St Paul's Carnival
was established in 1967 as a way of celebrating not only the African-Caribbean community in Bristol, but also the Asian community by way of a Mela. Bringing together schools, youth and church groups in the local area, it was a way of showcasing a slice of faraway cultures to 1960s Britain, which had a very different cultural landscape. During the 1970s the Carnival incorporated more traditional Caribbean elements, with its masquerade and floats and setting up of sound systems. Its all inclusive ethos remained however, to this day encouraging diversity and any positive community group who wants to partake.
Bestowed with glorious weather and much anticipation, St Paul's Carnival 2013 was a lovely and lively occasion.
Waiting in Portland Square for the masquerade, there was a bottle neck of spectators that the marshals had to negotiate with before the floats could pass by. Made up of nearby schools, community groups and Mardi Gras troupes from Ecuador and Bolivia, there was a real sense of community spirit and a party atmosphere.
In the end, it all went by so quickly -much to the dismay of the lady next to me. She told me that she'd helped to organise and danced in the St Paul's Carnival during its early days. Spending months hand sewing sequins and feathers to the fabulous costumes she'd designed herself, she told me that during the 70s it had been an even more vibrant affair. With her, her husband, Bedminster born and bred; he told me she was the most beautiful and exotic woman he'd ever laid eyes on and that they'd been married for almost 50 years. Ah, just call me an old romantic!
After the masquerade had gone past and some of the crowds were beginning to disperse, the competing sound systems started to set up. Oil drum barbecues and braziers were puffing out smoke and the smells of jerk seasoning, curry goat and fish fry got me salivating. Lining Portland Square, Grosvenor Road and St Nicholas' Road were so many official and unofficial (people cooking up and selling from their front gardens) food stalls, but how to choose? Instead, I went on a mission to find some green coconut.
First stop, outside the Bristol Sport's Centre on Dean Street, slices of watermelon were being sold by the pound. Fragrant and perfumed, it'd been a while since I'd eaten some and had quite forgotten its merits. No proper green coconut though.
Green coconut water or daabe jal, as it's called in Bengal, is a taste of the tropics for me. In the stifling heat and humidity, when even to breathe makes you tired and sweaty, it is thirst quenching and packed with valuable electrolytes. Lately, you can buy the stuff in tetrapaks from the supermarket -but there's nothing quite like drinking it straight from the fruit. Although not quite tropical, it was a real treat to be sipping coconut water in the middle of Bristol, whilst soaking up the sun.
In the Caribbean, green coconuts are called jelly nuts and for good reason. What many people forget about is the soft, immature, jelly-like coconut in the centre. Once you've drunk the water, go back to your vendor, who will kindly hack your coconut in two (frightening to watch and often done with a machete), fashion you some scoops -ready to snaffle up the cooling jelly. Don't throw it away, like so many people were doing.
Partly because of their name -Sweet 2 De Belly and, because of the smell of their food as I queued up for coconut water, I picked jerk chicken and corn from their stall.
Succulent and generous portions of chicken packed a fiery punch, and the corn was delightful. Charred, crunchy, yet sweet, there is something about eating corn cobs straight from the brazier. After we'd eaten, we wandered along to the stage near St Nicholas' House and noticed Mi Casa's
Sticky, smoky, with a dash of cinnamon to the seasoning, M and I had to share some of their glorious barbecue jerk ribs, with a helping of creamy, sweet slaw. Their sweet potato with feta and chipotle butter also looked amazing but, I think by then, we both might've burst.
On hot sweltering days or balmy summer evenings, Jammy can often be seen pushing his red, yellow and green edged cart through St Paul's and Stokes Croft. He is a local legend, selling his Sky Juice and Snow Cones in tropical and exotic flavours. Announcing his presence with bicycle hooter and klaxon, brightly coloured pinwheels whirring in his wake; there are often queues of kids and adults alike, waiting for him along the Ashley Road.
I'm usually on my way back from work, rushing to get the dinner on, so it was lovely to find Jammy at the Carnival and finally get to stop and try a snow cone or ice golla (shaved ice with syrup). As a Carnival special, shots of rum, brandy or whisky to pep up your Sky Juice and get you into party rhythm were also on hand. So early in the day and trying to be sensible in the sun, I decided to go without.
I went for Tropical Fruit Punch with a shot of Sarsaparilla that sank satisfyingly to the bottom, for a root beer kick. Cool, lurid and decidedly refreshing -I must remember to stop next time I see Jammy passing.
For another slice of the Caribbean in Bristol next year, please donate to the Carnival committee. Reliant on sponsorship and contributions, it is the people of Bristol that make it happen. For an even bigger and better Carnival, you can donate here
Labels: A Foodfest, Bristol, Street Food, Thirsty work