Published online at www.msn.ca's Travel Section, April, 2010.
Disclaimer: If you’re the type to follow guests around your cream-coloured home with red wine stain remover, you may want to avert your eyes now. This photo gallery celebrates international food fights that encourage participants to sling foodstuffs in public spaces and roll around in muck. Here’s a list of street food brawls that allow us to play with our food.
Battle of the Oranges
Carnival of Ivrea, Ivrea, Italy
Every year for three days, ending on Fat Tuesday
It all started out innocently as a flirtatious gesture. In the 19th century, coquettish girls watching the annual Carnival of Ivrea from their balconies would lob oranges down below, targeting the boys they fancied in a bid to get their attention. The boys in the carriages responded by pelting the girls back — after all, love is a battlefield. Little by little, what was once meant as an amorous volley of citrus-scented love, became increasingly intense and after WWII, the contest developed fixed rules where teams in carriages square off against the orange throwers on foot. To participate you have to enroll on either team. Be prepared to be ground to a pulp.
La Raima, Grape Throwing Festival
Pobla del Duc, near Valencia, Spain
End of August
It’s an annual ritual that signals the end of the grape harvest. In the searing heat of the noon-day sun, trucks hauling 90 tonnes of grapes dump the fruit into throngs of waiting people who proceed to fling the fruit willy nilly. The festival, which marks the climactic end to a season of hard labour, can be traced back to the 1930s, when jubilant farmers would celebrate the end of the harvest by throwing the rest of the crop at each other.
The region continues to rely on agriculture and and grapes as its main source of income, and the grape-slinging tradition remains. Children and adults alike participate in the festival, and by the end of the day are transformed into happy, sun-dried purple raisins.
Batalla del Vino, Wine Throwing Fight
La Rioja, Spain’s wine country
Every year, June 29
Sommeliers and wine connoisseurs read on at your own peril: This food fight may border sacrilege for some folks as it involves hosing each other down in perfectly good wine. This is a full-bodied festival. Thousands come armed with their preferred choice of weapon, be it wineskins, water pistols, crop sprayers and plain old buckets. The battle — which can be traced back to the 13th century as a land dispute — starts early in the morning, gathering tens of thousands of locals dressed all in white. Quickly, they turn an unnatural plum colour, as jet-streams of wine fly throughout the crowd transforming the mass into a single, unified purple mob, kind of like that Grimace character from McDonald’s. If you’re the type to chase around red-wine drinking guests in your cream-coloured home with bottles of stain remover, this ain’t your kind of festival.
Every year, on the last Wednesday in August
This one is undeniably the mamacita of all food fights.
As the world’s largest, La Tomatina attracts 40,000 revelers from around the world to voluntarily be pummeled and crushed in one giant vat of salsa. At 11 a.m. sharp the mayem begins as participants go mad, volleying rounds of tomato grenades at each other — around 125,000 kg of them. The battle only lasts a few short hours, but by the end it’s a bloody Mary bath with rivers of tomato juice pouring through the streets. The official story goes that the battle — which started in 1945 — began when a riot broke out during an annual parade. Rioters grabbed tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stall turning the festival into a massive street food fight.
Spaniards aren’t the only ones who like to engage in tomato tussles. While it’s significantly smaller, the Colombian version of La Tomatina— inspired by their larger European cousin in Bunol —is no less messy. It’s also more family-friendly, with children dive-bombing into pools of tomatoes, emerging like frightening, half-eaten zombies covered in tomato pulp. It’s a three-day tomato festival, that pays homage to the crop that has become a significant part of their local economy. About 15 tonnes of inedible tomatoes are used as ammo.
Batalla de caramelos or Candy Fight and La Meringada or Meringue wars
Vilanova i la Geltru, Spain
This is perhaps one of our favourite food fights, as it’s the sweetest one. This sticky warfare can be traced back to the Franco regime, when the seaside town was one of the few to defy a mean-spirited, petty ban on all carnivals. The battle of desserts is held on separate days during the festival. After tucking into the traditional Lenten meal of cod fish with red pepper sauce and salad, locals spill out into the streets and get whipped into a frenzy as they chuck the evening’s ritual dessert — meringue — at every moving target. On the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday, children and grown adults alike emerge to catch sweets, tonnes of which are launched into the crowd, creating a sticky, crunchy, colourful quilt of sugar on the streets.
World Custard Pie Championship
Here’s a food fight that requires a bit of skill and strategy. Teams square off against one another under the watchful eye of judges who scrutinize their pie-throwing abilities, awarding points for targets and deducting marks for misses. A pie in the face, for example, earns six points. Competitors are also awarded up to five points for originality and entertainment factor. The festival started in Coxheath in 1967 by Mike Fitzgerald, then a local city councillor, and was inspired by Charlie Chaplin slapstick. Apparently the custard is made from a secret recipe, to facilitate flinging and hurling. Spectators can try to dodge custard projectile all they want, but a disclaimer reads that the public enters the grounds “at their own risk.”
Cheese Rolling Competition
Gloucester, England, Cooper’s Hill
Every May Bank Holiday — except maybe this year
This year, organizers have put up a stink over the competition. The 200-year-old tradition of Britons hurling themselves suicidally down a 45-degree slope chasing a wheel of Gloucester cheese is officially cancelled this year amid safety concerns. But guerrilla Facebook groups like “Bring Back the Cheese Rolling” and cheesed-off fanatics alike are expected to defy the decision and turn up anyway. At issue is the 15,000 spectators the event drew last year, a far cry from the crowds of a few hundred it used to attract. Organizers are, however, meeting with local council and police to bring it back next year with more safety precautions in place. While some fear it’s a feta-compli, others say it was crackers anyway (cheesy lines borrowed from cybersphere).
Every December 28, on what is their equivalent of April Fool’s Day
This one takes the cake. In a mock coup d’etat that dates back 200 years, local rebels overtake the town against a backdrop of fireworks and a merciless flour and egg battle that, forgive us, batters the town. Men run around dressed in combat gear and top hats under blizzard-like, zero visibility conditions that rain down a hailstorm of eggs, making for a deliciously bizarre scene. This guerilla army runs around town collecting “taxes” — donations to charity — amongst the locals. If you dare to run “afowl” of the new order, you too may get creamed.
Songkran, World’s Biggest Water Fight
Every April 13-15
What was originally meant as a symbolic gesture of cleansing and blessings to usher in the Thai New Year has become the world’s largest water fight. The Thais mean business when it comes to this annual event, arming themselves with water pistols, hoses, buckets and even enlisting elephants to help them soak everyone in their path. Buses and cars provide little cover when water gun-bearing Thais board buses and jettison streams of water into open windows. Nor will you be able to escape through alleyways as there are sure to be armies of giggling children waiting to ambush you. The festival also provides a welcome cool-down in the searing heat, as it happens to coincide with the hottest month of the year in Thailand. The water wars evolved from a gentle tradition of capturing the water runoff poured over Buddha statues, and pouring the cleansing waters onto the hands of respected family members as a blessing for good health and fortune.