Food shows are big business at the moment, whatever culture or religion you are, and the UK’s first Halal Food Festival tapped into that zeitgeist.
Held over three days in an exhibition space in the ExCeL in east London, the festival brought together artisan producers, celebrity chefs and foodies (nicknamed ‘haloodies’). I headed down for the second day to check out all the fuss.
The festival hall was packed when we got there just after 2pm, and we got stuck right in, heading round the various stalls, trying out products and purchasing plenty along the way. A highlight was the mango fudge produced by Suffolk-based Yum Yum Tree Fudge, which nearly made me swoon.
At the cooking school area, we watched Glasgow-based chef Ajmal Mushtaq lead six people in making a chicken curry, which smelt delicious and tasted pretty good too (since we all got to try a bit). At the live cookery theatre we watched Aneesh from The Chocolatier put together something truly scrumptious looking that involved lots of chocolate and coconut.
Where the Halal Food Festival fell down, unfortunately, was in the food that you could eat. After a few hours wondering round, there’s only so many samples you can eat before you want something substantial. Granted, there were some amazing stalls at the festival, selling burgers, wraps and more. But they weren’t very close together, meaning it was hard to compare and contrast and decide what you wanted. A “food village” of sorts, around a seating area, would have been good.
Once you did decide what you wanted, there was the queuing. First, there wasn’t really room to queue in the event space, so lines of people stretched out past other stalls, getting in the way. Second, the most popular stand had a queue that people waited in for an hour. That is absolutely ridiculous. Bigger stands, spread out a little more would have been perfect.
Obviously, the festival organisers needed to consider cost, but if I were them I would have cut the festival down to two days (yesterday’s opening day was a wash, according to many stallholders I spoke to), and then spent the money saved on hiring a bigger space.
Still, this is the first time this festival has been held. With a few lessons from this year, next year’s event has the potential to be bigger, and much better.