Few celebrations would be complete without food. Not only does it serve as a comforting base for a night of drinking, but it often dominates the main event itself. Meticulously prepared, beautifully presented, and savored with gusto, food is the centerpiece of good times around the world.
Little did you know, food is also ceremoniously offered to local wildlife, tossed long-distance, rolled down hills, or chucked at fun-loving neighbors, taking on a different face at funky festivals Here are some of the world’s best food-filled – but not so filling – festivals.
Monkey Buffet Festival – Thailand
Thailand’s Lopburi Province plays host each year to a festival made for monkeys. All of the province’s monkeys (more than 2,000 of them) are invited to dine on fruits and vegetables laid out in honor of Hanuman the Monkey King, who is said to have taken Lopburi Province as his kingdom according to the Ramayana – that’s how one story goes, at least. The other story goes that the festival was designed to promote tourism in a province overrun by monkeys. Take your pick.
The monkeys have taken over many of the province’s historical attractions, including the Shrine of Lord Shiva, Narai Ratchaniwet Palace, San Phra Kan, Phra Prang Sam Yot, and Wat Phra Si Mahathat. During the Monkey Butffet Festival on the last Sunday of November, you can enjoy the company of new primate pals among some of Thailand’s most important landmarks.
La Tomatina Festival- Buñol, Spain
Throwing tomatoes isn’t just something for bad comedy shows; in fact, its the most important event in Buñol, Spain’s Tomatina Festival schedule. Crowds of thousands from all over the country show up in this sleepy Valencian town the last Wednesday in August for a tomato fight from 11am to 1pm. The partying starts earlier in the week, and by the time the day of the fight rolls around the hamlet has reached full capacity, with downtown strictly standing room only.
Tomatoes are distributed from trucks in the center of town, though if you arrive late – or even not early enough – you might find it impossible to push through the crowd that far. No matter: the party continues through the streets blocks from the city center. Accommodation in tiny Buñol is a challenge, and you’d be better off staying in nearby Valencia and taking a morning train (about 50 minutes) to the action.
Ivrea Orange Festival – Piemonte, Italy
Image: The Telegraph
The days leading up to Lent are heady ones indeed: Brazilians beat on drums and dance in the streets; New Orleaners drink beer and lift their shirts for beads; and the population of Ivrea, Italy collectively pick up an orange, dust it off gingerly, and chuck it with purpose at whoever happens to be nearby. Although the small northern Italian town near Turin puts on a variety of religious events full of standard-bearing pomp and ceremony, it is the orange fight that has caught the attention of the world.
The fight has its historical roots in a 12-century political insurrection, but nobody seems to care about historical significance in the classic pre-Lent carnival atmosphere. The bitter aroma of oranges wafts through the air as citrus-armed crowds stomp on peels sometimes stacked a foot high. To recreate a politically charged atmosphere, men dressed in full armor and masks chuck the fruits at the crowd, who in turn aim and fire back their own. This year, the festival will take place February 13-16.
Frog Festival- Rayne, Lousianna
The town of Rayne has a long and storied history alongside its frogs. Residents discovered early on the delectability of their local frogs, and soon began exporting frogs for food to nearby New Orleans. French entrepreneurs stepped in to begin exporting the tasty toads to France and the rest of the world, and it wasn’t long before restaurants were advertising “Rayne frogs” on their menus.
Although the region no longer exports frogs, they still hold an important part in the city’s identity and every year the Frog Festival celebrates the slippery guys with carnival rides, games, and frog racing and jumping events – including the Frog Derby, where the prettiest women in town dress up frogs in jockey uniforms and race them. You can catch all the action on the second full weekend in November.
Garlic Festival – Gilroy, CA
30 miles south of San Jose, one of the largest food festivals in the US is held on the last full weekend in July to celebrate Gilroy and its famous garlic crop, benefitting hundreds of charities throughout its 32-year history. Garlic fries and other gourmet garlic dishes are on order, as well as rarer specialties, like garlic ice cream. There are also three stages of live music, a garlic cook-off, and celebrity cooking demonstrations to sate the palate of any garlic gourmand.
A Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival Queen is crowned each year, selected based on her personal interview, talent, “garlic speech,” and evening gown; quite the pungent pageant to be sure. There’s lot’s to enjoy if you’re already a fan of garlic, or are seeking a heady entry into the clove club.
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake – Gloucestershire, England
Originally held by and for the residents of the English village of Brockworth, near Gloucester (birthplace of Gloucester cheese), the annual Cheese Rolling festival is at least 200 years old, although official records are hard to come by. The event is really more of a race, centered around a rolling wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. Participants gather at the top of Cooper’s Hill, where the round is set rolling down the hill and racers attempt to catch the cheese.
Easier said that done: that stinky bait has a one-second head start and quickly reaches speeds of up to 70 mph – fast enough to knock over a careless spectator. The first to cross the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. Head over to The Cheese Rollers pub in nearby Shurdington, or The Cross Hands or The Victoria in Brockworth for some pre-roll Dutch courage, or post-roll recuperation. The event was cancelled due to safety concerns this year, but it is hoped that the “grandaddy of weird sports” will return in 2011 for the late May Bank Holiday.
Night of the Radishes – Oxaca, Mexico
La Noche de Rabanos is a Christmas tradition for Oaxacans looking to express themselves artistically in the medium of red tubers. Nativity scenes are a popular stylistic choice, but the region’s long, thick-skinned radishes, often reaching 2 feet in length, are great blank canvasses for all kinds of figures and scenes. Visitors may be surprised by the level of intricacy the sculptors reach: animated dancers dressed in intricate lace patterns perforated from the root’s peel, saints and conquistadors adorn the tables in Oaxaca’s Zócalo.
The festival happens on the 23rd of December each year, and has been a Oaxaca tradition since 1897, when casual radish-sculpting food vendors turned into professional competitors. There’s an award ceremony at the end of the day, capped off by a fireworks display – see if you can avoid getting tagged by one of the local kids’ hollowed out confetti eggs in the process.
Tunarama Festival – Port Lincoln, Australia
First held in 1960 to promote Port Lincoln’s budding tuna industry, the Tunarama Festival is centered around one main event: the World Championship Tuna Toss. Using a technique akin to an Olympic hammer thrower’s, burly local fishermen along with visiting competitors (both men and women) attempt to hurl 8- to 10-kilo specimens of prize tuna as far as they can. The record was set in 1998 by Sean Carlin, an ex-Olympic hammer thrower, who chucked the fish 37.23 meters.
The 50th annual Tunarama festival is set to go off over the long Australia Day weekend (January 21-26), 2011. Apart from throwing the ichthyological specimens, you can dine on some of southern Australia’s finest seafood at vendors set up all across the festival grounds – nothing fishy about that.