A Realistic Perspective on Food Festivals

I’m an opinionated person, specially when it concerns food, and this might be a post that you will either understand and relate, or disagree and hate. Tough cookies.

So this past April I went to my first food festival in Estoril, after my first day of tasting some tasty (and not so tasty) things, plus snapping a few shots, I posted my first opinion (gave up on part two for now). The first comment I received was from some angry spanish dude saying that I was paid to write and diss some stands, besides approving and congratulating others. Whatever you wish to believe, that’s fine by me (thank you to whoever thought I am a paid journalist though, you are very kind).

So, back to the point. Food Festivals, Street Food Events, Food Trucks and Social Media Obsessions – the key words I am about to use a lot.

If you are a keen foodie, an epicurean and gluttony lover, you have gone to many festivals (if not all of them), specially after the boom Portugal felt this year.

Positive points:

  • New businesses have a chance to get known and gain new customers, profit and some inspiration to keep growing;
  • New food ideas, combinations and experiences for locals to have some fun;
  • Social media engagement (Zomato, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the recent Periscope);
  • Thousands of instagram photos about what you ate here or there (more followers – whether you are a professional epicurean or the owner of the food truck business);
  • Commensality takes on an outdoor version of appreciation;
  • Wide range of food typology for every taste;
  • Local food and gastronomical heritage;
  • Cute trucks with interesting concepts;
  • Touristic engagement by offering gastronomical experiences.

Negative points:

  • Street food becomes too competitive;
  • Street food is no longer a “street” experience – it turns into a shopping reality;
  • Too much too choose from, long queues, lack of places to sit and enjoy the finger food;
  • Cupon run event with no refunds (not every event uses this method);
  • Too pricey, once you add up everything you have eaten;
  • After going to a few festivals, all seem the same;
  • Lack of stock and disappointed clients who really went to try a certain dish;
  • Lack of higiene/quality control factors that can lead to food poisoning (this happened in Portimão this year);
  • Fast food turns into a praise for slowness wannabe (this is just wrong);
  • Porta-potties (lack of higiene, again – can you imagine going to the toilette and not washing your hands before eating?).

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Some vegetarian dish I was unhappy to buy – spent 20 minutes in line to have a curry dish they no longer served and handed me this instead (without even informimg).

I dare say, this is a controversial topic for me to write about, because Street Food is not what it’s suppose to be. I get the point about wanting it to grow, but none of this has particularly helped ease these businesses in running a daily work through the metropolitan areas (except for social media). For me, a good experience should be me walking down a street, seeing an interesting food stand, and because I am hungry and wondering where to have a bite, end up supporting the local truck who puts some TLC into cooking whatever they have to offer.

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A take on the Portuguese tinned sardine – on a simple piece of bread, tomato sauce and rocket. This was unexpected, and delicious.

Like any business, novelty or product, the business life span will saturate sooner or later, leaving a future hole that will need to be filled with the next big thing. It also seems to be something that’s happening all over Europe – when in Bologna, I went to the Finger Food Festival – and my experience was as disappointing as the ones I had in Portugal. The only benefit I got from attending was the fact that I did eat the best cannoli ever (big pro by tasting national goodies). But was it the best one in Bologna, or Italy per se? Possibly not. But I was a happy tourist for that moment in time.

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In foreign countries like the US and UK, street food is much more independent, based a little bit everywhere – events, local festivals that aren’t even about food in the first place, and the random corner where usual workers will always wonder by during their meal times. Twitter info based, these businesses can thrive with regular customers, not only the by-passers that are just curious to Instagram the fancy hot dog they ate, after having a burger and a waffle from neighboring stands. In third world countries, street food is culture and the day-by-day thing, not a trend where people gather.

As everything in business, specially food trade, novelty is key, sustainability is a must. Sometimes, when things are done only to make money (like selling those burgers every two minutes because you have way too many customers waiting impatiently), quality is compromised, and experiences upset.

None the less, it’s an enjoyable experience (when not having to endure weekenders, and big crowds), but not the type you will want to go every single time. After a few gigs, I would rather spend my money at my favorite restaurant, even If I don’t get to instagram the meal and gain another follower.

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Food Fest in Lagos

My suggestion? Make the law easier for local food trucks to travel and sell their food in certain spots around the town, next to a beach, near an event. Help these businesses grow in a natural, sustainable way, across the country. Heck, the world. Oh, and please don’t make me wait another half an hour for a lousy burger.

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Say Cheese!

This post is about one of my favorite ingredients. I’m crazy about cheese, and I suppose you are too.

Today you will see a summery cheese plate that I gathered up for a family bbq yesterday, but I’m also showing my two previous Christmas’s pictures. I always take a snap because I really take pride and joy in crafting them!

Besides giving some tips about how to build up an amazing platter, I’m sure you are also interested about the content. Some ingredients are international, others are without a doubt, the tastiest portuguese cheeses I so very cherish.

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For family events, in Portugal, cheese is a very popular staple picky/starter, always accompanied by some bread, sweety contrasts (honey and homemade jam), oh and wine! Never forget the wine. I will post something on wines in the near future.

The cheese I chose:

  • Alavão (mixed goat and cow’s milk with a paprika covering)
  • Roquefort
  • Strong cheddar
  • Parmegiano Regiano
  • Cambozola
  • Palhais goat cheese

Personally, I feel that more than 6/7 cheeses is pushing it a bit. Keep it varied, but simple! It is never about the amount. Quality above all people.

Flavor contrasting is what having taste buds is all about. Besides the sweet and salty sensation, texture is also important to capture, this is why finding nuts on a cheese platter is so common, yummi and posh (nuts can be quite expensive).

For sweetness, honey is the best. The Algarve offers a huge variety, from rosemary to orange blossom, and if you visit the north of the country (like Trás-os-Montes), Mel de Urze is dark and similiar looking to molasses, with a deep sweet flavor, from the flowers abundantly found through granitic lands.

Another great combination is quince marmalade, well we call it “marmelada” but it’s firm because of the fruit’s high pectine concentration, not exactly the runy marmalade everyone is used to. You can actually cut it into cubes or slithers, without desintegrating. Homemade jam, or any store bought of your preference, will also do.

Recently I’ve discovered a balsamic glaze, an italian product I found in a local supermarket in Praia da Luz (southern Portugal), that ever so often sells peculiar gourmet products. The best thing about these glazes (or the worst for my food budget), is the different flavors! I bought blueberry (my fave), fig, pomegranate, chillie and original (red grape). My next purchase will be lemon and, well, any other flavor I don’t already have! Ever so good with cheese.

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Now for the fruit: grapes, the ones in the picture are from my vine, still quite sour but heck, I did not want to go to the supermarket on purpose; figs (the purple ones are good in June, the green ones in September); apples and berries (winter); pears as well (careful to cut only before serving, they will go brown from oxidation).

Nuts: almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pinenuts, cashew, etc. And a pretty herb for decoration.

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Last Christmas I tried this cheese log, I bought a goat cheese with honey (the brand is called Palhais), very smooth and creamy. I chopped up some pistachios and cranberries, rolled the cheese to stick, and, wait for it, christmas colors all around.

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This was my first cheese plate (2012), some cheddar, parmegiano and two creamy cheeses, where I just cut off the top, so it’s just a matter of spooning the creamy stuff on crackers or bread (this cheese is strong, but so cozy for winter events, and low maintenance to prepare, as you can see).

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Last christmas I also made these little puff pastry goodies with cream cheese, cheddar and spinach. Just mix the ingredients, improvise and adjust to taste, spoon in previously fitted puff pastry squares (with a mini cupcake tray), and into the oven (200ºC) until the pastry is cooked.

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So, here is last Christmas’s cheese platter, with the previously shown log, glouchester with chives (the orange one), another creamy one from Serra da Estrela, parmegiano, gorgonzola, apple slices, currant (yet again, holiday colors!) and nuts.

SARDINES ❤️

Sardine: the sausage of the sea! (no, really, it’s a very juicy fish)

During this time of the year, if you pass by Lisbon’s streets, you will find a vigorating smell, a barbecue type of saliva will start to form in your mouth, and as soon as you know it, the urge to bite into one of these babes on a slice of bread is uncanny! If you’re not a fan, you will be.

Related to the herring, the type of fat, omega 3, is what makes this fish so tasty, and healthy! Very benefic for keeping up a strong memory and cardiovascular health.

Besides being famous for its’ flavor, the sardine was responsible for the biggest event ever, in Setúbal during 2010, where 6.340,72 kg were eaten, turning into a remarkable event for the Guinness World Records! If you do get a chance to visit Portugal during this time period, I highly recommend to not miss out on this cultural beauty, like the canned versions with hilarious wrappings, the pop art post cards, and so on. Appreciate the most original and tasty tradition we have.

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