Pushing my taste boundaries, I decided to attend a chilli festival, which turned out to be a great success. I have been slightly worried about using chillies in my cooking after a HOT experience at an Indian wedding, where I mistook a red chilli for a red pepper. Ouch! But I’m always happy to have a go and change my mind.
The festival was due to run for two days, but the first day was packed. In fact the organisers and stall holders weren’t prepared for the crowds: a number of fast food stalls ran out of stock in the early afternoon. However, heavy rain was forecast for the second day, and I suspect everyone didn’t want to chance the second day.
There were plenty of stalls selling everything from chilli shaped earrings to chilli infused chocolate spread. There were ample opportunities to taste oils, honeys; even beer. We bought chilli and lemongrass rape seed oil; I have since made scrambled eggs with this as an oil. The flavour of the chilli and lemongrass flavour subtly comes through (yum).
We also bought the chilli infused chocolate spread, some chilli infused honey, which on reflection is slightly scary and some ginger beer. This has a real kick and isn’t there to quench your thirst. My husband bought some chilli beer; he didn’t taste it before, and he found it indigestible!
Chilli plants were available to buy (very reasonably). Within two weeks I’d harvested chillies and have been making a number of dishes (bravely) as well as a glaze for salads.
As an entertainment company, specialising in live music and performance, I am always interested in entertainment organised at a festival of this kind. At this festival they came up trumps. Yes, there is something very cheesy about small Mexican bands, but their musical style and the gorgeous vocals/harmonies really enhanced the event and added to the ambience in the street food area.
The carrot for my teenaged son accompanying us was some Mexican street food, and we weren’t disappointed. Our local Mexican food company, Cannita Carnitas (from Hitchin) created some brilliant Burritos and nachos.
My teenaged son went straight back for more – it was delicious.
You could also buy a variety of chillies. There were some varieties I’d never seen before.
We then assembled to the natural amphitheatre area, where the famous Chilli eating contest was taking place. 10 volunteers had put themselves forward to eat progressively hotter chillies in front of a cheering crowd. Slowly volunteers dropped out as the agony became unbearable. We were stood next to a chap with some impressive tattoos. It turned out that he was last year’s champion. He had to eat 13 chillies before the other contestant dropped out. He admitted that he wasn’t able to eat or drink ANYTHING for 2 days without being in total pain throughout his digestive system (I’m being polite here).
Contestants started being ill and we decided to make our way home before the rest of the crowds left. I have to say we all really enjoyed the day. It was well run; there was a lot to see, and eat, and it was in a great setting. Even better, the car parking was well planned and we left at a different exit, where we didn’t have to avoid pedestrians and it went straight to our road home.
But the biggest bonus for me was that I had ideas for using chillies in my cooking and instead of avoiding it, I was inspired to try some new flavours. Chilli Festivals are great fun and I would certainly attend one again.