For one month every Spring since 1988, hundreds of thousands of people stream through Commonwealth Park. The city of Canberra is filled with tourist from elsewhere in the country, all here to see one thing.
Floriade is a phenomenon in this town. The largest flower festival in the southern hemisphere, it attracts more than 300,000 people every year to see the displays of tulips and other flowers.
In my four years in Canberra I have never got around to joining the throbbing crowds, but with this year’s theme, A Feast for the Senses, being so close to my heart I felt that it was worth trying out. And having finally been, I can now say this with confidence.
I don’t get Floriade.
Flower and garden festivals are popular around the world, and a lot of them are amazing. They use the form of a garden to create art, using flowers and plants and levels and built features. Real gardens.
Floriade, however, uses some of these same materials and uses them to create colour-by-numbers games. What exactly is the appeal of wasting these beautiful flowers by planting them into simplistic, and often difficult to interpret, pictures that you can only see from the air?
This year one of the images was meant to represent the flames of a gas barbeque. Another was a ridiculous looking “cheese platter”. Even if you could see these properly, I am not convinced anyone could tell what they are without the signage. Why are people coming from interstate to see this?
Anyway, this blog is not about a critique of garden festivals, or the craziness of tourists. It is about food. So what can be said about the food available at Floriade?
Honestly, not a lot. It is largely abysmal.
Rather than looking for exciting, interesting local providers or restaurants, the food at Floriade is mostly provided by a dull catering firm, offering a wide variety of average fairground food. From bland burgers in buns that don’t hold long enough to actually eat them, to over-breaded and over-salted fried squid drowning in a pointless salad, it was all below the quality that the event needs.
The only worthwhile food I could find to buy was down the back of the festival in the Butterfly Lounge, the “luxury” tent with a café/bar. Here a well-made and very full chicken sandwich was on the menu. Packed with flavour and having the right combination of textures, this was a very enjoyable sandwich, made even more so after the other atrocious foods. It’s worth a trip.
Thankfully there have been some efforts towards making the “feast” part of the name actually mean something, through the numerous cooking and produce demonstrations. Many interesting, some less so, they have been using the chefs available to them well. But it’s often difficult to actually get anything to eat from this.
Maybe my expectations are too high, but I just see opportunities being missed here. Why not use the local produce and talent more? Have stalls from Poachers’ Pantry, from Silo bakery, from some of the local producers that are at the farmers markets every week. The Lindermans tent is a good start, but we need more of it.
This is the biggest tourist event in Canberra every year. Why aren’t we showing the region off, showing the country that we are more than just flowers in patterns?
So I want to put out a challenge to the Floriade organisers, and to the chefs and producers in the region. For next year’s festival, whatever the theme, let’s really showcase the ACT. Let’s make it a festival that this town really deserves.