Comedian and food fiend Jessica Fostekew puts her mouth where others fear to tread. A celebration of eating: from posh nosh to kebab shops to stuff that’s been on the floor. This week, Jess enjoys the words and food of the Hay Festival.
Mikey (my partner in life and much hoovering) and I went on our inaugural trip to the Hay literary festival. Up until now it was the sort of thing I’d only ever seen parodied in offensively gentle TV dramas. The ones with Bill Nighy or The Dench. I expected lots of conservative sexual tension, a bit of pomp and bragging and some really formal fawning. In reality, it was exciting, accessible and a brilliant way to spend half of our week.
We were spoiled, as Mikey’s kind family had hired a lovely cottage nearby for us to nest in. Hay is a beautiful town set in the most untainted Welsh countryside there is. We had sunshine for the whole time we were there and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such bright green fields and hills. The setting alone was life-affirming. The rest of it was all about the love of reading but also, eating. My mouth consumed as much wonder as my brains.
There was all sorts for the eyes. We saw some amazing things. I learned some fascinating science and was moved by some stories from women who’d worked at Bletchley Park. Funniest and my best was James Ward’s brilliant hour on his new book Adventures in Stationery. All about stationery. If there’s one thing I love almost half as much as food, it’s pens and Post-its. Anyway, to the hoovering.
There’s all sorts on-site, so I’ll stick to what we scoffed there. First up we tried Café Môr, selling a selection of delights from the sea. We both had a ‘slokey’ – flatbreads stuffed with fillings, dry-fried, then served with chips and salad. Both came in at under a tenner. Mikey’s was packed with bacon, cockles and laverbread. Mine held fistfuls of crab, spring onion, chilli and sweetcorn.
The chips were cold but still tasty. They were, after all, chips. The salad was lush: fresh and crisp with a healthy dollop of a really sexy, smoky coleslaw. The slokeys were great fun: piping hot and oozing with filling. Mine was runner up. The chilli was in fact a huge pool of sweet chilli sauce, which swallowed everything in its tangy, saccharin grip. I did get the odd burst of beautiful crab flavour which was dazzling.
Mikey’s slokey was exceptional on the flavour front. It had every shade of salty and fishy you could possible imagine and then some. We were both unexpectedly stodged out by half-time. These would have been perfect had we been canoeing or hiking round Hay. Having only recently exercised our clapping hands at most, these carb monsters sat in our tummies like bricks. Tasty fish bricks.
Next, we hoofed ice-creams from Shepherds. Their sign boasted “the original sheep’s milk ice cream”. I ate a strip of dried elk once in Norway and it tasted exactly like I’d imagine an elk would smell (of shit). I’ve been wary of this sort of thing ever since. It was fine. I didn’t even get the faintest waft of woollen dung-ball.
For £3.50, I got a cone with one scoop of toffee and honeycomb and one of mint choc chip. It was pretty erotic. The mint was refreshing and creamy. The toffee had giant chunks of crunchy, golden, scrumptious real honeycomb in it. I didn’t want it to end. Mikey got raspberry ripple with mango and coconut, which he also loved. I’d never go for a full-fruit-medley. Tastebud-wise, we are sometime enemies.
Last up was our final supper. I went to The Welsh Venison Centre and got venison chilli nachos for £7.50. They had two little chilli pictures next to their name so I was hoping for fireworks. Sadly, there were none. Not even a sparkler. That was misleading.
Other than that though, they were outstanding. The paper plate was overflowing. The hard Welsh cheese was gorgeous and strong. The sour cream was plentiful and creamy. The guacamole was fresh and unsynthetic. The nachos were exceptional, wholegrain-y and particularly swarthy and delicious. The chilli, too, was really good and, spicelessness aside, the venison was lean and juicy. It was full of chunky tomatoes. The meat made an incredible alternative to beef: richer, cleaner tasting and more iron-y.
Mikey had a £3 slice of pepperoni pizza from Lotty’s Homemade Cuisine, which was beautiful. The meat and cheese were strong, hot, fresh and plentiful with a crunchy thin crust. He had it with sweet potato and carrot soup from one of the vegan stalls, which had a bold and welcome helping of caraway in it.
We only touched the surface of the grubs on offer there. In terrible news for me that means we’ll probably have to go back next year. Damn.
The Hay Festival, Hay-On-Wye, Wales, 21–31 May 2015
Box Office: 01497 822 629
Accessible: Yes, completely. Considering it’s a circle of tents in a field, it’s been made completely wheelchair friendly, step-free and priority access to all the events and restaurants and there are accessible toilets.
Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.