Not a fan of tomatoes? Then, it would be best to steer clear of Buñol, Spain, in late August. That's because every year on the last Wednesday of August, the charming town of just 10,000 residents becomes center stage for La Tomatina — the world's largest food fight. As the name suggests, the exciting event involves lots of tomatoes.
The origins of this beloved festival, which took place on August 30 this year, are murky. Some credit it to a group of teenagers who were barred from participating in a local parade. The upset youngsters disrupted the march by pelting participants with tomatoes from nearby produce vendors. Others believe the festival began after disgruntled residents threw tomatoes at city officials during a town celebration.
The food fight was so much fun that locals began to reenact it annually. In 1957, La Tomatina became an official event, complete with rules and regulations. Today, it is one of Spain's most popular festivals, second only to the "Running of the Bulls" in Pamplona.
Despite the ever-growing crowds, the festival was free and accessible to anyone who wished to attend. However, that changed after 2012 when over 50,000 people descended upon the small town. Since then, officials have allowed a maximum of 20,000 attendees. They also started charging 10 Euros ($10.17) per person to help cover the rising costs.
The hour-long tomato-throwing event remains the centerpiece of the festival. However, the celebrations last almost the entire week. Visitors are treated to colorful parades, dancing, and even fireworks. The night before the food fight, the streets are lined with vendors making giant pans of delicious paella on wood-burning fires. Visitors and locals alike gather to enjoy the party late into the night.
On festival day, local business owners scramble to shutter their shops and cover the storefronts with tarps. At 10:00 AM local time, participants flock to the town's Plaza Mayor for the opening ceremony. The festival begins with a brave volunteer climbing a two-story greased pole to pluck the Spanish ham that lies atop. The rules state that the food fight can only start once the chunk of meat is retrieved. However, the easygoing officials treat any genuine attempt to sound the horn and get the party started.
Within minutes, volunteers aboard five trucks begin to toss about 120 tons of overripe tomatoes into the hands of the eagerly awaiting crowd. The festival does not end until every last tomato has been turned to pulp. Partygoers clean up using the impromptu 'hose' showers set up by locals or taking a dip in the nearby Buñol River. They then enjoy a tasty Spanish meal and a well-deserved siesta!
Resources: Ibt.com, wikipedia.org