London

The MUNCHIES Guide to Notting Hill Carnival

As London gears up for the annual Caribbean culture celebration, Carnival veteran Adrian Luckie of street food stall Mama’s Jerk Station shares his wisdom on eating your way through Europe’s biggest street party.

by Munchies Staff
25 August 2017, 10:00am

Photo via Flickr user S Pakhirin

It's the August Bank Holiday weekend in London, which can mean only one thing: Notting Hill Carnival. The streets of North, East, and South London are left deserted as thousands pile on the Central Line heading west to the ordinarily sedate Kensington neighbourhood.

Notting Hill Carnival is the weekend-long street party that has taken place every year since 1966, celebrating Caribbean food, music, and culture in the capital. What started as a way for the growing Afro-Caribbean community to reconnect with their roots now attracts more than a million people, who come to watch floats and costumed dancers, listen to steel drum bands, and, of course, eat a lot of jerk chicken.

But jerk chicken is far from the only sustenance you'll find at Carnival. MUNCHIES asked Adrian Luckie of street food stall (and Carnival veterans) Mama's Jerk Station for his advice on eating and drinking your way through the weekend.

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Photo via Flickr user Barnaby Quincey

Starting early

Definitely line your stomach if you're a drinker and you want to get involved in all the rum and the beer. This year will be Mama's Jerk Station's sixth Carnival and we're there from 5.30 AM setting up because all vehicles have to be off site by 9 AM. And by 10 AM, people will start turning up and ordering jerk chicken for breakfast. It'll be on the grill so we'll start serving, no problem.

The year before last, we were just setting up and the weather wasn't that great and out of the blue, someone on a bicycle rides up at 10 AM and says that he wants to put an order through. I'm looking at him thinking, I swear I know this geezer from somewhere. He told me he was doing a barbecue round the corner and put an order in for 40 jerk chickens, some veggie stuff, some salads. As we were starting to get it ready, it clicked. I was looking at him and went, "That's it, it's Jason Donovan innit?" and he went "Yeah!" It was completely random and he spent about 100 quid. It was a good start to the day.

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Photo via Flickr user Leandra-Juliet

What to eat

The most that you'll see down there is jerk chicken. You'll see it wherever you walk. I'll never put anyone down who's doing jerk chicken because as far as I'm concerned, they're spreading the word of jerk so it's all good.

I would say, start with your jerk chicken or pork with rice and peas, and maybe later if you're still hungry go for your curry goat.

For light snacks, look for the fresh made patties. You can tell the difference because they're not in the packet and they're a lighter colour. Get a lovely fresh pattie if you want something really light to start off with. But people will be doing everything like Caribbean cakes.

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Photo via Flickr user Pablo Ricco

The drinks

Have a fresh coconut at the start of the day to keep hydrated, I've got a couple of mates who are doing fresh coconut stalls. There are plenty of off licences around but for the true experience, you want to get a rum punch and a Red Stripe.

You're inundated with good food and drink along the route so pick different things up.

The atmosphere

For me, Carnival is part of our DNA for Afro-Caribbeans in Britain. It's our one weekend of the year that's a proper celebration of our culture and our people and the different foods. Just seeing the millions of people that turn up to celebrate is amazing. It's a festival, you know? We can be who we want to be. You want to dance in the street, you want to have some rum, you want to eat some food. It's cool.

But plan your route because sometimes walking a five minute distance down the road will take you half an hour. Get there early to see the floats and if there's a certain sound system, that you know you want to be at, just go straight there.

You're getting some other different types of food there which I think is quite cool, although it is a Caribbean festival. If I was the organiser, I would say that if you're going to come and do a different type of food, you have to have a Caribbean feel to it. If you're going to do noodles, do jerk chicken noodles or if you're doing pizza, do a jerk chicken pizza. You come with something different that still has the Caribbean influence.

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Photo via Flickr user kaythaney

What to have later

Because I do jerk chicken every day, I'm jerk chickened out. So, for me, if someone was doing a really nice oxtail with rice and peas, or they were doing a nice curry goat rice and peas, that makes my day.

Luckily, we've had the same guys on the stall next to us for last three or four years and I love it because the woman who cooks there becomes like our mum for the weekend. She just feeds you all this stewed chicken and curry goat. It's lovely.

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in August 2016.