Another disappointing British Bank Holiday Monday. Yes it was dry, and even sunny at times, but so cold and windy that it was hard to believe this was late Spring rather than late Autumn.
So when looking for an activity for the day that wouldn’t be totally reliant on the weather, we opted for South Shields, thinking that the beach would be perfect if things improved, but that the food festival being held there would be a good alternative if they did not.
Of course, coming so soon after writing about the food culture of Bologna, this was bound to be a lesser experience. Substitute streets full of enticing shops and cafés for queues of Brits at a circle of tents and caravans, clutching the ubiquitous pint in a plastic glass and stuffing their faces with burgers, hot-dogs and other portable foods.
The diversity of these foods was impressive; the usual suspects were joined by an array that included Japanese, Jamaican, Mexican, German, Italian, Indian, and Moroccan options, though they could generally be classified as spicy and/or stodgy. Chilli was the lowest common denominator. (Wonder if Donald Trump enjoys Mexican food?)
More inspiring were the rows of stalls where mostly local food producers sold their wares, and more often than not provided some tasty samples. I can’t help but feel that the marketing approach that most adopted highlighted their limitations. More emphasis seemed to be placed on their local origin than on the flavour of their product. For many the solution was to adopt the term “Northumbrian”, so that stalls representing the Northumbrian Smokehouse, Northumbrian Sausages, Northumbrian Cheeses and more were the order of the day. All very well, but aside from indicating that their products hadn’t clocked up many food miles, what does that tell the consumer?
The provenance of our food is given ever greater importance; restaurants will trumpet the farms where they source their ingredients, and sometimes be more informative explaining how the welfare of the animals or the organic methods used leads to a better product. But a single word or a red and yellow flag? No.
Much of the food we tried was decent enough, but those symbols alone are no proof of that.
My Italian lifestyle envy kicked in big time; surely they would do this so much better. And so we enjoyed a musical interlude before escaping to a now sunlit beach, but not before grabbing a coffee in an emporium dedicated to sugary nonsense. A family business. Run by Italians!