I have a theory that hippies make the best cooks. Ecology, natural fibres, concern with pollution, recycling, growing your own, vegetarianism and veganism, the beans, the yoghurt, the wholemeal flour, the nuts and seeds, the vegetables, all those things that used to be laughable, well, hippies did them first.
Pretty much everything we think and do today, comes from the ‘hippy’ alternative revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Hippy ideals and hippy foods, are now mainstream.
Festivals are another thing invented by hippies – Woodstock and Glastonbury. For a few years Glasto (during my youth anyway) was thought of as ‘naff’. As a punk, I used to sneer.
I went to my first Glastonbury in 1989. I sneaked in for free. It blew my mind: it was like Mad Max on acid. Strange vehicles bucking along the dusty roads, robots, freaks, druggies, wild children… I loved it. Food was fairly basic. In Babylon (which is what people called the main area) you could get the usual fairground food of burgers and chips, candy floss, hotdogs – American and British for the most part. In the Green Fields, you got the hippy fare, chai tents and Indian food. I found a veggie burger truck that was selling them for a quid. I lived off that every day.
Today festival food costs on average between £7 and £10 a plate. It spans world cuisine, you can eat Chinese, Indian, Venezuelan, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, British (tea and crumpets), Mexican, American food including Southern (fine dining BBQ,) New Orleans and New York, Scandinavian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Portuguese, Caribbean, Tibetan, Indonesian, Swiss, Argentine. In fact the only major cuisine that isn’t really represented is French.
People have a horror of toilets at festivals, and it’s true that the combination of high-fibre food, fresh air and walking (you walk miles at festivals) meant that the shit-pits required an iron stomach.
Glastonbury isn’t on this year. And Glasto has changed – too much for my liking. It’s too ‘Babylon’, too commercial. The last time I went in 2010, I had to pay to get in (after years of bunking in), someone nicked my wheelbarrow, and people in hi-viz waistcoats corralled anyone who wanted to party after-hours along a narrow pathway. This isn’t my idea of a festival.
Latitude festival site is divided into several areas: camping, music, comedy, theatre, literature/talks arenas, the river, the forest and the food offering. There is so much to do.
The forest is magical: there are fairy lights drawing you on, peeking playfully through the trees. At night you happen upon secret gigs in undiscovered woodland glades. During the day, the trees provide dappled shade, scents of pine, birch and oak. Art works and paintings stand eerily in the hushed wood.
The heatwave, 30ºc during the day, meant that the forest was a potential tinderbox; the casual flicking of a cigarette could have had devastating consequences. Fire wardens stood around with hose pipes, perpetually staying alert for any sparks.
The heat and the river also meant that the mosquitos, or were they giant gnats? were a problem for people like me, especially in the evening. The bite was painful but didn’t last long.
Latitude festival is bisected by a river. During the day, you can take a trip on a punt guided by straw-hatted, stripey T-shirted fellows. There is a swimming area in the river which unfortunately I didn’t discover until too late. Pink-dyed sheep graze bankside, it’s both beautiful and surreal.
At night, tulip shaped street lights mark the path. From the main bridge you can view a stunning spectral (like a Harry Potter patronus charm) lightshow.
The audience consists of either parents with young children, teenagers in gangs (but not scary- nice middle class ones) or older adults. As a middle aged woman, I felt very comfortable with the age mix.
It wasn’t a druggy or getting shit-faced drunk type festival either.
By the way, everyone, and I mean everyone, in the festival, was nice. From security, to shower cleaners, to ordinary punters and people camped either side of you – I didn’t meet one arsehole. This is so rare.
I almost didn’t have time to see any music. I saw Solange, Beyoncés sister, whose album I really liked. Her show was arty, with modern dance moves, and beautifully lit, but somehow didn’t connect with the audience.
I was impressed by James– who are so good live. The Killers were slick light pop music. Probably the most interesting musical offerings were EDM(Electronic Dance Music) – I saw a spooky gig by Clark in the forest with dancers wearing gauzy cloaks, sort of sci-fi horror.
Food really is the new rocknroll, there were more innovative things going on at food stalls than on stage. The dominance and central location of the food stalls only emphasised this.
Food at festivals has come along leaps and bounds. At Latitude, the selection of food, circling the globe in terms of variety, was stunning. The quality equally so. Street Feast, who organise night markets in London (I suppose everyone has forgotten that I set up the very first one) brought along a huge selection of food trucks.
Theatre of Food:
It was the first year of The Theatre of Food, a tent with discussions and demonstrations from food writers and chefs.
- Felicity Cloake did a demonstration of how one pot of cream can make both cultured butter and buttermilk for a soda loaf.
- Joanna Blythman talked about processed foods, she said:
‘One factory will make all the lasagnas for all the supermarkets: 9am till 11- Sainsburys: 11 to 1pm- Morrisons, 1 till 3pm- Budgens and so on.’
- Sally Butcher showed how to make Persian food, a soup called Ash-e-reshteh.
The Hot House Restaurant:
This is a brilliant concept by Ros Jellett and husband Hugo: a full service restaurant with no kitchen. The food comes from the surrounding food trucks and is served at a table and chairs, with cutlery, Maldon’s salt and great decor.
Food Trucks at Latitude
The cooking cooks prepare 4000 portions of fresh pasta for Latitude- no joke. The results are delicious. It’s a bit like Padella but on the road, in a field. Pasta is cooked in baskets, then transferred to a deep frying pan with a sauce and tossed over fire… £7.50 to £9 for a generous bowl. Impressive.
Generous, fresh and tasty Thai green curry with smoked tofu by ‘Eat Thai’. Thai food is one of my favourite and the perfect thing to eat in 30ºC heat.
Rainbo gyoza had well presented, crisp and tasty gyoza.
Bangwok, run by chef Dong (pictured above), consistently had the longest queues and it serves what it says on the tin – Pad Thai. I had the vegetarian one: fried rice noodles with peanuts, chilli and sauce.
Petare, run by Venezuelans, are determined to make arepas into the new tacos and I think they will succeed. Fresh and filling – bulging fried and split buns stuffed with avocado chunks, plantains and tomatoes. Meat versions are also available. Once people tasted one, they came back for more.
Yum Bun quite possibly do the best food- beautifully presented steamed buns with exquisite flavours. Everyone was raving about their food.
Just to change things up, I had a middle Eastern breakfast from Urban Falafel one day, a well filled wrap with felafel and salad were just what I wanted after a heavy night.
Savoury or sweet, I ordered the cinnamon, chilli and chocolate vegan waffles – really good.
A vegan food truck near to the Hot House restaurant. I had a vegan doner kebab which was excellent, and the bean balls in chocolate sauce above.
This stall presented a variety of Argentine wines to Latitude customers. When they found out that it was serving the best wine of the festival, they beat a path to the door.
The Danish Quarter
The Danish quarter is a section of the festival where you can pretend you are in Copenhagen. There is a large wooden structure, long beer tables, a sourdough baker in the morning and a beer bar.
Pink Moon Camping absolutely saved my arse when it came to showers, sleep and toilets. Although my tent mate Jim was not happy with my snoring. It was my first ‘glamping’ experience and I have to admit, it is rather nice not having to fill your car or backpack with everything you will need.
Conclusion: Latitude is a aesthetically beautiful, creative, well organised festival with tons to do. I’ll be back. There’s so much food I haven’t tried, so many talks to attend, so many gigs.