On normal days, Buñol, located 30 miles from Valencia, Spain has a population of about 9,000. However, that changes on the last Wednesday of August, when tens of thousands of revelers descend upon the charming town to participate in the world's largest food fight. Called La Tomatina, it entails party-goers throwing tomatoes at each other for an entire hour!
The annual festival, which took place on August 28, 2019, is believed to have begun accidentally. One popular folklore attributes the over 70-year-old tradition to a group of teenagers who were upset at not being allowed to participate in a town parade in 1945. The youngsters decided to show their displeasure by pelting the floats with tomatoes obtained from a nearby vegetable vendor. Instead of stopping them, other bystanders joined in, and a food fight ensued. Another legend credits the fun event to a few disgruntled residents who threw tomatoes at a city official during a town celebration.
Regardless of who threw the first tomato, the fight was so much fun that locals returned to reenact the event annually on the last Wednesday of August. After several attempts to stop them failed, the officials succumbed, and in 1957, La Tomatina became an official festival. However, it remained a well-kept secret known only to locals until the 1980s, when thrill-seekers from around the world began arriving in Buñol to participate in the fun event. La Tomatina is now one of Spain's most famous festivals, second only to Pamplona's “Running of the Bulls.”
Despite the ever-increasing crowds, the food fight remained free and accessible to anyone that wished to attend. However, things changed after 2012, when an unprecedented 50,000 visitors descended upon the small town. Fearing the festival could get unruly, the officials decided to restrict the number of attendees to about 20,000. Visitors now also have to pay €10 ($13) each, to help cover the event's rising costs.
Though the one-hour food fight remains the centerpiece of La Tomatina, the festival now extends almost a week. Visitors are treated to colorful parades, dancing, and even fireworks. On the night before the fight, the streets are lined with vendors preparing giant pans of delicious paella on wood-burning fires. Tourists and locals alike gather to enjoy the party, which lasts late into the night.
On the morning of the big event, Buñol's shop owners scramble to cover their storefronts with tarps. Participants start to gather at the town's central plaza at 10:00 A.M local time for the opening ceremony. The fun festival starts with a brave volunteer attempting to climb a two-story-tall greased pole, to retrieve a ham that lies at the top. Though the rules state that the food fight can only commence after he/she succeeds, the easygoing officials treat any courageous attempt as a signal to start the party.
When the siren authorizing the start of the fight is sounded, volunteers aboard trucks carrying over 150 tons of soft, over-ripe tomatoes magically appear and distribute them to the eagerly-awaiting visitors. By the end of the hour, the participants and streets are filled with tomato mush. The enthusiastic participants, still dripping and slipping over the red juice, use the makeshift showers set up by town officials, or the nearby Buñol River, to rinse themselves, Then, it's time for some delicious paella and a well-deserved siesta. Meanwhile, the town's residents rush in to clean the tomato-pulp filled streets, which emerge sparkly clean thanks to the fruit's acid that helps extract the dirt.
Resources: guardian.co.uk, huffingtonpost.com, vox.com, ibtimes.com.au