Food Festival Review

With over 100 stalls covering every cuisine imaginable and the added bonus of the Wedgewood Rooms providing a stage with wonderful live music over the whole weekend, Southsea Food Festival had a true festival vibe this year!

I visited on Saturday and met up with L and a few other friends; it’s a great social occasion. Palmerston Road is closed and instead of cars, the streets are full of local pop-up stalls as well as some of the restaurants spilling out onto the pavement and offering pared-down menus or specials. Saturday saw the Love Southsea takeover as they curated part of the food market. Sunday featured the monthly Hampshire Farmer’s Market full of beautiful produce from the county. Both days also featured live kitchen demonstrations on the theatre stage hosted by Community Chef, promoting good food for all.

My first move when visiting any food festival is to reccy the area. I can’t make any purchases until I’ve seen what’s on offer. Sometimes I know a stand I particularly want to visit but, as a rule, space is a premium in my stomach at these events and I want to choose wisely – although everything looked delicious so it was more a case of what I fancied eating in the blazing sunshine. There were a lot of people but it still felt easy enough to move around and see everything.

Cold beer was in order so we went straight to Staggeringly Good; a Fratton based brewery with some of the best beer names and artwork I’ve ever seen; everything is dinosaur themed! On offer were “Little Arms, Big Ambitions”, “Reptile Dysfunction” and “Staggersaurus” as well as the speciality porter from Seafood Festival. LABA was my beer of choice, an excellent session IPA. The Reptile Dysfunction was flavoured slightly with mango and habanero. On the same stand were Need Street Food offering a select menu and Circolo were next door with their delicious pizzas. You could find everything including Heavenly Sausage – busy as always slinging some amazing hotdogs; various flavoured vodkas; Lemonade Shakers; artisan coffee, Afro Caribbean food; giant steaming pans of paella, Carla’s Cakes (try her brownies, they’re incredible) and I ended up buying a jar of pickled watermelon.

Pickled watermelon?

Yeah, you heard me right. An absolute revelation! The lady on the stand told me it was actually made from the rind of the melon, the bit you throw away. Sweet and very lightly sour with great crunch and winner of a Great Taste 2017 award – a respected accolade in the food industry. One taste and I was sold, thinking it would go perfectly with salad bowls and good cheese. You can buy online from The Borneo Pantry, show some love and get on the pickles appreciation train.

Thai food was on the menu next and I always look out for the delicious papaya salad – Som Tam. I was pleasantly surprised to see a little purple umbrella with a huge wooden pestle and mortar underneath, nestled next to some much bigger and busier stalls. Fresh Som Tam made to order? YES PLEASE!

A wonderful Thai lady and her other half were running the stand and as well as the salad they had mango sticky rice on the menu, along with one or two other authentic dishes. I don’t use the word authentic lightly but having seen the usual spring rolls and corn fritters, I like to find things not often found on English menus. We were asked if we wanted 1 or 2 chillies. I went for one seeing the little bird eye chillies in the bowl, L obviously went for 2. Each portion was made fresh with chunks of lime and garlic, chilli, shredded green papaya and carrot thrown into the pestle and mortar to be bashed up by hand. We had a lovely chat whilst she made the salad, finishing off with a sprinkling of peanuts and headed for shade to enjoy our snack. HOLY HELL I’m glad I only went for one chilli, I know Thai people don’t mess around with their spicing. Som Tam is a real balance of hot, sweet, sour, spicy and salty. When it’s done right, it’s perfect and super addictive as the heat builds very gently until the end, when I had to finish my beer off in the hope it would cool my mouth down. I’d eat it again in a heartbeat.

The Gin van was present and had plenty of interesting things on offer but this time I opted for the Gin and Elderflower tonic slushie. How could you not on a hot day? It had a decent alcoholic kick and was very refreshing, tasting of everything it should.

A wander further on and I wanted something sweet. That was a hard choice too! Crepes, waffles, delicious cakes, sweet drinks and little snacks such as baklava were everywhere. It was so hot though, only one thing would do. Ice cream. Not just any ice cream. Hand rolled ice cream, often found in South East Asia. Flavours of your choice and milk are poured onto an ice cold surface, chopped up and mixed together with sharp paddles. The mix is spread very thin and frozen so quickly the ice crystals are tiny, resulting in a super smooth ice cream. The ice cream is scraped up into little rolls and popped in a tub, more toppings are added and voila! I went for Kinder Bueno and Ferrero Rocher with extra chocolate sauce and I can confirm, ChopperWhoppers make some excellent ice cream. They had enough selection that there was something for everyone – fruit, chocolate, caramel – and topped it off with pocky sticks. Extra points for serving with a recyclable wooden fork! They’re available for hire and I’d recommend trying it if you’ve never had hand-rolled ice cream before.

Southsea Food Festival is always a highlight of the year and such a wonderful showcase of our local food and drink scene. Don’t forget to follow up on the stands, producers and restaurants you enjoyed. Show them some support all year round if you can! I was so impressed with everything this year and the huge variety on offer as well as Hampshire Farmer’s Market getting involved on the Sunday. But I do have one challenge for the organisers and stallholders for 2019 – let’s cut down on the single-use plastics. I saw a lot of straws, plastic cutlery and containers. I also didn’t see a great deal of recycling opportunities at the festival; plenty of bins (which is great) but no option to split my rubbish. Perhaps this can be something to take forward and attendees can be encouraged to bring their own reusable items? We all get caught up in the festival feeling and sometimes forget.

As always, a fantastic event and well done to everyone involved! I can’t wait for next year and fingers crossed the weather is just as glorious.

By Danny x