The Southsea Food Festival Frenzy

Saturday. About 50 stalls, maybe more, stretched up Palmerston road and Osborne Road and twice as many people hurried around stuffing their faces. Free to attend, this festival certainly had something for everyone.

I started my adventure by St Jude’s Church and worked my way up. I passed pastries and paellas and pans sizzling and steaming. Each stall offered tasters but one caught my eye.

A man in a blue shirt offered shots of rich, sickly, syrupy toffee vodka. They were selling large bottles for £24 but to be good, I settled on two small travel bottles and made sure to lap back round later for more free tasters.

Next, I bought some Belgian lollipops and a bar of vegan chocolate from Portsmouth chocolatiers, Choc and Truffle. Also on this strip were market regulars Heavenly Sausage, Lemon Street Bakery and Flavours of South Africa with their authentic biltong. For once I avoided the foot-long hot dogs from Heavenly Sausage and sought to try something different.

The strange mix of sellers continued with Catch Isle of Wight’s crab fritters, Ceramika and their beautifully painted bowls and a busker with a banjo and harmonica, attracting smiling tourists. I didn’t catch his name but he added a nice energy to the market.

At the end, a live cooking show was taking place and just after that, the Wedgewood Rooms stage blasted out some acoustic acts which people on deck chairs watched as they gorged. Food Cycle were also there with their bike powered smoothie machine.

That was only half of it. Osborne Road boasted more variety from cocktails to Chinese. I picked myself up a pork bun and then some whitebait from Mr G’s Seafood Shack. There were fewer sellers on this side of the market and most of them were the big businesses on Osborne Road. I wasn’t too convinced they should have stalls as they have shops. I understand they would miss business if they didn’t but I think they should have let the smaller, independent sellers have their moment.

A few last sellers that caught my eye were Arepa2GO and Bubble &. Arepa are Venezuelan vendors who I have bought from many times before. In fact, they were the first thing I ate when I moved to Portsmouth. They have done several pop-up shops at Hunter Gatherer (stay tuned for my review of HG coming next week) and obviously, have a special place in my heart. Bubble & offered large vegetarian meals full of cashews and goats cheese. There were limited sellers who catered to dietary requirements and I hope there will be more next year.

There were many more sights such as a huge hog roast, Nutella slathered pancakes and the famous Churros Ole. I tried to buy some but the queue was far too long and people rudely butted in left, right and centre. After five minutes, I gave up and spent the last of my money on cakes, cheeses and chutney.

On Facebook, I did see some mixed comments about the market with some raving about how fantastic it was and others slating it quite rigorously. Some comments were stating how expensive they found it and one even said it was an ‘insult to the working class.’

I understand that sometimes in Portsmouth the working class is butted out of the limelight and the gentrified, ‘posh’ part gets centre stage. Take Southsea for example. Yes, there is a lot going on there but let’s not forget that Portsmouth is an entire island and not just the seafront.

However, this time, I had to argue.

The prices for a main meal were on average £5-£6 with some places having cheaper options. My pork bun was only £2.50 and that mostly filled me up. For high-quality food, I believe that is quite good, especially when a medium quarter pounder meal at McDonald’s costs you £4.20. Subway varies but for a foot long sub, you are looking at £6, maybe more depending on your fillings. Surely, you’d rather have homemade, quality food than processed meat.

A street market like Southsea Food Festival enables independent sellers to sell their wares and build a following. Of course, there were commercial businesses but the majority of stalls were hard working sellers and crafts people – these people also have to make a profit to survive. Many are sole traders, and unlike the corporate chains on the high street, answer to their customers, not profit-hungry shareholders.

My advice to naysayers: if the price offends you, just do a few laps, gorge on the free tasters and enjoy the free entertainment.

On both days, Southsea Food Festival had something for everyone, no matter their age, class or budget.

So, roll on next year, I can’t wait!

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