This blog post was updated on January 31, 2023.
Food fight! Even though your parents definitively told you not to play with your food, we’re taking that rule as more of a guideline. Check out these fun, sticky, and messy food festivals from across the globe (but, really, they’re mostly in Spain for some reason). All are open to locals and visitors alike, but remember to bring a change of clothes, a healthy appetite, and an easygoing attitude to endure a proper basting of your senses.
Every year since 1945 on the last Wednesday of August, the town of Buñol near Valencia, Spain hosts La Tomatina – the world’s biggest food fight. Bringing together locals and visitors from around the world, the town invites participants to throw tomatoes at each other.
The good-natured tomato toss has a few rules to keep things safe and fun. Tomatoes must be squashed before thrown to avoid injuries. Participants can only throw tomatoes. Trucks (packed with tomato chuckers) driving through the official Tomatina fight area have right of way. After an hour, two shots are fired with a ceremonial gun. After the second shot, no more tomatoes are allowed to be thrown. La Tomatina is a ticketed event and a limited number of people allowed in.
No one’s quite sure how or why this sloppy affair began. Some say the first Tomatina was a riot. Others suggest a political disagreement. The event was banned for many years during the dictatorship of Franco for having no religious significance. After Franco’s death in 1975, Tomatina was revived and has been going strong ever since.
Attracting a growing number of participants and spectators while garnering more and more media attention, the festival has not only taken firm root in Buñol but also planted the seed in a variety of other places across the globe. The biggest La Tomatino spinoffs are in Reno, Nevada, at the end of August and Sutamarchan, Colombia, in mid-June.
Battle of the Oranges
Part of a three-day festival ending on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the Battle of the Oranges is one of the fruitiest and most aromatic celebrations in Italy. With origins in the 12th or 13th century, this so-called battle sees organized teams throwing oranges at each other to reenact an age-old tale involving a virtuous and heroic miller’s daughter and a lecherous and greedy duke. The miller’s daughter always wins – with help of the 4,000 participants of the nine competitive teams and the cheering support of more than 100,000 spectators. The festival is held in the Northern Italian city of Ivrea at the foothills of the Alps between Turin and Milan.
Another pre-Lent food fight, La Merengada occurs every year on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Ash Wednesday) in the Catalan city of Vilanova I La Geltru, about an hour’s drive south of Barcelona along the Mediterranean coast. At this event, the edible projectile of preference is meringue (with a whole lot of cream for dramatic effect). Sweeter and gentler than other public food fights, La Merengada is held in the city’s main plaza with a focus on children, but adults are allowed to join in.
La Raima Grape Throwing Festival
What is it with the Spanish, particularly folks around Valencia? Here’s another food-throwing extravaganza, this one in the tiny community of Pobla de Duc in the Region of Valencia, only about an hour’s drive from Buñol, home of La Tomatina. A hub for wine growers in the region, Pobla de Duc promises a grape day out in late August, when truck loads of locally grown Garancha Tintorera grapes are dumped into the town’s main plaza for fistfuls of splatters and laughs.
Batalla del Vino
While people in Pobla de Duc use the raw ingredient for their grapy grapple, up in La Rioja (in the village of Haro to be exact), locals prefer a finished product as their weapon of choice. The Batalla del Vino is all about a fluid fight with buckets of wine poured over all willing participants. The battle begins early in the morning of June 29 with those taking part dressed in white. But soon enough, their clothes turn purple as literal bucket loads get dumped on any and all within reach. Worried about all this wine going to waste? Don’t worry. There’s always plenty to drink as well.
World Custard Pie Championship
The village of Coxheath, in the county of Kent just southeast of London, enjoys a slice of notoriety every June with its World Custard Pie Championship. Yep, it’s a pie-throwing competition, and one that’s been going strong for half a century to raise funds for the village hall.
Back to Spain – this time in the village of Ibi, inland from the resort town of Benidorm and also in the Region of Valencia – for Els Enfarinats, an egg-and-flour food fight leaving all involved caked in combative batter. The event takes place a few days after Christmas and marks the Day of Innocents, when according to the Bible, King Herod ordered the execution of all young male children near Bethlehem. There’s a modern spin on the story with a mock coup d’état and even a fireworks display.
There are too many public food fights for us to list them all. Did we miss any especially tasty ones? Have you ever participated in a giant food fight? Leave leftovers and interesting morsels in the comments, please.