Article by Steve Burgess originally published in the Atmosphere magazine. Read the latest edition here.
From tomato fights to cheese-rolling competitions, savour some of the most delicious food festivals around the world.
When you think of food festivals, you think celebrations of culinary excellence. Honest mistake. La Tomatina involves pelting strangers with buckets of squishy tomatoes until the gutters run red with gore. Trucks arrive in Buñol’s Plaza del Pueblo at 11 a.m. with heaps of tomatoes, but the battle is supposed to start only when someone has climbed a greasy pole to retrieve a ham. Naturally. Goggles are advised. Don’t wear your best shoes. Or a tiara.
Ideal for: Horror movie fans and people who already ate lunch.
Where and when: Buñol, Spain, August 28, 2019.
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling
Like Spain’s La Tomatina, this event is another important effort to move food festivals beyond the narrow focus on, you know, eating. Around noon, a four-kilogram wheel of Double Gloucester cheese goes rolling down steep Cooper’s Hill, and heedless dairy fans roll after it. The prize: the fugitive cheese in question. Last year’s winner broke the record for victories (22 to be exact!). Along the way, he has also broken an ankle, bruised his kidneys and suffered a concussion. Tumble on.
Ideal for: Those who seek entirely new forms of lactose intolerance.
Where and when: Gloucestershire, England, May 27, 2019.
Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival
Jubilant crowds pelt each other with oysters until… wait, no, that idea was taken. So they slurp oysters at what has been called “Ireland’s greatest gourmet extravaganza” (three million oysters since the festival’s launch in 1954!).
It features the fierce World Oyster Opening Championships, in which competitors from around the globe shuck it out for the crown. There’s also a beauty contest for the Festival Pearl, and a Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball, which involves more oyster slurping. And Guinness.
Ideal for: People who are cool with a choking hazard as long as it’s a pearl.
Where and when: Galway, Ireland, September 27-29, 2019.
You probably think poutine is as Canadian as a tongue on a frozen fence post. But what about pad Thai poutine? Butter chicken poutine? Jerk chicken poutine? The Ottawa PoutineFest is like a poutine Olympics with versions from all over the world, like poutine with churros and, um, crickets. Also, spud-related games, a poutine eating contest and something called the Extreme Poutine competition, which is perhaps best left to the imagination.
Ideal for: Those who are ready to embrace a world of curds and gravy.
Where and when: Ottawa, Canada, May 2-5, 2019.
Stampede folks pride themselves on introducing outrageous culinary options for those whose love of risk stops short of bull riding.
How about bull testicles instead, served with blueberry compote atop mini-doughnuts? That was one 2018 offering. As were cricket grilled cheese, giant squid on a stick and chili powder, covered corn on the cob. Taste buds, saddle up for more jaw-dropping flavours in 2019. Yee-haw!
Ideal for: People whose bucket list includes caramel apples with cricket sprinkles.
Where and when: Calgary, Canada, July 5-14, 2019.
Festival de la Piña
The people of La Parguera may not live in a pineapple under the sea (sorry, SpongeBob), but they do celebrate their favourite tropical delight with a food festival offering the likes of pineapple fish tacos, pineapple-marinated barbecue, pineapple cakes of every description, and much more, all washed down with pineapple sangria.
Ideal for: People who previously considered a pineapple solely as an underwater bachelor pad.
Where and when: La Parguera, Puerto Rico, June 7-9, 2019.
Fête des Cuisinières
This celebration of female chefs honours third-century martyr St. Lawrence, the patron saint of cooks who roast and grill (you might not want to ask how he became the patron saint of roasting). After the blessing of food and utensils at the basilica, there’s a parade featuring the chefs in riotously colourful garb, singing and dancing to traditional songs. Then the real party starts, the banquet, featuring Creole specialties like stuffed crab, Creole sausage and mountains of crayfish.
Ideal for: Those who like to sing for their supper.
Where and when: Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, August 10, 2019.
Choose your favorite festival and fly to your next destination right away.