places like the Hyde Park festivals are getting it.. I’m absolutely not underestimating the huge amount of money and effort that goes into bringing in any sort of trader to an event – just suggesting what could happen in an ideal world.

  3. Would you have a moment or two to meet to discuss the best way to launch Delicones as street food?

    Thank you.

    George Robinson
    Founder and creator of Delicones
    07831 755 925

    • London Street Foodie says:

      I’m happy to point you in the right direction of people who can. Contact details in the about section

  4. Goose says:

    Had a job with a festival once, great fun, hard work. I tried to impress on the owners how cool a Porchetta would be, how much money could be made, other possibilities the oven could bring, pizza cakes etc..Local pigs easy to build(ish). It fell on Deaf ears.
    Good street food could sell a festival, so before your festival goes bust, that’s worth remembering. Bands are paid, Street food pays the festival. This is all preaching to the converted of course.
    Jamie and Alex have seen the light, maximum respect to them for The Big Festival.
    Glasto had some good food there in the past, not sure if it has now. I am guessing it costs mega bucks to have a stall. I heard the blandburgers make big money, I guess they pay more for premium spot.
    We need to badger Mr. Eavis to put give Kerb a field. He constantly has to keep it Boom, here is a good long term idea for Glastonbury. His daughter may be the one who sees it.

    The great outdoors-
    http://eatlikeagirl.com/2013/08/15/feasting-at-wilderness-part-1-st-john-breakfasts-moro-afternoons-polpos-venetian-banquet/
    http://www.jamieoliver.com/thebigfeastival/whats-on/the-markets/

    Thinking of a good way to contact Mr. Eavis? You guys and Kerb and others perhaps could draught something for all us Street Foodies/foodies to send. Lamer Tree has some nice food (last time I was there 7 years ago). Again A kerb market(not as big as Glasto) would be cool.
    Another great post, its got me thinking.

  5. Mark Edwards says:

    Hi,

    I wanted to take Fleisch mob to 3 or 4 festivals this year, but the huge up front pitch fees made my eyes water & me think twice. Coupled with the fact that Festival organisers don’t appear to always be very honest about the actual state of ticket sales, preferring to quote capacity rather than actual ticket sales, I took a view that the risk was too high for me. We did one festival, I enjoyed the experience & by working from 8am – 4am straight through we just managed to make a small profit, but again the supposed 7500 attendees was much lower in reality, as evidenced by the empty camping fields.
    Maybe I’ll feel more confident of being able to go for a few next year, but I really do feel that in general the pitch fees are prohibitively high, they force even principled traders to lower their standards, up their prices & their margins.

    • LondonStreetFoodie says:

      Hi Mark
      Thank you for commenting.
      This is what I have heard from most traders, and this is where something like SGP gets it right because I understand that the traders’ fees were subsidised to make it possible for them to get there.
      If I hear of anyone else doing this, I will let you know.

    • Ben O'Brien says:

      Hi Mark

      We recognise that large upfront pitch fees can be an issue for smaller traders, particularly those new to big events, so where we can we try and work on a revenue share model. This means that (apart from an upfront deposit to secure the pitch) you:

      1) Don’t have to pay fees until after your sales have taken place

      2) If for any reason sales are lower (be it weather, ticket sales etc) then the fees you pay will be lower

      This system takes a bit more management during the event, but generally works out fairer overall.

  6. Shazzie says:

    I have been trading now for 3 years, as Tea-Sympathy.
    We offer a cafe experience or a trailer version of our homemade cake and drinks.
    Pitch Fees PITCH FEES………its crazy, most traders being scared to death to ask or negotiate fees, as they don`t want to be seen as trouble to the event organizers.
    A few of last years festivals agreed to take a percentage, which meant everyone had a reasonable share of what was there.
    I love my job and do small events and Glastonbury, but its proving tricky.
    I still make all of the cake and will endevour to be canny about pitch fees.
    I loved the way Wilderness kept their integrity to food, Lounge on the farm, Larmer Tree.
    All by the way reasonable.
    I do think we should move in packs though…. The Anonymous Travelling Market `ATM` are a troupe who manage to get great rates for traders as a WHOLE, a travelling collective. Perhaps then we could keep the standard high and the pitch fee down!!!!

  7. Cameron says:

    We were selling fro-yo at Latitude in 2013. I don’t think it was our stand you visited as we were selling Coolicious Fro-Yo rather than the powdered stuff, however our fruit was frozen at the events.
    Latitude is probably the highest pitch fee for any Uk festival but also probably has the highest average spend per visitor.
    We do boutique food for smaller events such as food festivals but at large music festivals we have to pump out huge volumes of food per day. There is no running water – often a 100 metre walk to a stand pipe. Electric bills are about £600 for 32 amps and you often get a food standards inspection every day. Festival food is a rat race. The organisers charge the contractor a huge fee who then pass it on to the caterers. many go out of business in the first year.
    you take your deliveries from 6 in the morning and trade until 1-2 the following morning with no rest in between. One festival went bust last year and took our pre paid pitch fee with it.
    Some of us try and do good food at festivals. even with huge costs we always use quality fro-yo such as Plas Farm or Coolicious. despite having to use frozen fruit. ( we simply don’t have the supply of water to wash fresh, we are probably one or two of a hundred caters offering fruit at large festivals. We try to offer value too. a FRO-yo with toppings for 3.50 whilst the ice cream vans are churning out 99s for £3

    The bottom line is the customer pays lots for tickets and food etc which all gets filtered back to the acts. (They’re the one who stay in luxury motor homes whilst the traders are in tents). Even the festival organisers don’t make much. the cost of toilets, first aid tents etc is huge. One company that does seem to do well is Aggreko – check out their profits last year. My electric bill for the Reading Festival last year was £1200. – a three day festival. The NEC wanted £2000 for 32amps during the BBC Good Food Show.

    The crazy thing is even the upmarket festivals don’t so much care about what food you serve as what you stand looks like. get yourself and airstream trailer and you’ll get in anywhere…..

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