Around the World in Eight Plates
London International Food Festival
London, Ontario, Canada June 2016
Attended by Travel Writer, Michele Roger
There is nothing quite like a summer food festival. For many small towns, celebrating the local region’s cuisine or harvest is what inspires tourists and foodies to venture to obscure places across North America. The directors of the London International Food Festival have successfully presented their celebration of food in an inventive, new way. Instead of marketing what makes them unique, they have created a festival celebrating what brings them all together; great food made by up and coming small restaurant and food truck chefs.
Ontario, a metropolitan region of Canada was first noticed by travelers thanks to the town of Stratford. Students, serious actors and starlets have flocked to Stratford for the past decade or more, a town completely devoted to theater. In the shadow of Stratford is the lesser known, hidden gem of a town called London, just a thirty minute drive south.
London has that small town charm with big city food adventures. The starlets of the culinary scene are making a name for themselves, thanks to the renaissance of the food truck. The London International Food Festival is a showcase of these culinary starlets, who’s owners are a mixture of Canadian natives and first generation immigrants. Eighty thousand tourists come to taste the complexity of flavors, culture and diversity that each participating vendor presents for one glorious weekend in June. While I am still saving up for a trip around the world, the London International Food Festival was a micro, global adventure in small plates.
1. Caribbean Flavah Restaurant. (Caribbean Islands) Every other summer when I was growing up, my Aunt and Uncle from Corsica came to visit. I can remember two times when my uncle, a chef, made a dish of stewed goat. Memories of those summer dinners, laughing and listening to their travel stories came flooding back to me in my first bite of Caribbean Flavah’s curried goat. Tender, roasted meat in a thick, spicy tomato sauce is a perfect companion to bread or rice.
2. Fancy Tarts Pie Shop. (Canada) Their motto is “Sexier than the average tart.” Their booth and truck are brightly colored and full of sass. I’m not sure pie is sexy, but it is delicious. Since I was in Canada, I had to try the butter tarts; arguably the best place on earth to eat such delicacies. Did the box I bought make it home, in tact? No. No they did not.
3. Mill Street Brewery. (Canada) No food festival is complete without a beer garden. Mill Street started out as a small, Candian microbrewery that has won the hearts and tastebuds of the entire region. Sitting under the shade of a patio umbrella, nothing beats the heat like a Mill Street Pale Ale.
4. Philippine Barbeque. (Philippines) This food truck is truly a family business. Dad grills beef and chicken while mom and son chop heaps and heaps of fresh bell peppers and onions. Aunt sells huge slices of fresh pineapple and Grandma chops herbs. When I ask her which herbs make the dish native to the Philippines, she smiles and puts her finger to her lips. The secret to the award winning flavor is in her spice mix and she guards it with a secrecy I admire.
5. British Fish and Chips. (United Kingdom) I was compelled to try these fish and chips mainly because the chef offered both haddock and cod as options. Fish and chips sounds ordinary, but only a master can do it correctly, meaning it should be light, not greasy or heavy. The verdict? I see why they sold out before dinner.
6. Texas Barbeque. (United States) The line for this food truck was so long and for my entire visit that I never actually got to taste the food. One couple said that their lunch was so good, that they waited in line again and returned for dinner.
7. Wisey’s Pies. (New Zealand) Savory pies are a British and New Zealand staple. Thanks to my Kiwi husband, I’ve come to love them too. Since there are no pie shops in our area, I often try to make them at home. It would be an understatement to say finding this food booth was a slice of heaven. I particularly recommend the vegetable pie, while my husband swears the mince and cheese is the best.
8. A Taste of Korea. (Korea) I leave this one for last as they were an exception to the food truck scene. This booth was hosted by a church youth group who were working on a service project. One of their adult counsellors taught them some of her family recipes from Korea and the kids all pitched in to learn to make each dish from scratch. I love this kind of project that inspires one generation to pass down the recipes and culture to the next. Add that the profits went to charity and that knocks it out of the park for me. I hope their example serves as a model for more projects in more food festivals.
Everywhere across North America, food and how it brings people together is being celebrated. Don’t miss a single bite or sip! Get out there and enjoy what the year round food fest has to offer wherever your travels may take you. For a list of festivals throughout 2016 and 2017, go to www.foodreference.com.