Stephen Jardine: This foodies’ Festival is making me hungry

Street performers are increasingly being joined by street food (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
Street performers are increasingly being joined by street food (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
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This year’s Fringe features more food and drink shows than ever before, writes Stephen Jardine

As a student, I spent every August paying off my debts working as a Fringe show reviewer for this newspaper.

One of my first assignments was to see an amateur play about an elderly art collector who paid a model to strip for him every day to classical music. It was based on the 1983 Australian film ‘Man of Flowers’, which became an art house classic.

The version I witnessed was not, mostly because it was being badly performed in a room just off the canteen in Annandale Street Bus Station. The tender moments of unrequited love were lost in the cacophony of tannoy announcements regarding the missing driver of the number 23 from Canonmills. Back then, a sideways glance at a bus driver enjoying his egg and chips and mug of tea was about as close as you got to food on the Fringe. Not anymore.

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As this year’s Fringe kicks off, it features more food and drink shows than ever before, surrounded by an incredible variety of pre and post performance eating options. From interactive theatre based around awkward wedding receptions to chefs doing stand-up comedy to performance pieces celebrating craft distilling, food and drink is a theme running through the arteries of the Fringe this year.

It’s surprising it has taken so long. Eating is something we all do at least three times a day. Unlike underwater juggling or Macbeth in Macedonian, it is a universal passion. With performers from over 60 countries, an appetite is one language we all share. It’s only in the last few years that food and drink started to really feature on the Fringe.

Part of the explanation may be the rise in casual food. Not so long ago, eating happened at home or in a restaurant and that was it. Nowadays street food and shared plates are an integral form of our food culture and that has broken down some of the more formal attitudes.

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Lots of shows are taking advantage of our new found enthusiasm for grazing with productions that offer the chance to be entertained and fed at the same time. Comfort Food Cabaret at the New Town Cookery School probably epitomises that approach with an Australian singing cook serenading guests while she pulls together a three-course meal. The Principal Hotel on George Street takes that to the next level with the Fawlty Towers Dining Experience serving you dinner with some Basil belligerence and Manuel mayhem thrown in for good measure. If that isn’t dangerous enough, George Egg, DIY chef, is back after a sell-out run last year. If you like comedy and real food, created using power tools, this is show is for you.

And, fuelled by the growth of craft brewing and distilling, more and more drinks brands see Edinburgh in August as a neat way to reach their audience. Shows on offer range from a beer palace quiz to a gin concerto to Glengoyne’s Unhurried show celebrating their traditional approach to slow distillation. All with samples of course.

But if there is one food show towering above them all, it must be “Toast” at the Traverse, telling the story of food writer Nigel Slater’s childhood through the tastes and smells he grew up with. It’s guaranteed to make you feel hungry.