Friday, 3 October 2014

Canterbury Food and Drink Festival

A couple of weeks ago an email pinged into my inbox.  It was Charlotte from the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival, asking if I'd be willing to do a bit of photography and reporting on this year's festivities.  Well, I ummed and ahhed and made it sound like it was a really tough decision when in reality the Festival has been in my diary since the beginning of the summer! 
This year the Festival was huge - bigger and better than I have ever seen it.  Over 120 independent traders were plying their wares and the result was a barrage on the senses.  It took place over three days and the sheer scale and variety of fare on offer just blew previous offerings out of the water.
We rocked up with our entourage of Charne and Peter, Richard and Claire and John and Ellie and after a frantic dash around Canterbury's limited cash points (most of which were drained), we entered a pure feast for the senses in the Dane John Gardens.  This is a good tip if you are going to the Food Fayre in the future; a lot of stands will take debit or credit card payments but not all of them, and the signal can be very patchy.  If you bring cash with you, you won't find yourself needing to leave the Fayre half way through to try and find a cash point, which are thin on the ground in Canterbury!

The first thing that hits you is the smell - a thousand burgers and sausages, marshmallow and curry, paella and strawberries all wafting through the breeze.  Then you see the colour - a vibrant mix of hues from the stands and people alike.  Finally there is the noise - thousands of people laughing and talking, stall owners shouting instructions and over the top of it all, music drifting in from the band stand and buskers stage.
We stood and drank it all in for a few minutes before starting our explore.  The original plan, as always, was to complete a full lap of the Faye before deciding what to buy.  We made it 10 feet before John spotted the duck fat chips at Simply Duck.  I turned my back for 30 seconds and when I turned around everyone had their hands in a portion.  These chips were beautiful - crispy, fluffy and the most amazing flavour lightly dusted with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. 
I had a different tactic this year - instead of going all out on one main item, I decided to try small items from loads of different stands, to get the fullest flavour experience.   Next on the list was a chorizo and paprika scotch egg that Steve had picked up.  This was nice - not the best scotch egg I have ever had, but the chorizo added a nice counterpoint to the sausage meat.
We moved onto The Great British Cheese Co. where I sampled their Whiskey Mac whiskey and ginger cheese - RV may have returned for some of this later on as we both loved the warm sweetness that the ginger gave the cheese.  I wandered around the Fayre for a good 30 seconds looking for Steve so he could try the bit I was holding in my hand before giving in and eating it myself.  I did try - 30 seconds was a good effort I thought!
There were plenty of places to grab and dunk bread and crackers in dips and chutneys and chilli sauces.  This spicy mango dressing from The Cherry Tree was sweet and delicious, while, after working my way through all the offerings on the 'hot' end of Hot Face Sauces and having a fab chat with the guys on the stand about each of their offerings, I walked away with a bottle of the Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce (the Caribbean in a bottle) for the bargain price of £3.50.  It was a toss up between this, the Killer Ketchup (with naga chillis-  I already have naga based sauces in my cupboard) and the Scorpion Scorcher (with Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chilli's). 
By now I was getting thirsty, so stopped off for a half pint of the Canterbury Pale Ale from the Canterbury Brewers.  Charne tried some of mine and pulled a horrible face, so went in search of something a little more ladylike from the Bland's stand in the form of the sparkling strawberry cider, John and Ellie were on the Biddenden's sparking wine whilst Steve had managed to track down a horrific concoction of raspberry and cream soda which had me pulling the disgusted face.  Just goes to show there really is something for everyone at the Food and Drink fayre!
The queue for The Devil's Pantry was huge and the smells coming off it were divine - but I was after something a little different that I had spotted earlier.
I headed back towards the entrance to Raastawala, an Indian street food stand that was doing Khati sliders.  These looked (and smelt) amazing, so despite the size of the queue, I dutifully joined and awaited my turn.  Oh my it was worth the wait.  I was given a soft, fluffy side of Naan bread that had been fried off in egg, topped with spiced lamb meat and crowned with red onion, coriander, cucumber, mint yogurt, lime juice and tamarind.  I'm drooling just thinking about it, it was that good!
Ellie and Charne had both made a beeline for Pork and Co's Porky Mac (after staring open mouthed at the vats of mac and cheese at the Pork and Co stand!).  The 14 hour slow cooked pulled pork pork was moist and smokey and the mac and cheese was exactly how you want a good mac and cheese to be - rich, viscid and the epitome of comfort food.
Hunger sated for the moment, we set off in search of goodies to take home with us.  First stop was Nip from the Hip.  Most of us had drained the last remnants of our bottles from the previous year and we needed to restock.  We sampled the Gooseberry Gin and the Rhubarb Vodka and left laden with our supplies for the winter months.
We strolled around the rest of the Fayre, listening to music from the bandstand, bopping along to fusion reggae, chatting to friends we bumped into and munching on as many free samples as we could lay our grubby little mitts on.  I tried out the pina colada and the lemon meringue marshmallows from Marshmallow Heaven, whilst Steve stocked up on fresh coffee from Red Bean Machine, coming home with four huge packets filled with vanilla, costa rican, spanish and caramel fudge flavoured coffee.
Claire and I also discovered a new local Gin company, Anno Distillers.  Based in Marden, this young company are the first Gin distillery to be based in Kent since the Maidstone distillery was active in the late 1700's.  The gin is unique due to the blend of Kentish hops, Kentish lavender, Kentish samphire, Kentish elderflower, get the idea.  The result is a smooth, floral, sophisticated and highly unique tasting gin that is going straight onto my Christmas list!
For pudding we searched out the last of the summer strawberries from Simply Strawberries in the form of tarts, strawberries and cream pots and strawberries and chocolate pots.  I'm always a bit wary of strawberries at this time of year, but these were sweet, plump, juicy and just perfect.  I also love the old English vibe from their stand, just point me at the Pimms and tennis!
Steve meanwhile was waiting for the churros lady to start serving her plates of churros with liquid chocolate dip.
The rest of the Fayre was spent in a stupor of sights and smells as we wandered the corridors.  I bumped into Jess from Briar Rose Beauty who was taking her family to the Kids Zone for a bit of a play.  Poor thing has been laid up seriously ill recently so it was great to see her on her feet and out and about.
Post food fayre, Ellie, John and I headed back up the street to the Marlowe Theatre, where we had tickets for Matthew Bourne's Lord of The Flies, leaving the others to finish their shopping, ready for the house warming drinks RV and Claire were hosting that evening at their new pad.
One of the things that is so amazing about the Fayre is the fact that so many of the stands are small, family run businesses that rely upon events such as the Food and Drink fayre to promote and reach out to the local communities.  The produce is local, the food is lovingly made with real passion and often recipes have been handed down through generations.  The food and drink here is pure Kent, and that makes the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival pretty special in my book.
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  1. Hey Miscriant,

    Thanks for such an amazing write up of Raastatwala. We are so glad you enjoyed the food! Will keep you posted of our next event! Keep following us on Twitter and Facebook :-)

    1. No amazing write up without amazing food! You are welcome - looking forward to the next event!