Friday, August 26, 2011

Festival Food Trucks: How To Eat Your Way Around The World In 80 Hours

Guest post by Dom Bailey

Car packed, tent, sleeping bag, spare pair of boxers, toothbrush, and wellies (just in case), and we're ready to head for The Levellers' Beautiful Days music festival in Devon.

Just about to pull off, when my father-in-law asks "is this bacon in the fridge for your festival?" Nice thought, but who takes bacon to a music festival? We shrug and hit the A303.

Festival food says as much about a festival as its toilets - not what you go for, but you're happy if it’s of a high standard. Festivals are no longer catered for solely by hot dogs or greasy burger vans - the Slough dual-carriageway "Three Nation" types where burgers, Chinese food, and kebabs swim in the same grease, absent of any subtleties the original recipes may have once had.

And it's not all veggie burgers and lentil cutlets either. At most festivals nowadays you can eat your way "around the world" and back again, such is the variety of food stalls on offer.

Beautiful Days is no exception. In fact, the global route could take you from Indian curries, to Italian pizza and pasta, Mediterranean kebabs, English fish and chips, Spanish paella, Thai, Japanese noodles and Tibetan stews, and that’s just for starters.

Or you may choose to eat your way "around the farm", with hog roasts, beef dumplings, lamb shish, chicken paella, and ostrich burgers. Or "around a health food shop" - from vegan mushroom burgers and liquorice sticks to a Liverpudlian speciality of patisserie (it wasn't exactly a stall, just a guy with a biscuit tin wandering around whispering "ash cakes?")

Ultimately, it's up to you whether or not a music festival - which can involve a 20-minute queue to the bar, a 15-minute queue for food, a 10-minute "oops sorry, excuse me, excuse me, why are you dressed as a Rubik's Cube, get out of the f***ing way" wade through the crowd to wait for the 20 minute sound check, and then the hour-long set, then the 15 minute post-set queue for the portaloos - is really the place to try an Indian phall for the first time. Or whether it's the right time to decide that an ostrich burger won't count 'cos you're vegetarian most of the time at home.

A stick-to-what-you-know, or are vaguely familiar with, approach doesn't mean you are going to miss out on quality food, but it may mean you miss out on less bands. You could always leave the delicious Tibetan Kitchen sha shi sesame chicken for the last night - then you've only got to worry about about the Little Chef toilets on the way home (sorry Heston).

So, what is the best festival food?

The Tibetan Kitchen could make an entry with its momo dumplings filled with spinach, cheese and garlic. Pure Pie's just-thick-enough shortcrust pastry casing - with saucy fillings like steak and horseradish, or pork and mustard - are winners at the end of a long day drinking cider in the sun followed by a long night jigging around to bands like Mad Dog Mcrea.

Freshly stone-baked pizza (which didn't seem to stay open long enough) were also quality, as were the Mediterranean stall's lamb kebab or falafel pittas. The Real Sausage Company always seemed to have a healthy queue for its real sausages. You can see where I'm going here, the key to festival food is that it has to be comforting, familiar, filling and easy to eat.

For some unknown reason - probably a family feud-related incident on the Cornwall-Devon border, I don't know - I didn't spot anywhere selling pasties. There were more pasties being sold 180 miles away on Ealing Broadway station than in a field with a captive audience of 12,500 people, 40 miles from Kernow.

They would have been the outright winner. They keep their heat, are filling, and you don't need to balance a plate and a pint and keep a hand free for cutlery. And, a half-eaten one will quickly slot into your pocket and keep its shape (probably) when you have to dash off to hear Carter USM knock out Sheriff Fatman.

But the true festival winner is even simpler than the pasty - a good old bacon sarnie. And it doesn't even have to be from a stall. Some of the camping Beautiful Dazers had brought their own.

Now, there are festival-goers who camp, and there are campers who go to festivals. The former include the category of "Shit, I thought I'd packed my sleeping bag, now I have to sleep in my rucksack..."

Some don't make it fully into the tent after binging on two-litre bottles of Thatchers cider. Their comatose bodies, half frozen from sticking out of the tent all night, being tripped over and pissed on, and half baking inside, where the drying pool of vomit may, or may not be, their own. I thought my bag of Bombay mix, a litre of water, and two packets of chewing gum was cheating a bit, until I took my first festival morning stumble through the tents.

An unmistakeable, cheery clink of cutlery seems out of place. A kettle whistles, a coffee percolator plunges, Tarquin is poured another bowl of Kellogg's Crunchy Nuts into his favourite bowl. These were professional campers - or just families, probably - but it would have taken a small team of Sherpas to get some of their kit from the four by four to the camp site.

Three nights in a field in Devon, but some of them had packed for a month lion hunting on the Serengeti. "Damn it, forgot the garlic crusher, darling!"

Some inbetweeners had portable barbeques, and calor gas stoves, which I suppose could be forgiven as the overwhelming smell wafting through the morning or afternoon air is bacon.

Tantalising, reassuring bacon. The smell of bacon that says: “Okay, you're in a field, you can't remember half the bands you saw last night and your head is on the verge of exploding or imploding, you're not sure, but everything’s okay because there is bacon...”

Cook it yourself and the choice is yours - brown bread, white bread, no bread, just ketchup, brown sauce, with cheese, with cheese and mustard, with Marmite. I've never quite understood the salad bit of a BLT. Even the Germans don't have salad for breakfast.

But if you're not a fully-fledged Camping and Caravanning Club member, and haven't even got a ‘Hexi Stove’ to cook a few rashers, you have to rely on the stalls. Someone else has to cook your bacon, your hangover cure, your comfort blanket.

I had two bacon sandwiches while there - one amazing, one not so much. The latter was a double bacon and sausage bap. Double meant two rashers and two uninspiring sausages, in an oversized floury bap. The ratio is very important. You don't want the salty, meaty taste lost in a mouthful of floury pillow.

The best was as simple as it gets. Two slices of granary bread, enough bacon to pile over and cover the bread surface area, a fried egg and your choice of sauce. With a mug of tea, of course. Okay, it's a dribbly, saucy mess after the first mouthful, but it really hits the spot and puts you back on track for another day of festivalling.

And served out of a double-decker London bus, it couldn't get more Beautiful Days than that. Thank you, The Tea Stop.

What we ate:

Chips and pea-mint sauce - crispy chips, nicely minted sauce (£3.50 The Sea Cow but calling itself Fish and Chips).

Quesadilla - flour tortilla with a thin filling of cheese, avocado, salsa and jalapeno peppers, folded and toasted a little on the hot plate (£4.50 - Mexican Vegetarian).

Ostrich burger - with Jack Daniels onion barbeque sauce and cheese in a floury bap (£7). Tasty burger made of ostrich from Berwick-upon-Tweed, but too much bread to burger ratio. I ‘heart’ ostrich was perhaps the most confusing name for a stall, given the hippyish audience. I ‘heart’ dolphin wouldn't have seemed out of place, but you wouldn't have expected to get a Flipper fricassee. Carter did quip "if you love ostriches so much, stop killing them!"

The Pure Pie crusty saucy, meaty round pies. I got two for £5 at the end of the night, which can't be bad. "You can save one till morning," was his pitch, but that was never going to happen.

Wraps and Baps - luxury falafel - four pieces, olives, garlic mushrooms, in a wrap cone which after the top layer was mainly iceberg lettuce. (£8)

Lamb kebab with couscous in a pitta. Delicious if a bit messy (about £6.50)

Double bacon and sausage bap - In the Night Garden. Double meant two rashers and two uninspiring sausages, in an oversized floury bap (£3.50).

Momo dumplings - with meatball or cheese and spinach fillings. They were nice enough to give us a taster of the sesame chicken, and the chickpea and spinach stew. Both were fantastic and the chicken was beautifully seasoned and tender (£1 dumpling taster).

Bacon and egg sandwich - The Tea Stop. A double decker bus of joy. THE hangover cure (£3.50).

:: Dom Bailey is a writer and musician. His songs are here on


Jenny Eatwell said...

Your description of that gorgeous bacon sandwich should come with an "imminent hunger" warning. Damn it, and my butcher has shut! *tut!* ;)

Lizzie said...

I recently went to Shambala and the chip stall (that sells ONLY chips) ran out of ketchup by Sunday afternoon. I was outraged. Chips! Ketchup! etc.