Since last week Friday, London has been smothered with generously hot weather; the kind that has you kicking off the duvet covers in the middle of the night; and for the first time in months, has most of the windows of your home wide open to hear the buzz of the bees blending in with the morning traffic and chatter from passers-by. Never would I have tolerated such a disruption to my daily routine but for the beautiful sunshine and warmth we have experienced – quite by surprise! If there is one thing the British love to do, it’s to moan about the weather, and it’s no wonder why: with so little sun matched with heat and not knowing how long it will last and assuming it WILL be our last, we make every effort to find some reason to be out and about in London town on a hot sunny day.
This is what led me to the South Bank: so named the centre of Arts and Entertainment in London during the 1950’s. All I know is that by default, something is always going on at the South Bank which has the British Film Institute (BFI), The London Eye and the Skateboarders Graffiti Park as its neighbours. Last weekend it paid host to a flavours of India food festival called the Alchemy Food Market (16-26 May 2014). For those who wish to attend, it is situated at the bottom of the stairs leading to the Royal Festival Hall.
As I exited Waterloo station just under the railway bridge, I could see from a distance that the grey and bleak stone cobbled street had been transformed into a bustling indian market. As I entered the mouth of the market, I was immediately drawn to a stall so called ‘The Indian’s next door’ who were selling fresh coconut water.
As I stood in the queue in the blazing hot sun, I thought to myself when did a shop name like that become ‘alright’ to say in public? I carefully watched the man as he cut through the fresh green coconut with what looked like a short serrated knife. Why he didn’t use a cutlass like the street venders back in Trini or like the man behind him who was now raising his sword high in the sky like an axe murderer, I don’t know. He was really struggling with the knife and hacked away a bit too pre-maturely causing the water to burst out on to his apron, as if he’d pierced through the artery of the coconut or something.
By the time I was next in line, he had built up some kind of momentum and so my anxiety levels reduced greatly. At £4.00 it was a very good deal, my belly was FULL of cool coconut water. I spent the rest of the day sipping at it and responding to “where did you get that?”. Funny enough, I think he was an American, asked me: “what was in that I was drinking?”
“Water” I said.
“Oh just water?” he replied…to which his friends just laughed.
But he didn’t pick up on that, poor guy. Clearly this festival was designed with him in mind.
There must have been at least 20 stalls in total most of them food stalls and the remainder selling jewellery and art work from India and other parts of the world. The next stop I made was to The Peckish Peacock which had a glorious Peacock Blue make shift kitchen perched on steps which allowed you to scan the whole market from above. It was clearly a vegan food stall: from when you’re selling ‘Mango Almond Lassi’ and 5 different Channa (chick pea) lunch box recipes. I could see that the Lassi was a big seller, especially as the queue for the milk based Lassi was extensively long. The Mango Almond Lassi was actually quite nice: didn’t taste any almond milk and I was hoping to taste cardamom or just an added extra.
The Bombay Street Food Stall had one of the largest queues of all the stalls there. I put this down to two things: they had the greatest selection of dishes and sweets of all the stalls (all freshly made and added to throughout the day…right under your nose), and there displays were really bright and authentic looking. They had clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the presentation in the minutist detail, a bit like “The Indian’s next door” with their rice bags and palm trees.
I had the Moong Dal Dosa (the yellow circle pictured below) which is a spiced lentil crepe filled with masala potatoes and was topped with sev, chutney, pomegranate and coriander. All vegan and gluten-free funny enough. I really like the taste of the crepe, it was very light and the potatoes which were being warmed next to them had a real intense heat to them.
Speaking of intense heat, I noticed that several stalls had these hot dry cauldrons attached to them. I was very impressed at the extent to which they truly didn’t want to compromise on the taste or quality of their dishes. The hot cauldron, otherwise known as a Tandoor oven, was being used in this case to cook the Flat Breads and tandoori chicken.
I have no other comment to make about this picture other than…hmmmm!
So conclusion, if you have nothing to do this weekend, make sure you find yourself at the Indian Food Festival at the South bank. I forgot to mention that there is a cooking demonstration tent where you can learn to make spicy potato patties and a games section for you to play some traditional games of chest and sit around in the baking hot sun. Even if you don’t buy anything, which is very hard to resist, just capturing the energy from the people who attend, talking to complete strangers who clearly rushed in from their lunch break to grab a tikka wrap, will just make your day.