On the Isle of Wight there are weekly markets and several seasonal festivals. The farmers’ market in Newport and Ryde sells, as its name suggests, local food produce. Some festies, like the County Show, have food as a major theme. Others, including the IW Festival, have food as an incidental element. Over the years we’ve had several approaches for us to get involved in producing some sort of tourist-enticing food fiesta but, as yet, the ideas have remain glued to the drawing board. Having researched London’s street food scene, we wondered if there was anything similar closer to home.
Hearing about Southsea’s Food Festival via the megaphone that is social media we hopped onto a hovercraft and landed on Southsea’s pebbly beach. By the way, for those wallet-watchers among you, the fare was a mere fiver each way with our Hovertravel Blue Cards.
The Southsea Food Festival is a pretty big deal; road closures were in place and buses had been diverted around the festival’s hub outside Debenhams. Here was the food theatre, with rows of deckchairs arranged bandstand-style, in the seaside way. Radiating out from the food theatre were the four arms of the market with maybe up to a hundred traders. The stalls were pleasingly diverse and integrated; potted herbs for sale next to a stone-baked pizza oven; macarons rubbing metaphorical shoulders with biltong. We saw artisan gin, craft beer, fresh lemonade and bubble cocktails to quench our thirst but, unexpectedly, there didn’t seem to be any coffee stalls. Perhaps artisan roasted has finally had its day!
We did a circuit of the food festival before deciding on what to have for our lunches. Matt enjoyed a smoked and pulled beefy roll, with purple ‘slaw and gherkin from the Texan BBQ Co, £5. The brisket was from Australia and, because of its marbled fat, was moist and soft after its hours in the smokery. Cat was lured by the groovy cylindrical burrito wagon of Burrito Street. The curiously-shaped pod was decorated street art-style and the food looked similar to the Nomad menu, which she knows and loves. Her ‘tinga‘ free-range chicken had been marinated in Mexican aromatics and slow-cooked, served in a flat-bread wrap with rice and beans, fresh tomato salsa, plus cheese and sour cream. There were options to spice things up a little – or a lot – but Cat graciously declined the chilli. The wrap was moist and filling and a pretty satisfying lunch, £6.
By now Matt was ready for his secondi, which came in the form of another filled flatbread. We discovered arepas, hot-filled corn pockets from authentic local Venezuelan cuisine purveyors Arepa2Go. Matt had the ‘pabellón’: shredded beef, black beans with white cheese, fried plantain and sweetcorn sauce, £6. The corn pocket was really fresh, hot and satisfyingly stodgy; charred on the outside and soft on the inside. The plantain was a sweet nugget in an otherwise solid tasty meal. It seemed like proper street food which, on its own, could fuel you for the day. Matt was delighted enough to exclaim “why isn’t this more common?”
We then went on the hunt for pudding and were quite spoilt for choice, with chewy sweet macarons from Macaron Madam, Caymanas rum cake, gorgeous petal-decorated cakes from Tea Tray, and err… biltong! As we walked past the Simply African Food stall, Matt bought himself a pre-dessert snack of stokkie, a kind of chewy beef popsicle, £1. After that meaty diversion we arrived at the churros vendor. How they coped standing over a cauldron of hot fat in the searing heat of the day, extruding length after length of these simple choux-based doughnuts is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, we bought a bucket of ’em from Churros Olé. With the standard dipping chocolate and cinnamon sugar, we soon made short work of these hot pastries.
The Southsea Food Festival is an annual event organised by Love Southsea, and we’d thoroughly recommend it. It was a great mix of street food, produce and drinks. A lot of the stallholders were local – some hyperlocal, as their wagons were practically outside their regular premises. So, the big question is, would such an event work on the Isle of Wight? The issue would be attracting the crowds to an accessible location – and the weather! Watch this space!