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Street Food Is The Heartbeat Of Carnival

caribbean recipes

Lucy Richards

Notting Hill Carnival has been taking place in the UK for decades, the first being held in 1959 at St Pancras Town Hall. It’s now an integral cultural event that happens annually in London, with many other breakout festivals happening across the country. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Notting Hill Carnival is returning to the streets of London this August Bank Holiday (Saturday 27th to Monday 29th) spreading over Westbourne Grove, Westbourne Park, Kensal Road and Ladbroke Grove.

Although Carnival is hosted in London, the event is not just for Londoners; the attract weekends attendees from all over the UK to enjoy one of the country’s landmark traditions. The crowds come out in thousands, and for good reason; the weekend’s festivities famously include a float parade sponsored by global and local businesses, Mas bands and extravagant costuming with colorful feathers, beads and gems. The sounds of Soca, calypso and heavy-bass sound systems can be heard throughout the weekend all over the area, while the smell of jerk pits, fragrance the air and rumble stomachs.

homemade jamaican rum punch

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The end of World War II saw thousands of Caribbean people emigrating from the islands to the UK to help re-build the country’s workforce and economy, many settling in North and South West London. Unfortunately, many were subjected to racist harassment, culminating in the Notting Hill Race Riots of 1958.

Political activist and Trinidadian Claudia Jones played a key role in the creation of Notting Hill Carnival as an event to celebrate the culture and contributions of Caribbean people in the UK and encourage unity within an area of ​​London heavily impacted by racism. Since then, Notting Hill Carnival has become an annual occurrence. Carnival culture has even expanded past London into other cities across the UK; St Paul’s Carnival in Bristol has been running since 1968 and Manchester Carnival began in 1970, both initiated after similar stories of racial tension.

Despite the dark history that underpins Carnival’s origins, the events are known for being spectacles of joy, celebration and positive energy. Following the last two years of global uncertainty due to COVID, and the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer of 2020, the return of Notting Hill Carnival, and Carnival events nationally will no doubt provide attendees with some well-needed catharsis and be uplifting to the Afro-Caribbean communities across the UK.

And an integral part of Carnival culture, whether at Notting Hill or St Paul’s, is the array of Caribbean food available. Street vendor’s stalls will line the roads for thousands, from restaurants to catering companies, serving food and drink for the duration of the weekend. You’ll usually find plenty of Jerk chicken in wraps or boxes alongside rice and peas, plantain and coleslaw. Or, curried goat or chicken with roti, as well as fresh coconut and sugar cane.

cut open coconut for coconut water

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Notting Hill Carnival’s street food culture has become as popular as the music and entertainment with some stall owners becoming staple vendors every year. One of these is Levi Roots, a musician and culinary entrepreneur, who spent his younger years immersed in Carnival culture, helping his aunt prepare chicken and fish for the food stall she held. He cites Notting Hill Carnival as strongly influencing who he is as a person today. This year, Levi will be Chairman across the country at Bristol’s St Paul’s Carnival where, long before Dragon’s Denhe sold his famous Reggae Reggae Sauce to attendees.

“The spirit of Carnival is about the food and the cuisine,” he told delicious, referring to the many different cuisines now on offer from Latin American, to East Asian and beyond. However, it’s Caribbean favorites that have built the mould, according to Levi: “your spicy jerk chicken with rice and peas, classic curry goat and roti – they are the heartbeat of Carnival.”

Jerk Chicken in particular is a key component of the weekend, Levi tells us. “You just grab it and eat it… that is what people were wanting; to have food that they could eat on the move. Jerk chicken is classic for that. The vision of the jerk pan, of the barbecue, which is so Caribbean… natural cooking with smoke must be a part of it.”

Something that makes Caribbean street food at Carnival so special is the love behind it. A lot of the stalls are family-run, Levi tells us, and so “you feel like you are still having it at someone’s house or someone’s cooking for you… they are cooking it home style. And I think that is the beauty of it.”

barbecue chicken on a smoking grill

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So, if you are heading to Carnival this year, whether Notting Hill, or St Paul’s – which Levi tells us will be “back a yard style and more about the St Paul’s people” this year, make sure you go with an empty stomach.

In the meantime, we’ve shared some of our favorite Caribbean recipes to help you recreate the flavors of Carnival, right at home, thanks to the guys behind Original Flava, Shaun and Craig McAnuff:

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