Know your johnny cake from your callaloo? The food (and drink) at London’s great Caribbean carnival is as exciting as the parade itself. Sarah Tucker dives in

Celebrating the culture and traditions of the capital’s Caribbean communities, the Notting Hill Carnival is now in its 53rd year. Notting Hill is Europe’s biggest street festival, and with some two million visitors it gets very, very busy – even claustrophobic – so it’s important to get there early and bag the best places for the best view and the best food. Infectious live music – salsa, reggae, soca and dub – exotic costumes, colourful floats and parade bands which would look more at home in Rio than London W6 (not to mention uncharacteristically bonhomous police) overwhelm the senses – and it’s the distinctive aroma of jerk chicken and fried plaintain you’ll remember for days to come.

The best ways to eat and drink at Carnival

Get there early and bag a place

If you would prefer to try out the stalls along the route, go early and be prepared to queue and when you do get your food, sit on the pavement (if you find a space) or alternatively eat while standing up (and dancing). Check out the stands which offer the traditional fare of jerk chicken and pork, rice and peas, Caribbean dumplings, curry goat, fried plantains, Jamaican patties, corn on the cob. Try dishes you have never had before, and as you will probably end up sitting on the pavement, polystyrene container in hand, navigating through curry goat or corn on the cob with a plastic fork, a flat cushion to sit on will also be handy (you can get these in any good gardening shop). They start serving early, usually around ten in the morning: hard core carnival-goers eat jerk chicken for breakfast.

Notting Hill Carnival food stand
Notting Hill Carnival food stand

Coconut water, Guinness, hot chocolate, rum – and more rum

To drink, check out the achingly trendy coconut water, Guinness punch, and of course, as much rum as you need to fuel your dancing. Try the blow-your-head-off cocktails (all of course containing rum) at the Rum Kitchen.

Portobello Road’s Boom Burger serves Jamaican hot chocolate (good to know if August bank holiday weather lives up to its damp reputation, or if you want a non alcoholic alternative to rum). With nutmeg, cinnamon leaf and condensed milk, it’s unusual, wonderfully aromatic, and delicious

Take cash, and be prepared to queue

These stands don’t take cards and the cash machines empty quickly. You should also be prepared to queue and if you feel confident enough, bargain with the stallholders: ask for four portions for the price of three.

Search out the best restaurants

The Elgin
For those who want a change of pace, and to watch the fun from indoors, try and book a table at the Elgin, which will be serving carnival food before and during the event.

The Elgin Notting Hill interior
The Elgin Notting Hill interior

The Creole Kitchen at the Beachcomber
The Creole Kitchen will be offering a Caribbean feast, including plantain crisps, bokit dippers (a sort of fried Caribbean sandwich), saltfish fritters, creole franks and aubergine patties.

The Rum Kitchen
One of the best Caribbean restaurants in London, serving curried mutton, pan-fried sea bream. I go for the island-spiced fried squid with ginger and lime, and they do an excellent jerk chicken pizza. For vegetarians they also offer corn on the cob with cauliflower curry with pomegranate and grilled halloumi salad with coconut and lime. This is also the place to try out ackee and saltfish (ackee is a fruit which when cooked has a texture similar to scrambled egg).  Callaloo looks like spinach but is a bit more gutsy in taste. It’s usually served sautéed with a little onion and garlic.

The Rum Kitchen
The Rum Kitchen

Boom Burger
For something less refined try Boom Burger, where the burgers are served with jerk mayo and plaintain fries, open from midday till eleven. They’ll also be serving johnny cakes (like a pancake or flatbread made of cornmeal), and breadfruit.

Honest Burgers Portobello
A favourites of seasoned Carnival performers, they will both be running Caribbean-themed menus throughout carnival.

The Notting Hill Carnival takes place in Notting Hill, London, on 27 and 28 August 2017.

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