More than 16,000 people descended upon the Villa Marina Gardens in Douglas this weekend for an extra special Isle of Man Food & Drink Festival.
Record crowds poured through the gates on both days in scenes that were surely the envy of food lovers across the British Isles. Lockdown seemed a distant memory as families roamed the site and devoured delights from more than 60 of the Island’s food producers including a new seafood section.
On arrival, your senses were sent into overdrive with sumptuous smells, bustling crowds and live music in bright autumn sunshine. After a summer without – it was a proper festival!
Visitors engaged with local producers as marquees were brought to life by demonstrations, food sampling, eating competitions and revellers enjoying a well deserved drink (or two for the hardiest queuers!) in the Drinks Pavilion.
Jim Clucas ate eight whippies and cones, to scoop the ice cream eating competition held by Davison’s Ice Cream before professing to having a numb tongue, and donating his winnings to Hospice Isle of Man.
Darren Webb won the Hot Dog Eating Competition sponsored by DDD’s Delicious Dogs by eating five hot dogs (in their buns) in five minutes.
Noa Bakehouse was crowned ‘Best Stand’ competition winners, followed by The Abbey & The Forge and newcomers, Isle of Man Seafoods.
This year, the annual event offered more choice than ever before, meaning visitors could sample international cuisines in the catering village, made using the finest produce the Isle of Man has to offer.
Ballakelly Farm brought an Eastern twist to the table, offering Indian dishes along with their popular Lamb ‘hog bap’, whilst Versa showcased their freshly foraged dishes, which have taken Port Erin by storm of late.
One of the many new exhibitors, Frozzd, brought smiles to faces by offering hand-crafted ice lollies from their ‘Icicle Tricycle.’
Whatever your taste - there was something to sample, from the freshest popcorn queenies and calamari, to limited edition habanero cheese, or Manx gin that even the most discerning of gin-lovers would be proud of.
For many it was a chance to say thank you to local producers for their efforts.
Food blogger Sarah Sandford, said: ‘This year we celebrated our local NHS, key workers, and celebrated our local food producers who kept us fed and nourished during the pandemic.
‘Whilst we are in the middle of a weird year, this was a weekend to celebrate and indulge whilst meeting the Island’s wonderful producers, chefs, baristas and artisans.’
Interactive workshops encouraged people of all ages to discover more about the Island’s thriving food industry, while live music, children’s activities, crafts and the Loaghtan experience added to the feel-good atmosphere.
Such was the demand that many of the stallholders sold out before the Festival ended.
The event also upped its green credentials this year, with traders encouraged to ditch single-use plastic packaging and visitors asked to bring their own bags and reusable water bottles and hop on the shuttle coach. Sustainability and supporting local were the key themes and with 16,000 people attending provided a welcome boost to the local economy.
Organiser Lucy Verdon, said: ‘What we have seen is a booming artisan sector on the island. The quality of produce and the entrepreneurial spirit is a real testament to the island and we’re so glad we had the opportunity to go ahead with this event. Thank you to everyone for your support.’
If you ever needed an example of why the island we call home is a UNESCO Biosphere, this is it. More than anything else the festival clearly demonstrated that this Island is a special place to live, work and when the borders reopen, visit!
The event was sponsored by PokerStars and in association with Manx Radio.