Living in South Manchester, it’s not often I venture far ‘up North’ to Bolton. This weekend however, I was tempted by a tweet from The Chocolate Cafe @welovechocolate, who had just bumped in to James Martin at the Bolton Food Festival. Intrigued; a quick Google told me that the festival was filling the shopping streets of Bolton Town Centre over the Bank Holiday weekend. So, after the obligatory bank holiday trip to B&Q (to buy a washer to fix a dripping tap) we headed up the A666 to Bolton.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of stalls and people. The bustling atmosphere of Victoria Square and the Market Place showed that people wanted to experience a foodie fun day, despite the dismal weather and threat of, the ever present, Manchester rain. The music, beer tents, and food smells, packed in around the Town Hall, Market Hall and Albert Halls, suggested a promising treat for the taste buds.
Hungry for some lunch; Mark and I wandered through the market, enjoying the smells and sights of the tasty looking treats on offer. We decided that it was only right to have a 3 course meal, to make sure we took full advantage of the occasion.
We started with Onion Bhajis from Arjee Bhaji. Served with a delicious, peanutty side salad and curry sauce, these were the biggest, most sprawling bhajis I have seen. Freshly fried, and scrumptious.
Next, with a taste for all things Indian we sampled Chicken Tikka Kebabs from Zouk as our ‘main course’. Proper street food, served in chapatis, with salad and mango and mint sauce oozing from the bottom. Finger licking yum.
Hunger satisfied; we had time to ponder over the wares of the crafty stalls, consider the cheeses, and reminisce over retro flavoured vodkas, before Mark decided, in the interests of indulgence, to sample a red curry pie from The Real Thai Pie Company. Not being a lover of pastry, or a pie muncher, I gave this a miss, but he relished in the joys of a tasty pie that was actually served steaming hot.
Now in the mood for pudding we wandered past stalls of beautiful cupcakes, humungous meringues, children’s sweets, and marshmallows and cake pops galore. Fancying something chocolatey we opted for the sugary delights of Old Elephant Fudge. I am a traditionalist when it comes to fudge and prefer creamy or vanillary fudge, so I chose Clotted Cream. We were hard pushed to choose another from the vast array or flavours on offer, including the likes of Baileys, After Dinner Mint, and even Liquorice. We settled on Rocky Road and I have to agree with the owner, they were amazing; melt in the mouth – delicious. My only regret was that we didn’t buy more.
We headed back past the other foodie stalls, laughing at the excitement of a family near us when they found The Garlic Farm. One lady actually ran after her husband shouting, “It’s the garlic farm, it’s the garlic farm,” and pulled him over to make a purchase. Mark and I have an ongoing debate about whether we need to buy garlic, and knowing that we had just run out, we felt we could justify a purchase. Sold on the idea of garlic bulbs that are guaranteed to last until April / May next year, we bought a string. Apparently, and I think I’ve got this right, the garlic that you get in the supermarket is grown quickly in Asia, and brought to England in fridges to keep it dormant. It takes about a year to reach our shelves, at which point it wakes up and starts to sprout. This is why the garlic is bitter and often has green shoots inside. The garlic grown on the Isle of Wight is grown slowly and has not been refrigerated so it stays dormant for longer, which is why it lasts so long. I’m not sure there will be any left by next year to put this theory to the test, but at least it explains why garlic is often sold on long strings, anywhere except the supermarket.
So, with a garlicy smelling kitchen to keep me going till next year’s event, it is with much enthusiasm that I would recommend a visit if you are anywhere near Manchester over the August Bank Holiday. And I understand that 2015 will be the festival’s 10th anniversary. So head on over to Bolton and give it a try.