Notting Hill Carnival: Hard Food, Hard Sell

Leading up to this weekend’s ultimate Caribbean cultural extravaganza known as the Notting Hill Carnival in the U.K., the BBC has run a series of short video stories showcasing various aspects of the largest festival celebration of its kind in Europe”. Episode three of Notting Hill Carnival focuses on food and explores why West Indian/Caribbean cuisine isn’t more popular after the two-day festivities end.

Unfortunately, unless you’re in the U.K., you won’t be able to view the series on the BBC iPlayer (easily). You can, of course, find many different ways to get around that low hurdle. For the less technically inclined, here are some highlights of the entertaining 10 minute segment.

Presented by British rapper Rodney P, the episode starts with a Brit-on-the-Street Q&A about what type of takeaway Brits eat most often. Rodney P quickly confirms that Caribbean food – whether jerk chicken, curry goat or ox tails – “hard food, for a hard working man” – as one person in the video proclaims  – is not high on the list of takeout food in the U.K., leaving many West Indian restaurants relatively empty before and after the Carnival ends.

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Rodney P explores the reasons for this “genuine multi-cultural mystery” by interviewing a British writer and food critic who offers his theory:

“Chicken Tikka Masala isn’t eaten in India. It’s a Westernized, dumbed-down version of what might be eaten in India, and, similarly sweet and sour chicken, I’m not sure that’s enjoyed by people from Shanghai to Beijing. “

The premise here, is that there isn’t a similarly dumbed-down version of curried goat or mannish water, for the less adventurous British palate. One option explored in the show is to change the marketing of the food, perhaps going as far as calling them something different from what they are. But as the owner of Calabash Caribbean Restaurant in East London declares “…what it is, is what it is!”.

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While many like the owner of Calabash remain purists, the show also explores how others are bringing West Indian-influenced restaurants on the scene that combine their take on Caribbean food with high-level branding and marketing. Once such spot is the new Dub Jam in London, described in the video as a “gateway into the world of Caribbean and West Indian food”.

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By combining a new take on West Indian food – “a U.K. version” – with music and rum, Dub Jam’s owner believes “it’s been made more accessible”.

Rodney P wraps up the episode by reminding viewers that West Indian food “isn’t just for carnival, it’s for life”. If you can get access to it, I highly recommend watching the full series.

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