Food festivals have always been around, but have usually been relatively small affairs, with most of them drawing in mainly local crowds. In recent years however, as people have taken a greater interest in local cuisines from around the world, large-scale food festivals have popped up on every continent, and many festivals that used to be small have started attracting larger and larger crowds.Some focus on the unique foods of the host village, town, or city, others focus on the cuisine of a particular local community, and yet others focus on one ingredient, such as oysters, truffles, or cheese. For locals, these festivals are a celebration of familiar culinary traditions, but for outsiders, they’re a great way to explore.
Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival – Galway, Ireland
Galway is a charming, pretty little city on the west coast of Ireland, and it’s a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year, especially if you love eating oysters. At almost any local pub, you’ll find hearty, delicious oyster dishes served in generous portions, and they go down well with a pint of Irish beer. However, the Oyster Festival in September takes things to another level. The festival has been running for over 50 years, and now draws in more than 22,000 oyster lovers from around the world. There are oyster opening competitions, cooking demonstrations, a Mardi Gras-style parade, and lots more throughout the city. There’s plenty of other seafood too, but it’s probably fair to say that the focus is always on the oysters. There’s also music, as is always the case in Galway – you’ll lose track of just how many pubs and bars are hosting live music, and how good the buskers on the street are.
Humongous Fungus Fest – Michigan, USA
According to the official website of the Humongous Fungus Fest, it all began when the people of Crystal Falls, Michigan found the largest mushroom in the world in their town. The giant fungus, covering an area of 37 acres and weighing around 11 tons, was found in 1988, and soon after, the town authorities decided to hold a festival to celebrate this and all other edible fungi. People attending the festival should be warned that they won’t actually be able to view this monstrous fungus in its entirety, because most of its mass is underground.
However, there’s plenty to see, do, and eat at the Humongous Fungus Fest, and if size is what impresses you, you’ll be impressed enough just by the “Humongous pizza”, a 10×10 foot mushroom pizza that is made at the fest for the attendees to eat. In addition, there are mushroom cook-offs, pancake breakfasts, and a mushroom parade. There are also plenty of events that have nothing to do with mushrooms, including tube float and horseshoe tournaments, and a fireworks display, all of which add a fair bit of excitement to the festival.
Madrid Fusion Festival – Madrid, Spain
Madrid Fusion is one festival where the focus is pretty much entirely on the food. It’s a massive celebration of all kinds of cuisine, with seminars and talks, tasting sessions, competitions, demonstrations, workshops, and a whole lot more. The three-day festival has turned into one of the biggest and most important food festivals in Europe, and draws the best chefs in the country, who share their insights and their creations with the attendees. This year’s festival included food celebrities such as the Roca Brothers, Elena Arzak, and Will Guidara, and workshops on everything from sushi to Mexican cuisine. It’s a long wait to January 2017, which is when the next Madrid Fusion takes place, but if you’re impatient and in Asia, you can instead attend Madrid Fusion Manila, which takes place from April 7 to 9, with the title ‘The Manila Galleon: East Meets West’.
Maine Lobster Festival – Maine, USA
The Maine Lobster Festival takes place in Rockland, Maine during the summer every year, and like many food festivals, this one too spills over beyond celebrations of local lobster-based cuisine, into celebrations of local culture in general, with parades, carnival rides, live music, displays of local arts and crafts, and races and other competitions. The various competitions include cooking contests, with a focus on seafood and of course lobsters in particular. The food is certainly enough reason to be here, but just to make things more fun, the other events too tend to have a lobster element to them. For example, there’s the Great Lobster Crate Race, where you run across a row of lobster crates bouncing precariously in the ocean, and you’ll always see a few giant lobsters at the parades. Another thing that’s great about the Maine Lobster Festival is that in spite of its size, it’s run entirely by volunteers, and all proceeds from the festival go to the local communities.
Menton Lemon Festival – Menton, France
A festival celebrating oranges and lemons might not sound very exciting, but the Menton Lemon Festival (Fête du Citron) somehow manages to be a charming, beautiful, and satisfying festival. Menton is a charming little beach town on the French Riviera, and its Lemon Festival has been going on for around 80 years. You can certainly taste the fruits and dishes made from them at the festival, but the focus is on the displays around the town. Monuments, gardens, and building facades are often elaborately decorated with oranges and lemons, and enormous sculptures and other displays are also made out of the fruits. The theme changes each year, and this year’s theme was Cinecittà (the great Italian film studio), with displays recreating scenes and elements from their most famous films.
Mistura – Lima, Peru
Peru, like most other Latin American countries, is famous for its love of food and celebration, so it’s inevitable that it is home to one of the best food festivals in the world. Mistura is only a few years old, but it is reportedly already the largest food festival on the continent, and attracts more than 300,000 people, including the region’s best chefs, as well as actors, musicians, and other celebrities. There are food stands with an incredible range of foods for attendees to try, and lectures, presentations, classes, tasting sessions, and live music too. Information is hard to come by, since most published material is in Spanish, but we have it on good authority that this isn’t something you should miss if you’re in Peru when it happens.
Monkey Banquet – Lopburi, Thailand
Thailand’s Monkey Banquet festival sets out a massive feast not for humans, but for local monkeys. However, even though you won’t be able to partake of the spread, it’s an intriguing, unique, and spectacular food festival that’s worth attending if you’re in the country when it happens. The Monkey Banquet takes place in Lopburi, where thousands of macaques are an integral part of the town’s life, even though they can be quite troublesome. For the most part though, the human and monkey population live in harmony, and the monkeys are even considered to be lucky for the town and are worshipped by some. The Monkey Banquet takes place at the local Phra Prang Sam Yot temple, and begins with various invocations and cultural performances, after which the feast – which has been laid out in advance and consists of tons of fruits, vegetables, sticky rice, and dessert – is opened to the guests. The guests of course have their own ideas about etiquette, which means that the aftermath of the feast is nearly indistinguishable from the aftermath of a food fight.
Napa Truffle Festival – Napa, USA
Napa is where you’d expect to find a wine festival – but what’s even more exciting is a truffle festival. If you like the unique taste and aroma of these mushrooms known as black diamonds but have never had the chance to properly explore them, perhaps the Napa Truffle Festival is just what you’ve been looking for. Since you’re in wine country, it’s only expected that you’ll find sessions that explain how to pair truffle-based dishes with various wines here. In addition, there are truffle-tasting sessions, lectures on cultivating truffles, demonstrations of how to cook with truffles, and of course meals made with truffles. Truffle hunting is one of the more curious aspects of truffles, and the festival also hosts demonstrations of how this is done, with dogs and their trainers. Truffles are notoriously expensive, so this is one festival that’s likely to burn a serious hole in your pocket; however, if you love truffles, you should try to visit at least once in your life.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival – Phuket, Thailand
Thailand’s famous vegetarian festival ought to come with a warning: for a food festival, you’re going to see a surprising amount of blood and gore here. That’s because the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is basically a religious and cultural festival at which devotees perform various acts of “mortification of the flesh”, including piercing themselves with knives, rods, pipes, swords, and other implements. Participants traditionally dress in white, but don’t be surprised if you see a considerable amount of pink and red. Other elements of the festival include religious ceremonies, incense sticks, and fireworks. Clearly, this isn’t a festival at which you’re going to have a peaceful, relaxed time. However, the festival is certainly an interesting and exhilarating experience!
Waikiki Spam Jam
Spam is a notorious and much-hated canned food, and even people who have never eaten it have seen enough of the negative press that they don’t ever want to try it. However, strangely, there are plenty of people around the world who absolutely love it, and a disproportionate number of them seem to be in Hawaii, where spam consumption is higher than it is in any other US state. Hawaiians love spam so much that Waikiki, a neighborhood in Honolulu, actually hosts a “Spam Jam”, a street festival celebrating spam. The main street in the neighborhood is closed off and dedicated to the celebrations for one day, with many of the city’s best restaurants setting up food stalls serving a variety of spam preparations. Other stalls sell Spam-themed apparel and goods, from footwear to baseballs. There are also a couple of stages for live music, where at least some of the songs inevitably turn out to be odes to Spam.
What are your favourite food festivals around the world? Let us know in the comments!