On Food Festivals and The Grub Fest

IMG_6114The problem with any good idea is that there are always people ready to jump onto it without a second thought. Food Trucks are catching up and we’ve been lucky so far as to have a good to excellent collection of those. How long before a “bad” one rolls down the street? It’s not always about “more the merrier” when it comes to new ventures. Sometimes it about having the right balance.

Now, with a couple of successful food-festivals over the last two years, everyone is organising “Food-Fests”. Right now they are diverse in terms of the themes with Gourmet (I hate how loosely this word is used in the food industry) to Asian Hawkers Markets. We’ll actually have close to seven over a couple of months in the Delhi-NCR region. But, here’s what bugs me the most, three of these food festivals happened on exactly the same dates – which in hindsight did lead to crowd control. I can’t make out if the competition is already so fierce that these festivals are not even bothering to spread out.

IMG_6115 IMG_6116Here’s the thing, we love our “melas”. We have Diwali melas, we have Dushera melas, we have Melas around Holi and we have melas around the time of Rakhi, and food is already a major part of these melas. If that wasn’t enough, we have annual “gatherings” in localities and apartment complexes, and the miscellaneous artifact and clothing “exhibitions” all year round. If all this wasn’t enough we are starting to have Literary festivals by the dozen and film festivals too are on a rise. So, the fact that food would jump on to this festival bandwagon was but only a matter of time.

I love a good mela. Okay, I lied, I don’t. I don’t like driving around finding a parking spot, the exuberant entrance ticket price and then having to pay a lot more at the stalls. I especially don’t like running around standing in lines, shoving people because they pushed me first, just so that I can eat something. It’s chaotic, it’s mostly unplanned, and it’s never about anything substantial.

Food festivals I feared would fall in the same group where the idea is not to have a relaxed experimentation with food with maybe some live music to create an ambiance, but rather to sell, sell, and sell the “product” at any cost possible.

IMG_6118 I experimented with two of the food-festivals this season. While some of my fears did come true, they weren’t that scary. On the one hand I’m happy to say that I was proved wrong on both instances, but there’s still a lot that can be done to make the entire experience of food festivals better. Organization is the key and so is the importance of keeping food as the primary goal. It shouldn’t just become a medium to sell, but rather to showcase the power of the culinary arts, and this is not just achieved by having demonstrations, or what now everyone calls a “masterclass”. My thoughts on Asian Hawkers Market are already on the blog, and what I thought about The Grub Fest, which was a much bigger festival, you can read below;

The Grub Fest

IMG_6120 IMG_6121 IMG_6122 IMG_6126Let me first start with what I didn’t like about The Grub Fest because the list is small. The car park on a plot so dusty that by the time I returned in a couple of hours, my car had a two inch layer of dust on it was ridiculous. Not only did I pay for it but the amount of dust in the area was preposterous considering it was near a food festival.

The ground of the festival itself was uneven and certainly not handicap, children, pushchair, or drunk friendly. I get that a huge area is required, but maybe a little consideration to even out the location could have gone a long way.

Aside from that, The Grub Fest being a food festival, I saw no reason for car and children’s bikes being sold in the middle of it and if you ask me the kiddy play zone was not required either. This is what I talked in brief about during my review of the Asian Hawkers Market; that an event needs to stay true to itself and not give in for profits. With all the food around these two stalls just stuck out like sore thumbs.

Add to that the promotion on stage by fitness companies. If Rahagiri wasn’t enough for that, we now had Zumba or whatever excuse there is now to dance to filmy music being almost forced on to us. I’m sorry, but the very last thing I need, when I have a glass of beer in one hand and a cheesy bacon sandwich in another, is exercise.

And that’s about it with the negatives. The Grub Fest was huge and I can’t even imagine all the hard work and planning that went into it. It seemed to have been running smoothly and even though I didn’t have the VIP car park access or used the VIP toilets, there was a certain charm to it all. It was very much like a mela but a cooler more refined version of it.

IMG_6139 IMG_6145The Grub Fest turned out to be as much about the people as it was about the food. With a diverse mixture of homegrown food suppliers and restaurant booths, the public was equally varied although there was a considerable absence of children (or maybe being Sunday evening parents were tucking them in for school the next day).

I couldn’t help by label The Grub Fest as the Ferris Buller of food festivals. The hipsters found it hip enough to grace it with their presence, the aged an excuse to relive their youth, the locals attended so they could boast about having an event so cool in their neighbourhood, and the family-wallas to get away from the madness at home and enjoy the madness here. Love birds where there walking around holding hands alongside creeps who I witnessed making sly videos of people. There were those that were seriously amazed by the enormity of the event and then those that couldn’t but held compare it to the numerous such food festivals they’ve visited on their trips abroad – you know the kind I’m talking about. The cool dudes and dudettes could be found lounging around the Budweiser trucks and the smugness on their face was enough to tell me that they wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere else. The fashion conscious made a conscious appearance and I feared there might have been a shortage of loafers in the rest of the city that day. Then there was the college crowd who could have been there for the performances by Vir Das and The Raghu Dixit Project, but before that you could easily spot them as they came under the category of “I dance when I walk because that’s apparently cool”. So there you go, Ferris Bueller of food festivals, the “righteous dude” that everyone loves.

IMG_6129 IMG_6137 IMG_6135Picket fenced designated restaurant areas, lots of arty stuff thrown around, seating options a-plenty, and music on full blast; that’s Grub Fest in a nutshell for you. It took a good half hour to go around the festival and have a look at everything available. The problem with so many choices as always is deciding on where to eat. I skipped the places I’ve already eaten at before, and the ones that I eventually tried turned out to be pretty decent with only a few exceptions. I picked up some homemade Hummus and Pesto from The Food Farm Company that turned out to be wonderful, but the bok choy and mushroom momos from Orange Chopsticks, although freshly made, were are little bland. The beer from Budweiser – how could I not be seen amongst the cooler crowd – was surprisingly good and perfect for the occasion. The find-of-the-fest though for me was Big Fat Sandwich with their Morning After Sandwich and thick cut fries. The cold coffee they served needs a lot of work, but then it takes a lot to impress me with it comes to iced-coffees.

The Grub Fest is a festival in the true sense. It had music, it had free-flowing space, there was a separate area for food demonstrations – which I once again skipped due to time constraints – and it mostly kept the focus on food. The challenge though, for any food festival is to not get carried away with success. With more similar festivals around the corner, it is yet to be seen if everyone is following the same blueprint, or are they trying to stand out and give the public something unique and different.

2 replies »

  1. Thanks for such an honest and informative review; it’s good to hear from someone who was not on a VIP pass! My fears match yours, especially after the palate fest debacle last year. I, as a rule, skip food fests with entry fees and parking nightmares. And yes for me too the true test of a food festival is showcasing of the unknown and untried; which must and should be tried, cause it’s fantastic! I do hope the “others” listen and listen well for these two food fests proved a lot of them wrong.


    • Thanks so much for the comment. I’m somewhat okay with the ticket prices simply because they have food demonstrations and various staged events like mini-concerts for free so in that respect having a ticket makes some sense. However, parking is always an issue and a festival can easily deviate from its focus easily and that is what they need to keep in mind. I was very impressed with Asian Hawker’s Market for being true to food, limiting the items each stall had, and most importantly, they kept the food Sount East Asian, and didn’t mix it up with other items like chaat and daal and thing like that. It was on a much smaller scale, and i’m guessing might have gotten crowded later in the evening, but earlier in the day it was nice.


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