New Yorker in Adelaide

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Festival Food

Camping, music, dancing, meeting people, shopping, queuing for toilets, trying to sleep with earplugs doing nothing to diminish the pounding bass, reveling in the way you're actually dirtier after bathing in the muddy river. These are all celebrated aspects of the Summer Music Festival, and all with one aim: to become so far removed from daily life that you can slip into a state of pure being, of total awareness and joy of the moment. As posh comforts, cleanliness, care about your appearance, silence, regular mealtimes, and all responsibilities fade into dim memories, you come closer to losing yourself in a revelous dance, swim, or lazy haze.

This is the reason I attended Earthcore, an enormous 3-day outdoor music festival in country Victoria where a good number of energetic Melbournians, as well as folks from farther afield such as Sydney, Adelaide, Israel and Japan, descend on the placid countryside to blast wild and crazy music and enjoy a spiritually-liberating dance. There are so many little aspects of a festival that come together to make it perfect: for example, the spray-bottle that we purchased for $5 that helped to hold dehydration at bay when we just couldn't possibly fit any more water in our stomachs, or the cloth headbands-cum-face masks that limited our inhalation of dust while stomping on the sandy dancefloor.

But one of these aspects, necessary but often an afterthought, is physical nourishment, and by that I of course mean food. Yes, festival food is also a break from the mundane, even in the uncomplicated manner presented here. Largely vegetarian, quite diverse, and prepared with a simple pride in quality and taste, Earthcore's selection of festival nosh was superb.

The first excellent and delicious treat I enjoyed was a vegetable samosa from a bright purple tent adorned with rugs, cushions and knee-height tables. This stand also made strong, spicy chai that tasted perfect with a spoonful of honey on Sunday morning after a sleepless night of festivities. After the samosa I went to the Hare Krishna tent and ate what looked like little fried meatballs but were actually made entirely of vegetables, with a piquant tomato sauce. Those Hare Krishnas worked vegan miracles in their modest tent! It all tasted beautiful and felt satisfying, with a cold Cooper's secretly stored in the bottom of the esky.

For breakfast I ate a banana from the esky (expensive, yes, but necessary to keep my calves strong for dancing) and an absolutely perfect, strong and nourishing latte made by a friendly barista who calls his operation Combi Coffee (due to his mode of transport). This was the best cup of coffee I have had in Australia. A yoga session, a good swim, and several hours of lazing later, I had a fresh corn tortilla piled with black beans, fresh salsa, salad and cheese from Trippy Taco (I don't know what made the taco trippy, but it tasted fresh and yummy). We decided to forgo the stalls for dinner in order to fortify our bodies for dancing with heartier fare - we heated some channa masala and enjoyed it with pita and dips. But one of the best treats was to come: fantastically fresh-squeezed fruit juice to keep us going on the dance floor. This beautiful concoction of fruits (I could taste apple, banana and lime, but I'm sure there were a few more in there) cured dehydration better than any other beverage.

I had pizza for breakfast on Sunday morning, and not just any greasy slice. There, in a clearing in the middle of the woods, was a wood-fired pizza oven, where hard-working pizza mavens overcame the stifling heat in order to bring me a perfect round of chewy crust topped with tomato, mozzarella, spinach and feta. I had wanted to try the veggie burgers as well after seeing my friends' reactions while eating theirs, but by Sunday lunchtime I was buggered (which apparently means the same thing as knackered, or really really tired for the American folks) and we left the festival in order to search for a bed and have a big sleep.

The only problem with festival food is its elusiveness. Who knows if I'll ever find the Combi Coffee man and his cup of creamy bitter perfection again? Or taste the vegan wonders of the Earthcore Hare Krishnas? I'm still looking for the ethereal Thai green curry that I consumed with pleasure at Womadelaide last summer. But perhaps its great, simple joy lies in that very mystery. This is special food, it belongs in the realm of eternal summer that is the Music Festival, and would never taste as good at a restaurant in the city. It needs to be eaten outdoors, sitting under a tree, away from the everyday, by a dirty, exhausted, and totally blissful reveler - which I will continue to be as often as I can.