Last weekend I was given a press pass to the Bristol Free From Festival*, a whole festival dedicated to the ever-growing popularity of gluten, dairy and refined sugar free diets.
You’re an imposter.
Okay… You’re not wrong. I don’t have any particular food requirements. In fact, I will eat pretty much any food if it’s given to me – with exceptions, of course. However, the idea of a Free From Festival intrigued me because I am always looking for different things. Over the past few weeks I have been cooking nothing but plant-based foods, so it seemed like as good a time as any to explore a whole festival dedicated to ‘free from’ foods.
What’s a Free From Festival?
The Free From Festival’s are the first of their kind in the UK, allowing small, local businesses – and bigger, better known businesses – to advertise their healthy, ‘free from’ products to people who want to know more. There are speakers, stalls with testers and products you can buy, and places to get an actual ‘free from’ meal. The Festival tours throughout the year, with the previous one having taken place in London in May and you can keep up with their festivals through their website or social media.
What was it like?
On entry, each guest was given the choice of a free drink: be that gluten free beer, ale or the incredibly intriguing cactus water. The atmosphere was lively and vibrant, with many stalls boasting smiley workers and an array of free samples. When there wasn’t a talk taking place on the main stage, the room was filled with music: sometimes played over the speakers, but most of the time it was sung live.
In the centre of the room stood the restaurant-eque stalls, serving hot food that you could eat there and then, at one of the many tables and chairs they had laid out. The festival allowed for a chilled, relaxed experience in which you could float from place to place as you fancied.
Tell me about the food.
The stalls and tasters covered such a wide range of products: from spices to cakes to kombucha (Which, by the way, doesn’t taste half as bad as I thought that it would). Though my friend and I curiously sampled as many things as we could, there were definitely some standouts… For both good and bad reasons.
The LioBites Fruit Crisp made from freeze-dried fruits were way out of my comfort zone and yet may have been one of my favourite things there. They retained the flavour of the fruits and although the texture was different to your usual crisp, it really grew on me. They had a variety of flavours, including banana, apple, mango and coconut, but I only tried the banana and apple. Not sure whether I’d order them myself, because I will always take fresh fruit over any other kind, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them.
The thing that stole the spotlight for me, though, was the TrooFoods inulin syrup. I’d never heard about it before but I was incredibly glad that I did. As a gut healthy alternative to honey that had a somewhat clean sweetness to it, I can chuck it in hot chocolates and all my other honey related concoctions and still know that I’m getting a good source of fibre. I didn’t think I’d buy anything from one of the stalls, but I’m happy to say I have a jar of inulin syrup now stashed in my cupboard.
In all honesty, it was fun to jump from table to table and test my tastebuds with a bunch of foods that I would not otherwise have tried. What I did learn, however, is no matter how many I sample, I will never like vegan cheese.
In terms of hot food, I was drawn to the ‘tofish’ and chips from Shakey Shakey the second I walked in. I have never had a good experience with tofu, but their ‘tofish’ looked so much like fish that curiosity got the better of me and I had to try it for myself. Plus, I reckoned that if it tasted completely terrible, I had the chips to fall back on. I know that in this day and age vegan and gluten free substitutes have become incredibly similar to their meaty/gluten filled substitutes, but I have never been so shocked by something as I was by the ‘tofish’.
We watched them marinate the tofu, wrap it in seaweed to simulate fish skin, coat it in batter and deep fry it, still unconvinced that it would taste remotely like the real thing. However, I do not know if it was the seaweed or the batter or some sort of vegan magic – it was a dead ringer for the taste of fish. Of course, there was a slight different in texture, but there really was not as much difference as I was expecting.
I also tried a sweet potato vegan waffle from Waffleland, with (vegan) chocolate sauce and strawberries and I, unfortunately, was not as impressed. It looked exactly like a regular waffle, but the taste and texture were nowhere near. As a dessert, it probably should have been described more as a fritter, because that is essentially what it tasted like. I feel like I probably would have enjoyed it more if they just had not called it a waffle and sold it as its own dessert. However, I was thinking of waffles and this sure was not one.
Like I said at the beginning, I am by no means a vegan or a coeliac, nor do I claim to be. I mainly went because I am curious and different types foods intrigue me. As someone who is a part of the catered audience, I imagine an event like this would be a perfect haven. Not only do you get to sample a bunch of delicious ‘free from’ treats, but you are introduced to a plethora of brands and businesses that you can purchase from in the future. Even from my point of view, I found the event incredibly informative as it provided a great insight into a food industry that I am by no means an expert in.
I would recommend the Free From Festival to anybody: whether it specifically applies to you, or you’re just curious like me. It was a nice, chilled day out and a chance to experience something a little different. Thank you so much to Free From Events for the press pass! I had a great day!
Have you been to anything similar? Let me know in the comments!
Lots of love,