Fast Food

What to Eat and Drink at a Summer Music Festival

Do you subscribe to the sex, drugs, and sausage rolls festival-osophy that dictates everything you eat must be deep-fried and served on a polystyrene tray? Or maybe you actually want that clean and green smoothie bowl.

by Munchies Staff
23 June 2016, 6:18pm

Festivals used to be about prioritising a megapack of lagers over a waterproof jacket in your rucksack and stuffing some mini cereal boxes in as an afterthought. As your mum waved you off with Daily Mail-inspired "party drug" scare stories, eating well was the last thing on your mind.

But at today's festival, you may wake up with ringing eardrums and a mud-filled sleeping bag, but you can still get the flat-white-and-toasted-sourdough fix your poor metropolitan body needs to endure more than six hours in a tent.

Do you subscribe to the sex, drugs, and sausage rolls festival-osophy that dictates everything you eat must be deep-fried and served on a polystyrene trays? Or maybe you do actually want that clean and green smoothie bowl because, hell, you paid extra for this yurt, you shouldn't have to have whiskey for breakfast.

We put three experts in the ring to find out what we should be eating and drinking at this summer's music festivals. Here is their advice—and a warning: you probably won't need that tin opener.

Our expert panel: Clare Isaacs, food programmer at arts festival Wilderness in Oxfordshire. Charlie Nelson, co-owner of pizza street food stall Fundi, trading at Gottwood festival and Dinerama. Josh Baines, veteran festival-goer and editor of VICE's electronic music channel Thump.

Wilderness 2015

Cooking at Wilderness festival. Photo courtesy Danny North.

First things first: is good food important at a festival?

Claire Isaacs: "Absolutely. Why shouldn't you eat as well as you do in a restaurant at a festival? You're on your feet a lot of the day and dancing into the early hours—you need a good feed to keep you going."

Charlie Nelson: "It's the most important thing. If you haven't got good energy, you're going to bomb. I used to never really eat at festivals, I'd eat something crap once a day and then I figured out that you actually need some delicious vegetables or something really tasty that keeps you going.

Around ten years ago, festival food was pretty shit. It was either the odd vegan dhal or something really greasy—there was nothing in between. But now that gap has been filled with traders who do things well and people don't accept shit anymore. They spend money on decent food which was never a priority before."

Josh Baines: "Totally. While I'd love to pretend that all I do at festivals is bang tinnies and shove whatever I can find on the ground up my nose before fistpumping for 12 solid hours with only a warm bottle of Volvic and a pack of Wrigley's for sustenance, the reality is a little tamer.

What I really want is to be able to sit down on a bit of grass, slowly sip on a very expensive, very foamy, nearly-pint sloshed into a paper cup, while a band or DJ I'm not really fussed about noodles away in the background. Food is an integral part of that experience. 'Good' food, maybe less so."

Photo via Flickr user Miss Copenhagen

The best way to ease a festival hangover

Claire Isaacs: "At Wilderness, I'll be making a beeline for the Petersham Nurseries tent in the morning. They're doing baked eggs with chili, tomato, oregano, and crème fraîche on toasted sourdough. It might need to be washed down with a mimosa from Noble Rot and then I'll be ready to start the day."

Charlie Nelson: "Without a doubt, a breakfast burrito. It's massive, like the size of a small baby. Really great value and it's got everything you need. It's got the carbs, beans, egg, chorizo, and it's a bit spicy. Or pizza is always a winner in the morning. We do a breakfast special which is smoked pancetta and egg, like bacon and egg on a pizza basically."

Josh Baines: "Nothing kicks a hangover better than a can of incredibly cold Coke—and it must be the real red-canned deal—gulped down in three sips, followed by a French toast bacon sandwich. There's something about that combination of fizz, salt, and sloppy stodge that's absolutely perfect for those mornings where your brain feels like a really mossy football that's been kicked very, very, very hard round a multi-storey car park by a 20-stone brute.

I'd also settle for a Mars Bar."

Photo courtesy Fundi.

The essential snack to pack

Claire Isaacs: "You're probably thinking I'll say a bowl of buttery Nocellara del Belice olives lovingly handpicked and imported from Castelvetranos in Sicily, but no. I've got four kids so it's got to be a mountain of Hula Hoops."

Charlie Nelson: "Branston pickle and cheddar sandwiches are the one. We're lucky because we have a fridge and utensils out the back of the stall, so we can make food. But pork pies and scotch eggs are also great. Pretty gross but they do the business!"

Josh Baines: "I've only been camping once and I got both more sunburnt and stoned than I've ever been before or since. That weekend we lived off barbequed burgers—really cheap discs of meet unlovingly slumped into those strangely sweet "American-style" buns you can only get in corner shops, covered in very pale squares of a cheese substitute. Sprinkled with mud, sand, and ash.

I'm slightly older and more sensible now, and I reckon I'd be really up for getting a big sack of tangerines in. That's what I'd want. Tangerines. And maybe a trolley's worth of vegetable crisps."

Go-to party drink

Claire Isaacs: "Definitely a cocktail to get started. One of Mark Hix's signature drinks made by putting a morello cherry in a glass with a few teaspoons of cherry liqueur and topped up with sparkling wine or perry."

Charlie Nelson: "Cider for breakfast (Tesco 2-litre bottles of own brand dry cider) and shit lager in the afternoon. You don't want to waste money on expensive cocktails!"

Josh Baines: "LAGER, LAGER, LAGER. I know it's probably not the most sensible choice for anyone trying to stay spritely over an entire day or night, but ever since I held my first pint, I've used lager as a kind of security blanket. Plus festivals can be strange and scary, and I spend my time longing for home. And the pub."

Photo courtesy Andrew Whitton.

Fancy vs. filthy festival food

Claire Isaacs: "Everyone needs something filthy to break through the hangover at a festival but otherwise, I'm a great advocator of something fancy. Who says the two can't be combined? At Wilderness, there'll be a huge, specially designed BBQ smoked pork shoulder, slow-roast chicken, and grilled bavette steaks served with hot sauce, wood grilled corn, and homemade slaws. It's fancy but it's also meaty-juice-dribbling-down-your-chin delicious."

Charlie Nelson: "The great thing about festivals is that meal times become very vague so there isn't a right time to eat certain foods. There's no right or wrong way to do things. It's great for us because it means we have a queue all day. It's not like a street food market, when people come at lunchtime and then in the evening. People at festivals just come anytime because they wake up at weird times or they don't go to bed.

The best thing for us is that all the traders swap food for free. We were at Gottwood Festival in Wales recently, and gorged on a lot of macaroni cheese. The guys next door did toasties so we ended up eating a lot of those."

Josh Baines: "Lunch is a good time to break a tenner for a burger. It makes sense to start the day right, and before all those lagers, I'm feeling quite slim and in need of a decadent dining experience so I'll happily gorge on a burrito stuffed with ortolan and dodo eggs or whatever. After 3 PM? Feed me punnet after punnet of the greasiest, hottest chips you can find. I want them slathered in cheap tomato sauce. I want that polystyrene tray to crumble under the weight of it all. And I want to eat the whole portion in under two minutes."

What not to bring

Clare Isaacs: "Tins of beans with no can opener, blue cheese forgotten at the bottom of your rucksack. When the food can be so good at festivals, I'd rather leave the sausages at home and get myself a proper meal."

Charlie Nelson: "In the past, I've taken a stove to make porridge but it never got used. Then the oats would spill in my tent which is pretty dire. People always seem to have good intentions to eat a lot of fruit but it's really hard to eat healthy stuff when you're craving fatty carbs."

Josh Baines: "When I go to a festival, I wear a special headset that only lets me see Authentic Grub. Sorry."