VALENCIA, Spain – In less than a month, the world’s biggest food fight will take place. So grab your diving mask, your waterproof camera and an old torn t-shirt and head for La Tomatina, taking place this year on August 31. Every year on the last Wednesday of August, the town of Buñol in the Spanish region of Valencia celebrates the tomato. Some 40,000 participants flock here from around the world during this messy festival. Last year, over 100 tons of tomatoes (valued at more than $35,000 or 28,000 Euros) were consumed in the battle.
The week-long festival honors the city’s patron saints: San Luis Bertran and the Virgin de los Desamparados celebrating them with parades, concerts, cultural events and culinary competitions. But on Tuesday night the locals and visitors rev up for the next day’s tomato fight. The town holds a night-long fiesta with concerts and spinning DJ’s. The next morning breakfast pastries and sandwiches are handed out so that everyone is sure to have sustenance for the great battle, and locals douse attendees with cooling buckets of water.
The morning’s first attraction is the palo jabon – a tall pole slicked with soap which promises the reward of a whole jamon at the top, to the first to be able to scale the slippery pole. At 11 AM a water rocket is shot off and trucks release tons of tomatoes onto the street. The hurling of tomatoes begins. Participants are instructed to crush the tomatoes in their hands before lancing them through the air to reduce the impact of a successful hit. Everyone and everything is stained red as participants wade through a tide of tomato pulp. An hour later, another water rocket is shot off signaling the end of the tomato throwing. The tomato mush is hosed off the streets – leaving the cobblestones bleached and disinfected thanks to the acids of the tomatoes. Participants also get a rinse, having had a wonderful tomato skin treatment (reputed to be an astringent, which can shrink pores and treat sunburn.)
The Tomatina dates back to 1944 when a street fight erupted during one of the parades celebrating the town’s patron saints. During the street fight, tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stall were used as ammunition and the tradition began – at times prohibited by Buñol’s law enforcement – though now fully sponsored by the town government.
Aside from La Tomatina, Buñol is known as the Valencian Switzerland for its parks and gardens. The old city is built around a 13th century Arab castle. The surrounding area is ideal for hiking with beautiful rivers, waterfalls, caves and other interesting geological formations such as the natural bridge of Carcalín.