The beats are rocking; your best mates are dancing close to you dressed in equally outrageous outfits. The mutual consensus is that you are all ravenous. Festival food – what can you expect? Long gone are the days of lurid pink viennas…This article appeared in SAA Mango Juice magazine, October 2014.
It’s three pm, I’m hungry.
The arms of a valley of dancers lift and fall in euphoria as a hypnotic guitar riff swells over the koppie. Red dust rises in puffs and floats back down to coat sneakers that are worn to the quick.
South African music festivals cover the span of the country throughout the year, with a taste for everyone. The pressing question at three pm on the mind of the famished, out-partied reveler is: “What’s to eat?”
While the object of the festival is the music (or art or literature, depending which festival you attend), as well as the camaraderie and fun, the food has evolved past pink vienna hot dogs to far more substantial, and gourmet options, in some cases.
“People’s knowledge and appetites of other cuisines have expanded as the world has become more connected. That’s made people more aware about what they eat,” says U.K journalist, festivalgoer and blogger Abi King of Inside The Travel Lab.
At Oppikoppi Bushveld festival, once described by Peter Crafford lead singer of the band 3rd World Spectator, as “not a music festival”, but rather, “a pilgrimage”, the food offering has grown over the years.
Marilize Minnaar who oversees the vendors at Oppikoppi says that the food court has expanded progressively from just a few food stalls initially. The food vendors, she says, have grown with the festival. “Many have been with us for years and each year they take up the challenge and return with a tastier menu.”
This year’s food picks varied from shawarmas at stalwart Al’s Shawarma, to chops and pap from Braai Boy and Mexican food from food truck Baha Taco.
“We’re always open to new vendor and food suggestions,” says Marilize.
The festival organisers receive hundreds of vendor applications a year and are constantly looking for fresh ideas and the latest food trends, while retaining the evergreen favourites. The demand for vegan and vegetarain food is on the rise, as are low-carb options.
Hygiene is the one of the largest concerns in a space where festivalgoers will remain in close contact over a weekend or even a week. In addition to submitting the appropriate certificates, Marilize adds that a health inspector performs a thorough check at the start of the event.
“We never take any chances when it comes to health and safety,” she says.
The increase in attendance is taxing, and providing enough food for the attendees within the same space restraints keeps the organisers of popular festivals like Oppikoppi, on their toes.
Not everyone agrees that the South African music festivals are providing top notch food, though.
Festival vetran Sean Stack, owner of popular entertainment website, My City By Night, says he has noticed food options, quality and portion sizes decrease over the years. He’s endured the gamut of bad burgers, uncooked food and meals running out while waiting in line.
“Organisers have to work out how to serve food quicker and cater enough. Monitoring ticket sales should help them work out how much to provide,” he says.
Sean does credit Origin, an electronic music festival for proving simple, but good food at fair prices.
The Mean Machines
Food trucks have come into their own in South Africa. Our trucks are the direct descendants of the food trucks in the U.S, that evloved out of a need to save on overheads during the 2007 recession, and offer creative, affordable food. These modern machines, often kitted out with fully fitted kicthens, will spend the year serving customers at designated parking lots, on roadsides or roving at private functions and big-name festivals.
The newer trucks operate on the premise of providing good food (think: smoked pulled pork sandwiches, healthy falafel salads or even risotto and pasta dishes) quickly and cheaply. Luca Castiglone, former restaurant owner and head of the informal Food Truck Association, runs the very popular Limoncello truck in Cape Town. When the truck appears at an event or show, customers can expect anything from seared tuna burgers to calzone and mussels, usually prepared in a Southern Italian fashion.
Stellenbosh restaurant Overture’s lauded chef, Bertus Basson owns the truck Die Wors Rol, a regular at markets and smaller shows. It serves top quality hot dogs and hot dog buns smothered in standout homemade relishes.
It’s certainly a drawcard when a popular restaurant like Cape Town’s El Burro ventures into the food truck business, serving well-loved favourites in ready-to-go portions. The El Burro red truck with a distinctive retro design that serves tacos with fresh salsas, ceviche, chilli rellenos and changing specials, is poised to enter the festival sphere in the new year and falls onto our ‘one to watch’ list.
Our Food Truck Picks
1. El Burro’s Taco Truck, Cape Town
2. Die Wors Rol, Cape Town
3. Limoncello, Cape Town
4. Long Tom, Joburg
5. Balkan Burger Bus, Joburg
6. Afro’s Braai’d Chick’n, Durban
Bring your Own
For some festivals, like Afrika Burn, a weeklong music festival that pops up in the barren Karoo, based on Burning Man held in the Nevada Black Rock Desert in the U.S, you need to arrange every morsel you intend to eat, and drop you wish to drink. On top of bringing all the items you need for your group, including water, cleaning-up materials and stoves to cook on, you are required to remove and take back every single piece of trash you create. The idea is to leave the space in a better condition than you found it and festivalgoers adopt the rules seriously.
If you are attending a festival where you need to do all the catering, a huge amount of planning is required. It’s best to divide the duties in advance so you don’t waste any party time on arguing over the dirty dishes, or worse: hungry and miserable in a secluded bush or desert.
An excellent resource if you’re attending this type of festival is the Burning Man website (www.burningman.com) with advises on how to set up a communal kitchen. It covers everything from sharing the duties to detailed packing lists, what foods to bring that are non-perishable and how to set up the pantry, cooking and washing areas when you construct your camp site.
For more on Afrika Burn, read Sarah Duff’s blog.
Best food at a festival:
Abi King (@insidetravellab): “The standout for me this year was the Bardentreffen Festival in Nuremberg. They had over 80 bands playing from all over the world and they matched that international theme with food. Stalls hosted flavours from West Africa, the Caribbean, as well as the protected Nuremberg sausages made in the city.”
Worst food at a festival:
Peter Parkorr, (@PeterParkorr): videographer and blogger at Travel Unmasked “My most disappointing food experience was when I felt a little adventurous in Japan and ordered horse meat sashimi. Instead of being fresh, it was clearly from the freezer, and was cold and tasteless with broad unattractive yellow lines of fat running through it. No thank you.”