It’s summertime and the festival season is well under way. All over the country there’s a festival taking place every weekend that’s sure to suit someone. Fans of pop music, opera, theatre, you name it – they are all catered for. Every festival is different but the one thing they all have in common (apart from the Portaloos but we won’t go there) is food. Festival goers need feeding.
I recently spent a very pleasant day at the High Voltage rock festival in Victoria Park, London. Now, I haven’t been to a rock festival in over 30 years so I was pleasantly surprised to see how much the catering has changed. No longer is it just fatty burgers and dodgy hot dogs like in the old days. There is such a wide choice of appetising food that it is pretty hard to decide what you’re going to eat. The British really do demand so much more quality and variety in their food these days and that’s quite heartening. I took a tour of the food stalls in the main catering area and counted at least 25 selling savoury products plus numerous others selling all manner of sweet food, freshly ground coffee and ice creams.
If the fancy took me, I could have enjoyed a little culinary trip around the world and eaten Mexican, Greek, Caribbean, Italian or Spanish food but, curiously, no Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi. The lack of Bangladeshi food is even more surprising when you consider that High Voltage is held in the London Borough of Towers Hamlets which is also home to the famous Brick Lane and its scores of Bangladeshi restaurants. Still, no matter, there were plenty of other spicy offerings to sample.
Flame grilled meats were much in evidence and I could have sampled regular burgers, upmarket Aberdeen Angus burgers, lamb burgers and even ostrich burgers. There were hog roasts and a whole host of kebabs made not only from the expected chicken and lamb but also from Haloumi cheese and from salmon. If you were hunting for the ultimate sausage you would have found traditional English bangers, Cumberland sausages, Spanish chorizo, smoked Polish sausages and many others. But it wasn’t all meat. There were a couple of very appetising looking vegetarian kitchens as well.
Was there any typically English food on offer? Well, there was a “gourmet” fish and chips stall which some some friends of mine used and said was excellent. Ginsters, the Cornish piemen, had a large unit selling Cornish pasties and their so-called Cornish bara which they describe as “if the sandwich and the pasty had a love child”. I passed on that one. As I mentioned already there were plenty of English sausages on offer and also some nice looking toasted cheddar cheese and onion sandwiches (with or without Marmite if that’s to your fancy). Another very popular stall was selling half chickens cooked on a rotisserie and served with potatoes roasted in the chicken fat. I’m not sure if that’s specifically English as I last saw one of these rotisseries in a market in southern France but roast chicken and roast potatoes is enough like a Sunday roast to qualify as English for me.
Apart from Ginsters, most of the mobile kitchens seemed to be run by small specialist companies. I have a strong affiliation to the people running these event catering businesses. I ran one myself for some years and I know how much hard work it is and how your fortunes are so dependent on the weather and whether you’ve negotiated the right amount of money for your pitch. Fortunately, the weather at High Voltage was warm and sunny and all the caterers seemed to be doing decent business.
So what did I choose? Well, I had a bacon bap mid morning, a beef, bean and cheese burrito mid afternoon and a delicious Greek flatbread curled up and filled with grilled haloumi cheese, spicy Greek sausage, olives and salad for supper. And why was I there in the first place? To see a favourite guitarist of mine, Joe Bonamassa, play with the rock supergroup Black Country Communion (and mighty good they were too).