Sunday, 28 August 2011

[Event - Carnival] Whimsies, Ignorance. And Food. Infinitesimal Food; Caribbean Carnival of Notting Hill

Location - Notting Hill, London [UK]

Whimsically. Whimsidasically. Whimsicalicious. On a whim, is the context of how I experienced this latest adventure. A reason, quickly becoming a recurring one behind many of my motives, or rather the defining reason for this latest of undertakings of the calorific kind. Up until a few weeks ago, I was blissfully oblivious about any sort of "Carnivals" in London. Surely, I thought, the floats would just get stolen, and as if there were further reason needed to worsen the solid ingot that is London traffic. It was brought up in conversation, mainly lambasting how the parade of idiocy of the rioters of late threatened to shut down the Carnival. With it's one million strong crowd of participants. Hold on. One million turnout event thwarted by a couple of bored degenerates? Did not make sense to me either. Nor did the notion of a carnival in London. A Caribbean Carnival. I thought there was not much of a West Indies grounding in London, barring a couple of shady "Jerk" Restaurants in Soho. I plea glorious ignorance. As such, I was wrong. Very wrong.
So I approached this event completely blind, as I do in most other cases, not knowing that carnivals occurred in London, and not knowing much about the Caribbean cuisine culture beyond "Jerk", Malibu Rum and Curry Goat. There is only so much culture I apprehend from beneath this rock. Despite horrifically overindulging but a day before at the second of Thai festivals experienced, I figured I may as well prolong the torture whilst the opportunity has arisen. If am going to kill myself, kill myself in a big way. I would also demystify yet another culture through its foods, or so the hope were there to justify this latest of gorgings. Travel plans drawn up, vague map of the festivities printed out, and my way was made straight after breakfast. Rather pleasingly, traffic was almost all but non-existent on the way up into Central London, finding parking quite easily - and more importantly by being a Sunday, free - just off of Edgware Road, the journey had officially begun. Knowing what could be waiting considering the scale of the event, I was also glad that there would be a lot of walking involved. Little did I know.

Getting off at my stop, I started walking down the what I believe was to be the central road of the festivities, further bolstered by some wig-donning individuals also walking in the same direction. And I walked. And walked some more. Then some more again.


A couple of motorists getting to their respective staging places for the festivities, a few tourists making their ways up the road, until I finally reached a block off in the road, signifying the actual start of the parade route. The scaling in this map is obviously only meant to be taken as a ridiculously broad indication. Or by the blind. Walking further along, not much was noticed, the atmosphere was all rather sleepy. A few more roadblocks crept up into view, with the presence of Police forces growing, but nary a food stall, barring a few sporadic burger vans. Burger Vans?! This did not amuse me. Believing, from the distance walked thus far, that I must find myself in the proximity of Turkenistan at this point, the lingering smell and the hazy smoke of barbecues started creeping into existence, given my greed the impetus it so required. Peering down one of the side-streets, a couple of front garden Barbecue setups were spotted, rather timely as it was the moment for my mid-morning snack.

Corn on the Grill

Which consisted of a corn on the cob lashed with butter and heaving amounts of salt, and the first of the "National" dishes of the Caribbean. 

Beef Patty
Beyond giving too much substance to the flavourful and nationalistic notions of a grilled corn on the cob, other than being nicely grilled, not particularly sweet, and drenched in far too much salt and butter, it was rather normal. A tepid starter, but my token one of my five a day, and some much useful fibre if yesterday's mindless indulgence were to serve as reminder. The Beef Patty however could probably be seen as my first foray into the spectrum of Caribbean gastronomy. Be still my beating heart. It was moderate. Looking very much like a Cornish pasty, though less short-pastry like, and rather yellow, it did taste sufficiently different. Seemingly composed of a cornmeal or perhaps chickpea flour-based pastry, which was very light, if a bit bland, the filling was a bit lacking, in volume, and in impact. I suppose not much is to be expected out of the first batch of dropped-out-of-bed cooked foods. The filling was rather soft, a bit of a mush, with a slight hint of curry powder, in all rather appetising if not mesmerising. Regardless, it had satisfied its role as a "snack", and as such, I now had the calories I required. For seeking out my next objects of devouring. It's a vicious cycle.

The mission of scouting had now officially begun.

With that, I proceeded forwards, edging towards what I believed would be the starting point of the festivities. Still not much in the way of action was observed, barring the odd moving stage trucks blaring some music along the way - perhaps the "one million" or so participants did not catch the memorandum, or I was just far too early. More importantly, ever more burger vans were sprouting into view. Still not amused. With each passing step, and each side-street crossed however, more nuances of grilled meats crept into the air, bolstered by its lingering smoky haze, lest it be from other less than equitable sources. A few more built stalls were creeping into view as well, still in mid-construction and preparation of the foods. I believe the scale of my mission at this point was still rather lost on me though, not thoroughly realising just how much the blossoming of the stalls would later explode. Enquiring with a stationary Police Officer, who was conversing with a local proved useless, other than indicating me to search for the vendors "dressed well in white". Thank you.

I crossed a street, wherein was parked a van that this time caught my attention, by dint of not offering thoroughly midnight-drunk/mass-market food; it offered Afro-Caribbean treats. A faint glimmer of hope then! Talking to the proprietor though revealed little extra, other than the road they were located on was where the "officially sanctioned" stalls would be based, with all the back/front-yard vendors being thoroughly unlicensed and thus potentially containing AIDS. Not that it would deter me. Mildly enlightened, I furthered on just to ensure there was life after that road. Reaching the bridge over the River Kwai nearing the A40 which was rather familiar, remembering it to be in the vicinity of Mosob [I walked THAT far?!], I reached the stark conclusion [prematurely] that there was not much else to be observed further on and began to retrace my steps, to then venture down the street of my preliminary feasting, thus far offering the greatest hope of gastronomic retribution. The great expanses of walking after all, would need to be fed.

Festivities now seemed to start picking up on the return journey, with hoards of tourists seemingly materialising out of the thick, grilled meat aroma-laced air. In the distance, I could see what seemed to be a solid moving slug of people stretching to as far as the eye could see, interspersed with a few trucks lost in this torrent. Great, moving masses of people everywhere. Perhaps something I should have expected from a "Carnival", though, it is a necessary evil. Ever nearing, with the stage trucks directly in front, I was faced with the "core" of the carnival, or so to say the wandering dancer parades. It was decidedly weaksauce, with very few of the flamboyant costumes I had expected, or even thought were warranted to even class as a carnival. It seemed to be rather more a forced street party, with a rather tenuous air of "carnival" notions with the grouped off dancers. And they brought along a lot of added people volume. Lame. Pushing through this contraflow of the masses, I soldiered through though, keeping focus to my slowly building greed/hunger. The food stalls and cookers were becoming ever more apparent now, with the aroma becoming pretty dominant in the air. Reaching and subsequently walking down the street where I took my first morsels down,  a startling conclusion arose.

Traversing down this side-road, even its off-shooting roads started to demonstrate burgeoning options for food, predominantly of the backyard variety. Drats. This could be difficult in the interests of creating some sort of structure or "route" of deliberations. Arriving at a cross-roads, I was met with several options, literally in four directions, which would prove to be a recurring event for the remainder of the day, with any option drawing with it its opportunity. Argh. Choosing the one, I soon came across a quiet stall, where upon I decided to start at least building stock.

Plantain, Dumpling & Fritter
Fried plantain, a dumpling, and a fritter were purchased. Not perhaps the most adventurous of choices, but it was a start - the fritter apparently consisting of a combination of saltfish and other miscellanea, thus proving interesting enough in its role. These would be for later. Backtracking slightly, I return to the crossroads and take another path, this time happening across a rather large stand selling, amongst other things, fruit, which I thought would be useful should my glutton run carry on beyond lunch and into the time of my afternoon snack - these are all careful considerations you see, even during a carnival. 

Coconut and Guinep fruit
I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the fruit, though I know that it sounded similar to the Thai longan, and may have indeed been the Caribbean version as they are similar fruit. In essence, it is a bit like a lychee - a thin brittle skin covering a translucent milky flesh, which contains a hard "stone" of a seed in the middle. Eating it was similar as well, though the flesh was fibrous and rather hard to separate from the seed, to the lychee's jelly-like and rather lazy attachment to its seed. It was basically like trying to eat the flesh on a mango stone, where all the fibres just end up getting stuck in between your teeth, and the eternal/infernal struggle to separate fibre from teeth takes control of all life as you know it. Taste-wise it was not too dissimilar - basically like a lychee though less floral, and a whole lot more sour. It was rather addictive though, and a bundle were bought for later. Whilst I did not want to entertain the high calories and fat [think of the waistline, Jeebus!] of the coconut, my current thirst did as much as to convince a drink of the relatively calorie-friendly coconut juice, and thus, purchase was made. When finishing the juice I was told that I could return to have the coconut split to later eat out the meat, and with that thoughtful gesture, I departed. Though I quickly returned, perhaps subconsciously realising I would never find the stall again, as a result finishing the generous amount of juice barely cresting the corner away from the stall. The coconut was duly split open, and a rather innovative spoon fashioned out of a scalloped section of the outer husk. I departed, yet again, with time ticking and hunger burgeoning. 

Returning to the crossroads, I moseyed on down past that initial stall of purchases, whereby I was met with the stark realisation once again. I had encountered a veritable Food stall aisle. Except this aisle was a street. I had grossly underestimated this event. Whereas all the other fairs and events I had previously attended were based on closed grounds, this one was based on an entire City District. This was a vastly different animal to those events of before. The rows of aisles and small paths within a convention centre or outdoor park were now entire neighbourhood roads and blocks. The parks themselves dotted around the district also contained further stalls. This threw up, no, erupted forth a plethora of questions. When posed with a choice out of roughly infinity, give or take infinity, just where does one begin?! How the hell do I structure the purchases, the timings, and the meals? Just how much more anally retentive can I get? And then some. More importantly as well, a question that would reverberate throughout the day, just how do I separate, within the space of a year or so, the stalls making proud, home-made food, and those trying to make a quick profit? So many questions, so much food. And an impatient stomach. I would essentially, need to go with the flow. 

Braving this aisle, I gingerly made my way down, glancing at menus, trying to spot individual varying items. Choosing a "Jerk" dish was going to be amusing, as essentially every single stall offered the dish, even some of the Asian stalls. Just how will I recognise good from evil?! Infact, what do I know about the difference between the two, I've yet to ever try it. Damn you preconceptions. Food, FOOD, MOAR FOOD! Food as far as the eye could see, but I feared for letting my stomach lead me. Even I cannot eat a full districts' worth. Though it would be a rather preposterous exercise with the ubiquity of Jerk. As I furthered down the aisle, I then spotted the first of the variations.

Looked like dumplings, but weren't dumplings. Therefore, I had to have them. Roti was not quite ready yet, so I would have to return. That's hopeful, I would never find them again. I furthered down, the load in my carrier bag gaining prodigious mass the further I walked. I had barely just started, instantly ruing the decision to not bring a backpack. Stopped by one stand, I questioned the availability of Ackees & Saltfish, only to be denied it as of yet, proceedings only just starting. I was however submitted to a taste of some Jerk Chicken, a helpful basis from which to ground from. Tastes like barbecued chicken, how expected. I had believed that Jerk spicing included, amongst other things, Scotch Bonnet peppers. This obviously was a "British"-aimed version, possible spiced with milk. I was also offered rather proudly the taste of the vendors' vegetarian lasagna. 

It was not lasagna.

Continuing on, some peculiar sights crept into view, more and more restaurant sponsored stalls, and what was this? Reggae Reggae Sauce? Bah. Keep this mainstream blasphemy away from me. I emerged out where the parade route was apparently meandering through, thoroughly lost and blankly staring at the map, hoping for it somehow to imbue some sort of sense. Ceding this fruitless exercise, I continued along, reaching a further upstream section of the parade procession, which I would follow briefly before detouring through a park, which contained a myriad of stalls. With "lunch" drawing ever closer I did a little reconnaissance on the stalls, individualising any particular victims. Some sweet items were noted. Bought. Quickly stored to hide away temptation. I believe they were a Rock Cake and a Coconut Drop, I forget, I had a hot flash of pleasure in merely sighting sweet treats. Nothing else particularly interesting me, and yet again being denied of Roti, I consulted the map, which this time proved vaguely invaluable, helping lead me towards the main initial road of the processions. On the way, I came across one of the first of the apparelled dancers. Oh dear. Aren't they miserable. The two octogenarians walking ahead seemed to be having particularly a better time. The ambience grew ever more tenuous, though it must be said that I had no clue whatsoever that the "Full Fat" Adult carnival would be taking place tomorrow. Thus I am protected in my opinion by my ignorance. 

Emerging on Golborne Road, I was greeted with a prodigious site. Moar stalls! This time, an absolute proliferation, filling the space of the road. Just in time for lunch as well. Prospects looked good when the first stall already offered up a rather different option. Despite being a vegetarian dish, and thus despicably of the hippy, I pined for the Channa & Pumpkin Roti. There was absolutely no deterrent - Channa [chickpeas]? Good. Pumpkin? Better. Roti? Win. Despite being told time and time again that there would be a delay, I was not discouraged, I would resist. By having one of the phulouri balls. Which was rather quite delectable. Despite having fallen off the plate perilously placed on top of the coconut within the carrier bag, and thus discontented of the sauce included, it was rather delightful. A lightly curried, soft doughy ball with a slight sour tang to it, the slight sweetness of the sauce combining with it to soften the sourness. Quite unlike what I was expecting, and all the better for it. Eventually, the Roti was done.

Pumpkin & Channa Roti
In all its badly focussed photograph glory. It was a difficulty in taking a one-handed shot on manual-focus [littlest violin playing] and trying not to devour through the camera at the same time. This was quite lovely, perhaps made more so by the wait. Despite using canned chickpeas, and my roti being microwaved to other customers' ones being pan-griddled, it was hearty. The roti was light and soft, containing chickpea flour in abundance, the filling was as earthy and hearty as the chickpea and pumpkin would suggest it was. There was a light hint of cumin and curry powder that tarted the whole ensemble up, but did not overwhelm. Perhaps too light a hint. This however, seemed to be a roti tardis, with each de-shrouding of the inhaled sections revealing an apparently growing roti. I did not complain. And despite its size, it was not at all heavy on the stomach. Ergo, more was required to satiate lunch. Roti denials, retribution achieved. I searched on for the next victims of my insatiable hunger. Bypassing the Thai & Spanish food stalls and their irrelevance. Happening across one rather large stall, I immediately inquired about an interesting item listed, fried breadfruit. Denied. I hate you. Moved on opposite and inquired about Ackees & Saltfish. Denied again, hate you more. Unfortunately, this show of customer infedelity did not spur a charge to satisfy my needs, so I continued on, noticing a fried flatbread at another stall.

Fry Bake
  Fried bread. Nothing more really needs to be said, other than it was hurriedly disposed of into my impregnated carrier bag before it was devoured in the instant it travelled from vendors' hand into mine. It was delightfully fluffy on the inside whilst the outer layer was just crisp. Even the road markings point to its levels of awesome. Further on, more ubiquities and intrigues to be sought, this time arriving at the crossroads of the infamous Portobello Road. Peering down either path, I was presented with the sight of a Lebanese Food Stall down one end, with more apt Caribbean options being apparent on the other. On such thin grounds I thusly headed for the latter. Lunch, or rather, the latter part of lunch having merely attained the "starters" at this point, was of priority. Close-packed and copious, the stalls here were proliferate, mostly offering the same ubiquitous options noted in the Town's worth of stalls, with great variances seen however in at least the superficial notion of proud and profit cuisine, with the seemingly family-based outlets interspersed with the more commercial or less homely looking ones, with even the appearance of the Patties varying from flaky, fresh out of the oven types to the pre-packaged, mass-made uniform ones. Which brought the question of separating from either types of cuisines back to haunt. Attempts to differentiate would be futile at best, and being picky would just serve nothing with no actual grounds to base opinion on. The hardship.

Certain varying stalls then started creeping into view, with a particular one catching my eye.

Moi Moi
An African Cuisine stall displayed itself at my whim, offering among other things, Moi-moi [or Moin-moin], a rather predominant staple in Western Africa, and much to their bafflement, I purchased it on its own and carried on - I have to be explorative and frugal at the same time! Being formed I believe of a black bean meal, combined with spices, corned beef, perhaps some miscellaneous wildlife and some voodoo magic, amongst other things, it is usually served with rice and whatnot. It is essentially SPAM. With the inclusion of corned beef, the hint of SPAM was there, but it was a whole lot more invigorating, with use of perhaps Scotch Bonnets imbuing a nicely spiced tang, and just a notion of a much heartier brick of food than SPAM. A sampler is all I needed, this would be for later destruction. Soon after, I came across a stall offering the usual assortment of Caribbean fair, and in lieu of previous denials, inquired about the Ackees & Saltfish. Which was available. Done.

Ackees & Saltfish with Dumpling
Coming with a rather intimidating cannonball of a dumpling, lunch was thus ready. Tucking straight into the armament-grade dumpling, I was greeted with an incredibly dense, fragrant dough, a crisp thick outer layer giving way to a compact, concrete-like dough core, heavy but delicious. The gargantuan bite merely scratching its surface. Straight into the Ackees & Saltfish, not knowing what to expect, but finding quite a delightful mix. A salty fish essence [figure that?!] mixing in with an almost egg-like mix, and the freshness of the salad cutting through and lightening it all up. Just as I was about to emit some pleasure moans, a flash monsoon rained down, attempting to put me off my food, but failing. The dough bowling ball not even flinching with the downpour, remaining crisp as I took another bite. Finishing half the dish, I relinquished the rest for later consumption, as other than carrying a weeks' worth of meals in a suffering carrier bag, hands all full, I was also now rather saturated. In water, not food. Not by a long shot. Well actually I was, but I had merely culminated a minute faction of my requisite tastings.

What also needed was something to soften and moisten the travelling bulk of forthcoming intestinal blockage with a drink, and not contenting for just petty, mundane water, I went with something a bit more traditional.

Sorrel Juice
Also rather extortionate, at £4. Justified because its from natural juices? Yeah your mother. Regardless, being told it was "like ginger", I found it to be. Well, like ginger. With less of a harder edge and spice of ginger. In as much as it was exquisitely refreshing like ginger, and only lightly sweet. Contented. And robbed. And on seeing the diffusion of "French Crepes", "Japanese Food" and other assorted anomalies at an opening at the end of Portobello Road, I figured to turn around and go explore the "Official" Food Road of Oxford Gardens whilst my body had not yet exploded, and my legs could still carry my weight. This would then preclude the recognition round of other requisite dishes to then devour in the comfort of my own home. Obviously though, if the opportunity is presented before you, seize it, and before reaching the end of Oxford Gardens I had already added an order of Curry Goat and a preposterous insult of a Coco Bread, costing far too much and being just a normal bread roll. I am not sure at this point where my ability to say no had galavanted to. The notion of getting a bigger carrier bag was also growing rather emphatically in importance, not realising that my arms were actually on the cusp of falling off at this point, by dint of having lost feeling in my palms quite a while ago. This was compounded by the notion that I also sought a fulfilling of a certain glutton of a sweet tooth. This did not bode well. The Sorrel juice would have to do for now. Arriving at the end of the road, I then met with the site of the familiar Food Truck that perhaps signified the beginning of this overindulgent and perhaps overwrought mission, and they too now must face my whim. Right after I replenished the wallet, having exhaust funds. Whilst there, I decided to opt for an African Dish I was not acutely aware of, but another sat directly in my face instantly became an object of desire. 

Chin Chin
Whilst my main dish of Asaro [a spiced yam "porridge"] & Fried Fish was being prepared, these Chin-chin were taunting me, a snack I'd long wanted to try, having made their way into one of my "must have" lists long implemented into the blog. Whilst there, I also, in clear desperation at this point, questioned if a plastic bag were at all available, and to my ecstatic delight, my prayers were answered - 1324 assorted plastic bags now became one! With some extra storage space to boot, win-win. As soon as the main was done, I snatched a bag of the Chin-chin and made my way. Obviously impatient, though not particularly hungry, I cracked open the packet and had a couple. Oh. My. Word. These are epic. Little crunchy cubes of epic. In fact, I cannot seem to stop eating them, these are fiendishly addictive. Halp. The fact that they were ever so slightly sweet only served to worsen matters, taunting my sweet-tooth in the process. Any attempts to desist their consumption was failed, for every few passes, and a hand would drop into the carrier bag for another fill.

With lunch now [supposedly] well and truly over, I had around a three hour margin to burn before my next bout of "hunger" would kick in, in which time I aimed to do a final recognition round, perhaps of the whole parade lap for some final must-try meals, with particular emphasis on the desserts that were so lacking in my walking pantry bag. Heading towards Golborne Road, the festivities at this point, almost a forgotten entity, were quite in full bloom, which annoyingly meant ever greater crowds. Not deterred, I reached, hand dipping into the disgustingly delicious Chin-chin packet every now and then. Attempts at perhaps hoping I would be rewarded with Fried Breadfruit after allowing some time to pass for their sins, was met with further denial. However, retribution was to be found at the stall next door. HAH. I think I may have avoided this stall on the last round by dint of its "Vegetarian Cuisine" billing. Well, even the hippies need some love. Whilst there, I also purchased another item to my growing inventory of desserts - a peanut drop. Thoroughly exciting I know, but worthy all the less. Inching along, another item was sought, purchased, and stored in quick succession. This time a coconut roll, not overly exciting again but what intrigued was the proud vendor clamouring the use of coconut and cinnamon layering in his roll. Coconut and cinnamon? Interesting. Obviously that was just semantics, it was a sweet treat, thus it would always be purchased. How I missed sight of these the first time around I do not know, perhaps subconsciously preventing a diabetic seizure by visual ignorance?

Reaching the Portobello Road crossroad again, I this time decided to venture down the other side - the Lebanese food stall side. Nothing at that stall for me, and seemingly nothing at the next stall, but the vendor drew me in with the usual barrage of sweet nothings about how their food is somehow superior to the google or so scattered around. Cutting him short stating that I had a sweet tooth to nurture, I was offered some rum cake, which I duly purchased a slice of. Little did I know of what divine creation I would be buying, with the lady at the stall gently hinting at such; somehow, her claim was more sincere than the usual boastings. Returning back down the original Portobello route, having satisfactorily purchased a varied enough spectrum of desserts [5 if you're counting], I would essentially use the time to purchase the last of the requisite dishes I had thus far held off on. A box of Jerk Chicken was the first, the stall not looking particularly the most enticing by dint of its lazy, sleepy looking patrons, but with the abundant choice, and the fact I had been walking around for around four or five hours, I could not build up enough caring. I then recognised a stall from an advert I had seen on the internet. Actually, I had noticed the stall before, but whilst then I snubbed it by having adverts on the internet and thus being commercial, I released my prejudices and stopped to have an inspection, being offered a piece of Jerk Chicken as well. Which was rather bland. Nothing was particularly enticing, but the bean cake sounded intriguing enough and was duly purchased, figuring in all its vegetarian-ness to be a perfectly balanced dinner to today's gross continuous gorging. This purchase, obviously showed the power of advertising. Or the mind control of internet. 

This time, I also ventured slightly deeper into the Portobello Market arena, ignoring the French Crepes and Sushis and their slight irrelevance to the cultural theme of the Carnival [I'm a bitch, I know], I uncovered some more interesting items. First of which was a juice stall, and being as I was "thirsty", I opted for a Mauby Juice, not actually knowing the hell it was. What it was, was rather peculiar. Very. Peculiar. Rather prominent taste, like cinnamon, without its sweetness and softer edges. This is obviously a polarising drink, though I kept with it, perhaps romanced by its "medicinal" qualities. Apparently it can also be a laxative to first time drinkers, something that thankfully did not verify itself, otherwise the carnival may have been inundated. Just next door to this stall, another object of desire thrust its existence unto me. Again from Western Africa, this time, a Puff-puff - essentially, a doughnut type fried dough. Yet again, you try justifying not purchasing it. Especially at a measly 50p - I was ready to barter like a Spartan seeing as I had but 70p in pocket and the item was listed at £1, but fortunately this fate was not unleashed onto the patron. Another sip of the Mauby, still peculiar. Refreshing but peculiar.

With this section of the town now thoroughly investigated, and money very quickly running out, I ventured my path towards following the carnival route thus far missed to complete my reconnaissance. Which proved predominantly fruitless, with nothing much actually going on, other than a load of miserable dancers following trucks. Until, a glorious moment, when detouring through a park, I caught sight of a stall. A Filipino stall! Woot! Do they have Balut?! No?!! Bah. They did however, have two desserts - Hopia and Turon - and naturally, being from the Philippines, a country whose predominantly unhealthy but gloriously delicious sounding dishes, and being sweets, they were rather predictably purchased and added to my ever growing multi-cultural carrier bag patisserie & delicatessen. Rather contented with this purchase, I rejoined the train of not-interesting, again seeking other cheap treats. Another groups of stalls appeared, showing some rather intensely delicious meals, with Jerk Chicken and Pork looking far better than what I had purchased, though retrospect is fun like that. Eventually I was getting bored, especially as the train started rounding the top of the route which was essentially a back road behind a residential block, creating a show in the shadiest - literally and figuratively - places. Elbowing and thrashing my way through the crowds, if only in mind, I then headed back for the Central road of the festival, ready then for my walk back, at this point relatively contented with my bounty.

Reaching the road, I bid adieu to the notion of any more purchases, only to stop by a stall I noticed during my very first walk up the road, and instantly got hawked. I may as well, it sounded healthier too, the Vegetable & Pumpkin Stew in Coconut sounding particularly appetising, as the chef assured me. This would also do a better job for dinner, being even benevolent sounding than the Bean cakes of before, despite the fact that it would take far more to right the evils of today. Purchased, and onwards, to the end of the event. Back down the eternal road. Replete with a bursting bladder, destroyed palms and slightly aching feet. Turning back momentarily, I was met with the stark contrast of what I had met at the same spot just hours beforehand.

What was an empty ribbon of road stretching into the distance, with sporadic evidence of life, was now a solid ingot of people, chaos, noise, and Jerk Chicken. Quite glad I will not join the festivities on the actual Bank Holiday where such a situation could only worsen. Even as such, I was still slightly irked by the rather pretentious nature of this "Carnival" - it all just seemed rather forced, more of an excuse to close down a part of town and "party" without a care, rather than a carnival showing pride through its procession. I am the eternal pessimist though, what do I know. Little, as the costumes would follow the next day. And only a week prior I had never even heard of the existence of a Carnival in London. Gracious to every known deity for the sight of some Port-a-cabins, which proved intense in keeping the stacks of food amassed hygienically isolated, I continued my journey back. I was aching, reeked of food [a plus, lingers the memory], had thoroughly pigged out [not a plus, lingers in the memory], my sunglasses had broken, but I was thoroughly contented. If I had aimed to culturally broaden my scope through eating today, if only through what is offered as a view within the restraints of this society, then I have certainly achieved that.

Reaching my car just in time for my afternoon fruit snack, I tucked straight in to the deadweight I had carried around for most of the day.

"Jelly" Coconut
Using the aforementioned innovative "spoon", the jelly coconut was quickly disposed of, tasting rather light, fresh and instantly bringing meaning to all the signs depicting "jelly" coconut, and no sight of actual jelly. Ten of the guinep fruits were also destroyed, rendering my hands and face a sticky mess, much to the visual delight of several passer-bys. I also took the opportunity to sample some of the desserts, with each proving its worth and rather interesting. Then the Nom Cake. O.M.G. Put it back. NAO. That was dangerously delicious. It cannot be legal. If anything could be described with a scream of pleasure, that would be the descriptive most apt for the Rum cake. Exquisitely moist, gently flavoured, and a strong rum perfume, it was all sorts of amazing. Not for now though. Tidy up the foods, and back on my way home. In simple awe of the scale and broad demographic scene of what I had just experienced. And in disgust of how much of it I have experienced. A vicious circle.

~ The ones that did NOT get away ~

Aerial Photograph of the victims
  • Hopia [Philippines] - Sweetened Mung Bean-filled Pastry
Despite never actually having tasted it before, I spurt forth with my biased exaltation on Filipino Food! With that out of the way, the Hopia was rather a subtle delight - quite meekly sweet, nice hint of sesame, rather obviously concluded from the generous sprinkling on top. 
  • Puff-puff [West Africa] - Deep-fried Lightly Sweetened Dough Ball
Another treat I was delighted to come across - I challenge anyone to not share enthusiasm over fried dough. Much like the other African fried dough treat I bought, it also was awesome. Like a bigger, softer chin chin, it provided a lightly sweet spongy dough, with what once was a crisp outer layer, with it no longer being the case having been refrigerated for a week. Not greasy in the slightest, and not heavy in its consistency. 
  • Turon [Philippines] - Banana-filled Pastry Cigar with Cinnamon
Another Filipino food of fate, and another score, the Turon consisting of a thin slice of sweetened banana in a filo-esque pastry cigar which is then sprinkled with cinnamon. As such, this was rather crunchy, lightly cinnamon flavoured, with an exquisitely sweet banana filling. A very nice and subtle treat, and not at all the rich and destructive treat I thought it could be.
  • Asaro with Fried Fish [African] - Spiced Yam Porridge
Whilst the proportioning left a bit to be desired, the execution certainly did not. I am not entirely sure how the yam composition is to be considered a porridge, with most of the chunks being rather intact, but it was wonderfully flavourful. Nicely spiced, with a sweetness from the yam and a tang from perhaps Scotch Bonnet peppers supplementing each other rather well. The fish, whilst rather meagre in comparison to the geological plateau of yam, was also enjoyable, with a similarly spiced tomato sauce. Lots of carbs in those yams though, hmph >_>
  • Coconut Roll (with Cinnamon) [Caribbean] - Shredded Coconut-infused Pastry Roll
Whilst not completely selling me on sight and in description, looking a bit too "artificially" coloured for me, it did however turn out to be a quite lovely combination. The coconut and cinnamon married rather quite well, the sharpness of the cinnamon balancing with the creamy coconut shreds, and diffusing through the crumbly roll.
  • Black Bean Cakes [Caribbean] - Spiced, Breaded Bean-meal Cakes
A rather reasonable dish considering the rather unexciting constitution. The bean cakes had an interesting spice combination, not quite able to pinpoint it as I my ability to distinguish such subtle nuances are noticeable by their absence, only staunchly, face-slappingly obvious characteristics register with my blunt senses. The sweetness of the cakes also worked well with the spicing.
  • Curry Goat with Rice & Peas [Caribbean] - Curried Goat with Rice & Beans
Wondering primarily what differences would arise between a Caribbean and an Asian Curry, I was met with, well, not much of a difference at all. It was a rather weak curry, if mostly in potency, and generally a bit meek. The goat meat was much like lamb, with perhaps a bit less of the lamb aroma, though certainly very greasy. The rice and "peas" did not throw any surprises, other than being pleasingly earthy with the addition of the kidney beans, giving a good diffusion of flavour of the curry goat.
  • Fried Breadfruit [Caribbean]
Not sure if I was expecting much out of this or not, especially in the sense of tasting like bread. It did not, though apparently it is a breadfruit more for its texture when cooked, which I suppose draws some parallel. A very slightly sweet and rather starchy fruit, it worked well with the Jerk Chicken and plantain, providing a potato-like starchiness, though much lighter in consistency.
  • Rum Cake [Caribbean] - Rum-infused Sponge Cake
Quite frankly epic. Exquisitely soft and moist, delicately flavoured, and with a gratuitous hit and perfume of Rum. This cake slice was simply astounding. 
  • Rock Cake [Caribbean] - Ginger & Raisin Muffin-esque Cake
Another surprise, after a Google search corrected my assumption on this the coconut drop, though again I figured rock cake for its consistency, rather than its appearance. Rather nicely spiced, with a hint of ginger and the rich raisins coming through. Lightly sweet, and utterly addictive.
  • Peanut Drop [Caribbean/African] - Peanuts Caramelised in Sugar
Not the most complicated of dishes, but certainly hard to resist - sweetened peanuts. Reese's Pieces. Awesome, more awesome, etc. These are done especially well, with the full aroma of the peanut permeating through, the sugar providing just the right amount of sweetness to create instant peanut butter as you chew.
  • Coconut Drop [Caribbean] - Coconut Pieces Caramelised in Gingered Sugar
Despite looking, breaking up like, and being as hard to eat like a rock, it is most certainly worth it. The strong presence of ginger with the coconut chunks and the sweetening sugar create a rather indulgent sharp and spicy sweet sensation, constantly changing as you bite through the coconut and get its creamy essence. 
  • Fritter, Dumpling & Plantain [Caribbean] - Saltfish Fritter, Fried Dough Ball & Fried Plantain
No real surprises from not overly complicated items - the fritter was predominantly batter based, though I did not pay attention to what was actually included. It did have a slight fish aroma coming through, and it was generally a pleasant morsel. The dumpling, whilst not as epic as the cannonball consumed in the day, was regardless also delightful, being much lighter in consistency though perhaps less aromatic. The plantain as well, was as expected - like a cooked banana, though unlike banana the sweetness is somewhat restrained, not lingering as long, and not as overly sweet. Did work well in combination with the fish and Jerk Chicken.
  • Jerk Chicken & Plantain [Caribbean] - Spiced Grilled Chicken
A bit of a disappointment, but also still enjoyable - obviously made to the mainstream level as this certainly was not spiced with Scotch Bonnets, or to any meaningful degree. It was essentially barbecued chicken, but then again, there is nothing wrong with barbecued chicken. I just would have appreciated a greater profusion of spicing. It did tie in well with the plantain slices. 
  • Pumpkin & Vegetable Stew in Coconut with Rice & Peas [Caribbean]
Perhaps this would have been one to sample immediately, as by the time it was ready to consume, it was less of a stew, and more of a soggy rice dish, but it was still delightful. What few vegetables included were moderately sweetened by the pumpkin, and a very slight nuance of coconut permeated. The rice was also nice and fluffy, using a different type of bean or pea that was similar to a chickpea, and as a result, rather quite earthy, combining nicely with the root vegetables in the stew. Of particular note was the chilli sauce added, richly flavoured with Scotch Bonnets, a nice amount of heat, and generally rather nice and tangy.


So it was over, this latest of events attended also being the greatest, most definitely in terms of scale. Hideously so. Vehemently so. The sheer scale of this event having completely blind-sided me, presenting in itself as its greatest asset, and an infernal cause for ruing. In its size, the Notting Hill Carnival provided all the scope required for broadening on yet another facet of global cuisine; this scale however would also cast consideration on the consistency in the general quality of the food being provided, and caused utmost irritation in attempting to plan a route or structure in what there was to sample. Being largely a guerilla-type setup, with stalls haphazardly thrown where ever a space were available, the only solution would be through mass ground beating. I only have such small strides. This first doubt was amplified as well by the sheer participation number of the events - with an apparent million strong crowd, just how authentic, adventurous and nostalgic can the vendors be, when in the end, they need to make their money? And just how would I tell the difference, knowing essentially everything about nothing about Caribbean cuisine? A risk to take, but also a ground to base future occasions on. I can only expect so much at this point. In all though, I was left pleased. Beyond the slight ghetto of an area that the carnival extended into, the profuse number of people happening as a byproduct of a carnival, are merely aspects of me being a Grinch refusing to absorb the atmosphere. Bah to that, I was here, to eat.

Eat I did. However, the atmosphere was a matter of contemplation, if only slight, and only when encountered with the procession, as I have made clear where my focuses were [my stomach does my thinking]. Despite only recently discovering the existence of the carnival, never having attended carnivals, and generally not caring about carnivals, little in the air of this event felt like a carnival. It felt forced. Watching the rudimentary moving stages inch along with grouped dancers ambling behind, nearly none of them in costume, and a lot of the younger groups distinctly miserable, it seemed more than a little tenuous. The crowds as well were just as part of the space as the "acts", joining along, occupying space, or just moving along, a general melange of chaos. No gaudy, grand and professional processions, no hugely elaborate floats and demonstrations, no Town-wide preparations and decorations. It just seemed an excuse to get out on the street and party, with the watchful eye of a strong Police "Parental Guidance". I cannot whine lyrical too much though, as this party brought along with it a veritable smattering of delights. Whilst not wowed by anything in particular - other than the epic Rum Cake - I was certainly delighted. Whilst the choice of food abound was infinitesimal, the variation certainly was not, which also made narrowing down from the selection a simply fruitless exercise. I suppose, within the restraints of not being in the country of origin of the cuisine I was sampling, again, I can only base my opinion on those grounds, rather than an ultimate defining characteristic of said cuisine.

My spectrum, has certainly been broadened now, and it was good to break away momentarily from the onslaught of those devilish Asian desserts. What can I take from the experience? Despite going on a whim, be prepared - bring that godforsaken backpack, I know I'm greedy, mark locations on the map, and don't rush purchases. I just need to convince my stomach on that last point. 

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