Comida Fest is a travelling food festival in London which showcases the best of Latin American cuisine and culture. It was started by three Brazilian women - Simone Ruotolo, Alicia Bastos and Gizane Campos. Bringing together some of the best food stalls in London - from Venezuelan arepas and empanadas to Cuban sandwiches and Mexican tacos - with dance, music, special performances and more, their events create a dynamic space for Latin Americans and Londoners alike. Here Simone Ruotolo, Director of Comida Fest tells us about the festival and gives us her guide to the best Latin American street food stalls and restaurants in London.
How did Comida Fest come about?
There was a need in London to showcase Latin American cuisine so we started Comida Fest at Southbank in the Spring of 2016. It was after this event that we received a request from the Camden council to organise a pocket festival to celebrate the olympics. The event keeps growing and at the moment we are preparing our main Comida Fest event in 2017 - location to be announced soon.
Comida Fest is a combination of music, drinks, artisan traders and food. Why do you think it's important to show more than one aspect of Latin American culture?
Because in Latin America music, food and culture are intrinsically linked. This why our motto is 'eat, drink, fiesta'.
What is the Latin American food scene like in London? How is it evolving?
A few Latin American countries and their cuisine have definitely made its way into the UK food market with well established restaurants. There is an abundance of Mexican, Peruvian, Argentinean and Brazilian restaurants and food traders. However, Latin America is extensive and there are many other countries with innovative cuisine that need a platform to showcase their food. That's where we come in. We hope to showcase as many innovative and independent food traders from different Latin American countries.
Why do you think London is a good place to cultivate the Latin American food scene?
Because London is such a multicultural city that embraces food from all over the world, with people open to new experiences. It also has a big Latin American community.
Have you noticed chefs and restaurant owners getting creative with Latin American food?
Some non-Peruvian chefs have included ceviche in their restaurants, like Jason Atherton from Pollen Street Social and Atul Kochhar from Benares. The World Cup and Olympic games held in South America recently also gave rise to Latin American ingredients being incorporated into haute cuisine. Guacamole is extremely popular and exotic fruits such as lucuma and açai are also being used for dessert.
What are some places in London that people can get a taste of Latin American culture that aren't restaurants?
Some art institutions like the Latin American Foundation for the Future, Latin American Bureau, Braziliarty and Latin Elephant have helped and supported art venues to showcase Latin American cultural events. Frequent events like CASA Festival, La Linea Festival, Latin American Film Festival, LUKAS Awards, are also worth checking out.
Is there a neighbourhood in London where there is a particular Latin American scene?
Elephant and Castle, Seven Sisters, Willesden Junction, Brixton are areas in London with large Latin American community which reflects in local businesses: restaurants, shops and events.
Where's the best place to go dancing in London for a Latin American?
I would highly recommend any party or event organised by Movimientos and Latinos in London. In terms of venues, check the schedule of Latin American-themed events by Rich Mix, The Forge, Hootananny, Bedroom Bar and Notting Hill Arts Club.
London's Best Latin American Street Food Stalls
Serves: Venezuelan arepas
Where: Pump Shoreditch, St Katharina Dock, Chatsworth Market, St Giles, Hammersmith Lyric Square
Name: Agua na Boca
Serves: Brazilian snacks and churros
Where: Herne Hill Market, Northcross Road Market, West Norwood Feast
Name: Jama Cubana
Serves: Cuban sandwiches
Where: Brook Green, Chiswick Market, Latimer Road
Name: Salsas Latin Street Food
Serves: Burgers, Empanadas, Tacos
Where: 571 Cable Street (Car Park)
Serves: Smoked BBQ
Where: Spitafields Market, Bethnal Green Road
London's Best Latin American Restaurants
Name: Café Pacifico
Type of Cuisine: Mexican
What to eat: Tuna tacos with sweet-potato chips or the 'taquiza' fajita. They make the best margaritas in London!
The vibe: fun, colourful, party mood
Name: Colombian Street Kitchen at Green Rooms Hotel
What to eat: Multigrain arepa and empanada
The vibe: The East London arts scene in Wood Green
Name: Moo Cantina
What to eat: Argentinean steak and the best porteno lomito (sandwich)
The vibe: Chilled with very friendly staff
Name: Lima and Lima Floral
What to Eat: The chicken pachamanca with salsa criolla and cuzco corn, from their weekend brunch menu
The Vibe: Fine dining, awarded a Michelin star in 2014
Name: Las Iguanas
Cuisine: Latin American
What to eat: The platter with tapas from different Latin cuisines
The Vibe: A tropical hang out all around UK