Monday, July 14, 2014
Oh Glasto... I hardly know where to start with you. I thought five days would be so long, and instead it was so short. I fretted that I wouldn't get a chance to wear my wellies - then put them on Thursday morning and wore them straight through until Monday. I worried that there wasn't enough music we would like. I thought we might get bored. Lord have mercy, I had NO IDEA. Two weeks later, having mostly recovered from the "Glasto Blues" I'm ready to talk about it. Seeing as this IS a food blog, I think it only fitting that I start with the food.
I read a few blog posts and articles about Glastonbury before we went. Some of them offered great advice and some not so much - but I didn't see a lot of specific information about the food. There was a blog post by a girl who seemed too afraid she might gain weight to actually eat the food, so she just talked about what she saw and wished she had eaten. I got a few good ideas from her, including the burrito pictured above. Beyond that, the message seemed to be "The food is good! Don't bring your own food!" So I at least got that much. Having experienced it now, I can say it is absolutely true that you do not need to bring your own food. Most people camp for Glastonbury, and have to carry or wheel their gear quite a distance from the car. The last thing you want to do is burden yourself with more than you need. We brought some minimal snacks, a bottle of Cuban rum and a few ginger ales/mixers we thought we could use at our campsite, and we didn't even need that. I brought some home and the rest we gave away or left behind.
Food at Glastonbury is mostly provided by outside catering vendors who tour around the Festival circuit in the summer, setting up their own stalls. There are also a few venues run by the crews various areas like the Beat Hotel, the Park Bar, Avalon Cafe, and the Greenpeace stalls. A few vendors have only one outlet, some have a few scattered about, and others are all over the place. Scarcity is not necessarily the best sign of quality, but there seemed to be a slight correlation.
One of the first places I experienced was the Jiggery Pokery Parlour in the "Shangri La" area, themed Heaven and Hell. This was clearly meant to be a piece of heaven - offering ice cream, fresh waffles, espresso and cocktails. Despite the beautiful Gaggia machine, the espresso was watery and thin, but the waffles looked great and the ice cream cone I had was lovely.
Since the festival is so huge, location is likely to play a big part in your meal selection, whether you like it or not. If you're at the Pyramid stage waiting for a band and you need some lunch, you're not going to hike to the mezze stand in the Park for it, no matter how much you like their hummous (as the Brits spell it). One of the ubiquitous options I liked the best was the "Moorish" stall, which makes a delicious, hearty phyllo crusted goat cheese and lamb-sausage stuffed pie called a bourek. I neglected to take a picture of mine, but you can see an example here. This was actually a lucky discovery for me because I just asked my friend Ben to suprise me while we were waiting in front of the West Holts stage, and this is what he came back with. It's probably not something I would have chosen on my own but it's definitely not to be missed.
Another good option is the jerk chicken vendor - I was drawn here based on the smell and it did not disappoint. The chicken was meltingly tender and the sauce sweet and sticky. This is a great bite with a cocktail - just what I needed at the time. The Hog Roast stands are also popular - it's hard to go wrong with roast pork sliced and mixed with cracklin' skin and applesauce on a roll - but I had already had Hog Roast a couple of times on the trip so I passed it up. The Grand Bouffe was another stall we saw quite a lot of. James liked it, but I was less enthused about the slightly gamey sausage, hearty serving of potatoes and salad.
Speaking of that Mezze in the park... It was a lovely stand, and I was served a good sized plate of very filling food, but the falafel were ice cold and the rest was a bit bland. I feel like there must have been better places for this type of food in the festival, but I didn't have a chance to try them.
Dotted about the festival you'll also find little yellow little caravans offering cheese toasties (grilled cheese sandwiches) I highly recommend the combo of an aged Somerset cheddar and onion toastie with a tall cold cider.
The "Tapas Stall" is very popular and picturesque, with the lovely flamenco dancer on the roof. They offer a "tapas platter" with various small snacks including meatballs, pasta, marinated peppers, olives and other bites for around 10 pounds. I liked the sound of it so much I just had to try it, but I wasn't impressed in the end. The churros were a nice idea, but the dough was a bit soggy and the chocolate was bitter and lumpy. Maybe it was an off day, as this place is very popular.
On the Saturday, I stumbled into the Avalon Cafe - a large tented music venue in the Field of Avalon with a popular vegetarian cafeteria. They monitor the access so you can't walk in and sit down without going through the line and ordering something. I was in search of a little hangover relief, and found it in the form of a pie and chips, Greek salad and peppermint tea. They had a selection of nicely displayed desserts, sandwiches and salads as well as the hot food - macaroni & cheese, pies, curry and veg. They also serve drip coffee, which is as rare as hens teeth in these parts.
Just down the way from Avalon near the Greenpeace area I found Pizza Tabun - a festival circuit regular offering woodfired pizzas, Monmouth coffee and cakes. It was the Monmouth coffee that caught my eye - I had heard about it in London but we never made it there since they only have three outlets in town. I ordered an iced cold brew and a brownie - both were terrific and the pizzas looked good too. If we are lucky enough to go back I'll be making a beeline for this place straightaway.
Around the corner in the Greenpeace area I found a glittering treasure trove of stalls selling cakes, fresh fruits and vegetables, meals and handmade drinks. Everything at these stalls looked fresh and plentiful and as far as I could tell they were one-offs - not to be found elsewhere.
"Greens of Glastonbury" sold Ploughman's lunches - cheese, onion, apple, butter and pickles? Um, yes please. Next door to that was a stall selling homemade cordials and drinks that sounded fantastic, and then there were the desserts (called "cakes" here). If I wasn't already holding a brownie in my hand, you can bet I would have bought a piece of this Naughty Chocolate Tiffin. I did not make that up, it is exactly what the sign said.
The little farmers market stall was heaped with fresh fruits and vegetables - a good resource when the fried and/or baked food at the stalls starts to get you down. Another stall offered bulk trail mix, nuts and snacks from big glass jars.
As I mentioned earlier, timing and proximity are big factors, and since our campsite provided us with breakfast daily and dinner on the first two nights, I probably only ate four or five meals in the festival altogether. Needless to say, I saw a lot of places that I didn't get a chance to try. One notable spot in this category was the Sushi Bar in the park. I only walked by once when they were open, and snapped these pictures.
There was a little anteroom for boots, and sheepskins on the floor for sitting in the yurt dining room. The menu was small - a sushi platter and a few Japanese specialties, but I would have loved to try it, if only for a break from wearing wellies for a while.
Another place I heard about but never managed to try was the lobster stand. There was only one of these and I heard on good authority from a crew member that it was good, but they had run out of the lobster by the time I got there and I never made it back. I met said crew member while sharing a stand-up table outside the "Carlitos Burritos" stall, which I believe is another one-off, I only saw one, close to the Pyramid Stage. Being from California I just couldn't resist giving it a try - not to mention, what better recovery food is there than a burrito? We had the pork pibil which is their most popular option - pictured (way) above. It was more Mission style than So Cal - with rice, beans and lettuce inside along with the salsa and guacamole - but perfectly respectable. They have a restaurant in the Brighton area and seem like really nice people too.
Something else I wanted to do but didn't get around to was a Cream Tea. There were a few places offering it around, but this spot in the Green Fields looked the most inviting. We also didn't make it to the Beat Hotel for their pancakes in the morning, and we didn't spend enough time in Silver Hayes to make out much about the options over there.
Now a few words about drinking at Glastonbury... Glastonbury is unlike any festival you will see in the U.S. because you can bring in your own alcohol in unlimited quantities, as long as it's not in glass bottles. They don't allow glass in the festival site at all, primarily because it is dangerous to the cows which graze the land during the rest of the year. They were randomly inspecting bags of people entering the festival to camp and confiscating drugs and glass bottles if they found them.
People were swigging from plastic liter bottles and what not - and you can bring your own booze and buy mixers from the zillions of little vans parked around selling sodas and bottled water, but there are also some great options in the festival for cocktails. My favorite bar was the Cockatoo, in the Theatre & Circus field - there's a cage on top of the van and quite often there would be a girl on a swing in the cage. I stuck with the Cockatoo - their signature blend of rum, cherry bitters, port and "other secret ingredients" garnished with a lime wedge and fresh cherry. I will say that they were generally at their best earlier in the day - toward the evening the staff got tired and they started to run out of things. The drink I received at 1 PM was markedly better than the one I received at 10 PM.
Along the same line, we stopped in at the bar at Shangri Hell early in the day for a round, and I asked for a "Dark and Stormy." Brits are fans of strong ginger beer, and it was on their posted menu so I figured what the heck. When he handed it to me, James informed me that the bartender had used Worcestershire sauce in it. I tasted it and it was delicious. Any more and it would have been too much, but it gave it just the right amount of savory tang. I ordered another one when they were slammed late at night and it was a different story - watery ginger beer & rum in a paper cup - so if you're a cocktail aficionado, maybe start early in the day.
There are bars all over the festival and in nearly every small music venue - most of which serve a short list of cocktails, cider and beer. Thatchers Cider and Carlsberg beer are available everywhere, but a few bars serve a wider selection including "real ales" - notably the Cockmill Bar near the Acoustic Tent and the Avalon Inn (above). There was also a one-off mojito bar right by Arcadia that served a really good, tall, strong mojito. It was cold and refreshing with lots of ice (which is not easy to come by) and I would definitely seek it out again.
One post down, at least two and possibly three more to go - we did a week in London in addition to the Festival, and I have to tell you about a few things there too! At this rate I'm never going to get caught up from last year, but I guess that's ok! :)