This is, for us, becoming the year of street food. Yeah, yeah, we’ve been banging on about it for a while now and it’s hardly a new concept, as your nan will undoubtedly tell you. The English are often reduced to the ‘nation of greengrocers’ cliché, and it’s certainly true that costers mongered their wares on handcarts a good century or so before some hipster peddled his artisan comestibles from a re-purposed doll’s pram or whatever. But now, street food is assuredly among us. We’ve explored London, Brighton and Southsea, searching for the newest trends in this ephemeral product, yet it turns out this summer we found a plethora of food to go, right on our doorstep.
The RIWAS County Show is year-on-year showcasing the best of its Wight Marque brand. However, the Garlic Farm staked (geddit!) an early doors claim to food fetishisation and the Garlic Festival has been a fixture of the Island’s festival calendar since 1983. We popped along to see if it was about more than novelty garlic products like bulb-enhanced beer and ice cream.
The show is run like a well-oiled machine. The road closures were no trouble to navigate and there was ample free parking. There is a charge to enter but it includes oodles of free entertainment like live music, the food theatre and activities for young children. Obviously we were there for the food. As luck would have it, we bumped into Colin Boswell, the Isle of Wight’s Mr Garlic, who gave us the head’s up for the festival’s hot new hit, the garlic slammer. A clove of raw garlic, wrapped in a wafer-thin slice of prosciutto ham and, once chewed, chased down with a hit of IW Distillery Rock Sea vodka. A powerful combo, as we discovered.
Having thoroughly contaminated ourselves with pungent fresh cloves we continued the theme with the ‘Hard On’ sandwich created by chef Charlie Bartlett (remember him, from the short-lived but wonderful Waxworks?). What was quite a delicate combo of salmon and mild cheese was given a poky twist with rocket and, of course, garlic. We were also encouraged to douse our butty with lemon juice and garlic salt. Garlic, you say? Oh, go on then!
We took a moment to visit the food theatre. On the Saturday Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain was the star of the show. We were at the festival’s second day and we watched the Garlic Farm’s Phill Hopkins create a black garlic and chocolate Chelsea bun. As well as the theatre there were purveyors of fudge and knitted goods and even fairground rides, plus plenty of food. Many local producers were represented including the IW’s Tomato Stall, with a gorgeous display of shiny fruit – grown just a stone’s throw from the festival site. Island Bakery got into the spirit with its garlic-flavoured pastries, plus its wonderful breads. Matt bought a malted loaf which we had for our tea that night.
People, including us, were mad for the garlic – they must’ve seen the banner with the bold claim “This stuff saves lives”! The Garlic Festival will be back next August.