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How street food conquered music festivals

Food is a headline act at festivals these days. We ask the experts why punters are going mad for street food

By Tristan Parker
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Not so long ago, if you asked for street food at a music festival you’d be paying £7 for a partially defrosted burger or something that your chosen stall (if we’re talking pre-2005, read: a burger van) scraped off the nearest muddy walkway. As a bonus, you'd be served this culinary feat by a gurning kid in charge of a van who hadn’t slept for three days straight.

Not so these days. Delicious, creative grub is now a crucial part of countless festivals, largely thanks to the movement spearheaded by the London street food scene over the last decade. Fancy a soft shell crab burger with bacon jam while watching The Jesus And Mary Chain? Sure thing. You want calorific, cheese curd and gravy-based Canadian fast food poutine to cure your festival hangover? You got it! We spoke to six experts to find out why street food is killing it in festival land.

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Street Feast/Dominic Cools-Lartigue

Dominic Cools-Lartigue, Street Feast

Street Feast host buzzy food markets around London featuring a wide range of street food vendors. They’re hosting an area at Field Day, featuring Smokestak, Luardos, Busan BBQ and many more.

‘If you’re used to living in London and having a foodie culture around you, experiencing that at a festival makes the whole day out that bit richer. The old-style festival-goer was just looking to fill a hole and soak up some beer in order to keep powering on. The advent of good quality street food isn’t just shaking things up on the streets of London, it’s quite rightly making an impact on our festivals, too.’

Disco Picnic / Jay Warden

Jay Warden, Disco Picnic

Disco Picnic puts street food vendors, a fashion market, art workshops and DJs into one giant tent of food and fun. You can find it at Secret Garden Party, featuring vendors such as White Men Can’t Jerk, Bill Or Beak and Bun Kabab.

‘People have come to expect more now that street food has entered the scene. Festival demographics have changed – crowds are a little older and more seasoned, and they expect to have a better food offering. Most festival organisers are switched-on enough to see that people want more from festivals, and to give them access to great street food.’

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Food at Festival No 6 / Bradley Thompson

Bradley Thompson, Festival Number 6

Bradley is a director of the excellent Festival Number 6 and helped to source some of the street food vendors, including APE, Cooking Cooks and Anna Mae’s.

‘What’s happening with food at festivals is scintillating. It’s not shit in a bun anymore. There’s a food revolution and we’re giving people really sensational new things to eat. A lot of people treat the festival experience as their holiday, so they want the same things that they would enjoy on a trip away. Festivals are more sophisticated now, they’re about sensual experience, and it’s only natural that street food will be popular within that. For me, it’s an honour to have street food at a festival.’

Rolo Wala / Mark Wright

Mark Wright, Rola Wala

Rola Wala serves Indian street food with a twist, such as Kashmiri chicken, Keralan dal and Goan pulled pork. Catch it at Camp Bestival.

‘Street food is fun, innovative and different. People want experiences in the festival environment which are pretty different to the usual weekday lunchtime market. Food nowadays can be needlessly serious and pretentious, which really pisses me off – street food, on the other hand, throws that out of the window in favour of having a bit of fun with a few flavours knocking about.’
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Smokey Tails / Jona Ahearne

Jona Ahearne, Smokey Tails

Smokey Tails specialise in smoked meat and cocktails and organise pop-ups around the globe. It's co-hosting a Detroit-style drive-through at Glastonbury with the Beat Hotel, serving varieties of smoked pork and Detroit Coney dogs.

People want everything under one roof – it’s like one of our taglines says: eat, drink and dance in the same place. As festivals attract a broader market they need to tap into lots of different niches. It also links in to the shift away from restaurant culture – you get used to grabbing food quickly rather than sitting down to three courses. Plus you can eat about five times a day at festivals now! You’re not tied down to eating one big, stodgy meal in a canteen.’

Nick Stuart / Spud of the Earth

Nick Stuart, Spud of the Earth

As Spud of the Earth, Nick Stuart and Tom Armston-Clarke work give traditional jacket potatoes a cosmopolitan makeover with toppings like smoked mackerel pâté. You can find them at festivals including Boomtown Fair and Bestival.

‘The current street food scene is thriving as a result of the boom in British food culture over the past ten years – thanks, Jamie! This is reflected in both festival food and street food, because the people producing it are doing it out of love and passion, and taking pride in what they serve. Yes, it's about trying to make some money, but it's also about putting a smile on someone’s face with something that you’ve created.’

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You don’t need a tent or even a pair of wellies to get the full festival experience if you live in London. You’ve got some of the world’s biggest acts and a whole world of fun a tube ride away.

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