Bunol, Valencia, Spain
In August the streets of Buñol, Spain, turn into a free-for-all food fight. Trucks roll into town hauling over 130,000 kilos of juicy tomatoes, and 30,000 revelers go medieval.Read More...
With under 10,000 residents, the small town of Buñol lies about 22 miles west of Valencia in Spain.
Food fight!!! I once organized a raucous fraternity rush party in college that…Read More... Close
Food fight!!! I once organized a raucous fraternity rush party in college that included only three ingredients: stale food, lots of alcohol, and toga wardrobes. Imagine my glee when I discovered La Tomatina with its over-ripe tomatoes, stunning coastal setting, and white-clad participants - before getting splattered in what eerily looks like blood, which is a cue to strip down to your bathing suit. Just as the tomato is mistakenly considered a vegetable (it's a fruit), La Tomatina is more than its reputation of one hour of uninhibited child's play.
Check out the delectable paella-cooking contest the night before along with the street parades and the fireworks. Someone once wrote, "A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins." Maybe if we encouraged people to get their aggressions out once a year through La Tomatinas, we'd have a little less violence in cities across the world. Fewer guns, more tomatoes.
We could take a page from the Spanish to alleviate world violence . . . less guns, more tomatoes!
Wear white for visual impact. This festival gets messy! Be sure to wear clothing that you do not mind staining.
Make sure your camera is waterproof. Everything you have is going to get wet and messy–plus the high acidity of tomato juice can do real damage.
Protective eyewear and gloves are mandatory. While this is a free-for-all of flying fruit, it’s still a city-sponsored event.
Squish tomatoes before throwing. Safety first–unbroken tomatoes hurt!
Bring a change of clothes, preferably sealed in a tomato-proof plastic bag for after the battle.
Fly into Valencia directly or arrive alternatively from Barcelona or Madrid, then organize an overnight bus trip to Valencia. From Valencia, it’s a short bus ride to Buñol. If you plan to stay in Buñol, be sure to book a room early. The small town cannot accommodate all the festival’s participants (most stay in Valencia).
Who cast that first fateful tomato that started the La Tomatina revolution? The reality is no one knows. According to the most popular version of the story, during the 1945 festival of Los Gigantes (a giant paper mâché puppet parade), locals were looking to stage a brawl to get some attention. They happened upon a vegetable cart nearby and starting hurling ripe tomatoes. Innocent onlookers got involved until the scene escalated into a massive melee of flying fruit. The instigators had to repay the tomato vendors, but that didn’t stop the recurrence of more tomato fights -- and the birth of a new tradition. Maybe it was an anti-Franco rebellion, or a carnival that got out of hand.
Fearful of an unruly escalation, authorities enacted, relaxed, and then reinstated a series of bans in the 1950s. In 1951, locals who defied the law were imprisoned until public outcry called for their release. The most famous effrontery to the tomato bans happened in 1957 when proponents held a mock tomato funeral complete with a coffin and procession. After 1957, the local government decided to roll with the punches, set a few rules in place, and embraced the wacky tradition.
Though the tomatoes take center stage, a week of festivities lead up to the final showdown. It’s a celebration of Buñol’s patron saints, the Virgin Mary and St. Louis Bertrand, with street parades, music, and fireworks in joyous Spanish fashion. To build up your strength for the impending brawl, an epic paella is served on the eve of the battle showcasing an iconic Valencian dish of rice, seafood, saffron, and olive oil.
Today, this unfettered festival has some measure of order. Organizers have gone so far as to cultivate a special variety of unpalatable tomatoes just for the annual event. Festivities kick off around 10am when participants race to grab a jamon serrano (ham) fixed atop a greasy pole. Onlookers hose the scramblers with water while singing and dancing in the streets. When the church bell strikes noon, trucks packed with tomatoes roll into town, while chants of “To-ma-te, To-ma-te!” reach a crescendo.
Then, at the sound of a blasting rocket, the main event begins. That’s the green light for crushing and launching tomatoes in all-out attacks against fellow participants. Long distance tomato lobbers, point blank assassins, and medium range hook shots. Whatever your technique, by the time it’s over, you will look (and feel) quite different. Nearly an hour later, tomato-soaked bombers are left to play in a sea of squishy street salsa with little left resembling a tomato to be found. A second rocket shot signals the end of the battle.
The aftermath is one horrific cleanup. All around, you’ll see fire trucks spraying the streets clean and white walls and t-shirts splattered with what resembles part New Age artwork, part battlefield massacre. People head over to the makeshift showers set up for the occasion to clean off tomato juice, skin, and seed from every crevice of their bodies, from their ears to their belly buttons. What Holi is to colorful India, La Tomatina is to farm-friendly Spain.
1. To avoid injuries, tomatoes have to be squashed before throwing.
2. No other projectiles except tomatoes are allowed.
3. Participants have to give way to the trucks and lorries.
4. T-shirts must be worn throughout the festival (though that doesn’t stop most from ripping them off).
5. No tomatoes can be thrown after the second shot fires.