Stephen Jardine: Had your tea? If so, you’ll be missing out at the festival

The Edinburgh Food Festival, held last weekend, attracts 20,000 people over four days.
The Edinburgh Food Festival, held last weekend, attracts 20,000 people over four days.
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There is an amazing selection of street food on offer in the capital this month - give it a try, says Stephen Jardine

I’ve lived in Edinburgh most of my life and I’ve yet to hear anyone utter the saying that it’s claimed epitomises Scotland’s capital city.

“You’ll have had your tea” is said to sum up the sober and reserved attitude locals have to outsiders. If it ever was said, it was probably at this time of the year.

The Edinburgh International Festival is 70 years old this August but the opportunity to eat out well before or after a show has probably only been an option for the past decade. Before that you really would have been better to have had your tea before venturing anywhere near a venue.

Back then onsite catering consisted of the bag of sweets you smuggled in and then struggled to eat quietly during the show.

As a student I remember going to review for this newspaper a play based on the tawdry soft erotic story “Man of Flowers”. The wafer thin plot involved a woman posing naked for a reclusive, wealthy art collector and the whole thing was acted out very badly in the unlikely surroundings of the canteen of the Annandale Street Bus Station.

I think I gave it a one-star review but that was mostly based on the cruelty of the surroundings. I was starving and nursing a hangover and the full breakfast being served up to the bemused bus drivers at the other end of the room smelled terrific. But for the theatre audience of seven, there wasn’t as much as a glass of water available.

No-one would get away with that today. Nowadays almost every venue also seems to also have aspirations to be a bar or restaurant. As the Fringe begins this weekend, a city already well served by places to eat will become the UK’s top food destination outside London.

A measure of the public appetite for all this was last weekend’s Edinburgh Food Festival. Created by Assembly three years ago to plug the gap between the Jazz Festival and the Fringe in George Square, it now attracts over 20,000 people across four days.

The draw for them is the amazing selection of street food on offer and that epitomises the approach to eating in Edinburgh in August. Some of the best food trucks and street food operators are converging on the city because for the next month they know there will be lots of hungry mouths to feed.

If you have a favourite food someone will be serving it somewhere in Edinburgh this month.

On a good day that might mean a Scottish street food wrap with potato scone and black pudding for breakfast, a fragrant Thai stir fry with lemon grass and chilli for lunch then a venison burger for dinner, served with a great Scottish real ale or one of our army of artisan gins.

Happily, all this happens alongside the existing restaurants and there seems to be enough trade to go around for everyone. That is good news because traditional restaurants have infrastructure and staff costs required to support a business year round so they have to be able to make hay when the sun shines in August and the population of the city almost doubles.

Perhaps best of all is the fact that all this is being served up in front of an audience from around the world. Where before pre-theatre catering would have been a bag of crisps in the pub, Edinburgh now serves up a fantastic selection of wonderful things to eat and drink from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

Alongside theatre, comedy, music and the arts, food and drink is now a key part of the Edinburgh offering in August and the positive experiences visitors take home help to dispel some of the old myths and prejudices.

For tourists and locals, if you’ve had your tea this month before venturing out in Edinburgh you really will be missing out.