If you associate food fights with teen films, probably staring a young John Belushi, or the pages of some dusty old Boys Own Adventure style romp, then Tomatina Festival is just the thing you need to bring those day dreams to life.
The Tomatina festival is held in the Valencian town of Bunol, about 20 miles from the Mediterranean coast in the east of Spain. Those with even the most rudimentary knowledge of Spanish have probably worked out that this is a festival celebrating the mighty tomato, a staple of Mediterranean cooking but as always, the backstory behind the annual “Tomato Fight” is far from obvious.
The story goes that in 1945 two men who were in heated political protest began throwing tomatoes at people and buildings to draw attention to their perceived grievances and this quickly became a tradition in the years which followed. By 1980 the town council had embraced the event by organizing the festival and paying for the tomatoes, which up until then had been purchased by those citizens taking part.
In 2002 the event was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest by the Department of Tourism and has become one of the essential destinations for those explorers looking to seek out the more unusual traditions and activities in Europe.
La Tomatina lasts about an hour, participants are now limited and there is a small charge. There are other rules which govern the event to ensure health and safety but they are all pretty much based in common sense…tomatoes must be squashed before being thrown, no grabbing other players, adhere to anything that the stewards tell you, but nothing to mar your tomato fighting enjoyment. And if this seems like a bit of a waste of food, well maybe it is but I’m sure local tomato growers welcome the en mass purchase from the council. One added bonus is that once the fight is over fire trucks hosing the town down find that the acidity of the fruit (or is it a vegetable?) acts as a wonderful bleach and the buildings are left cleansed and grime free so a bit of fun but a deep facial for the bricks and mortar.
The people then head to the “los penones” pool for a communal soaking to get themselves clean, or at least less like a pizza base. And if this seems a long way to go for an hour’s silliness, incidentally on the last Wednesday of August, it is easy to combine this visit with a mixture of culture and relaxation. Valencia is near by and makes an excellent base from which to explore the rest of the region. An ancient city with a bustling modern nightlife, culinary delights, medieval buildings, a wealth of cultural and artistic history and everything you would imagine from a city which has been an important point on the map for the last 2000 years.
The azure blue of the Mediterranean is a stones throw away and between is the picturesque Valencian countryside, that evocative blend of rolling hills, olive groves, vegetable fields (obviously!) timeless villages and hidden delights that you might expect. La Tomatina is on 30th August this year and is the perfect excuse for getting out and seeing this wonderful part of Eastern Spain. A cultural tour with easy access to perfect beaches, beautiful countryside with amazing food and right at the heart of it the biggest food fight in history. How great is that?