Spain's Food Fight Festival: La Tomatina!

Spain's Food Fight Festival:        
La Tomatina!

John Belushi, the late comic actor, is best remembered for his many film performances and as a pivotal figure in the early years of the sketch comedy TV show "Saturday Night Live." Belushi rose to prominence in classic parts such as Jake Blues from "The Blues Brothers" and iconic SNL characters such as the samauri deli worker and the bumble bee. While all of these appearances were memorable, Belushi is perhaps most known as the intoxicated college student from "Animal House" who sparked the legendary food battle in the cafeteria scene. Dean Wormer may have frowned on the movie culinary brawl, but real, organized food fights take place all over the world every year. The La Tomatina Tomato Fight is the mother of all food fights.

This is the world's greatest food fight, and it takes place every year on the final Wednesday of August in the little town of Bunol, Spain, near Valencia. The brawl has grown so large that up to 30,000 people have descended on Bunol to hurl mashed tomatoes at each other. A week is devoted to a celebration featuring music, food, merriment, and, yes, lots of tomatoes. On Wednesday, it will be difficult to go anywhere near the town center, where truckloads of tomatoes are being delivered in preparation for the big clash. But don't worry, you can probably be anywhere in the city between noon and one o'clock and participate in the activity. In this post, we'll look at the history of the world's largest food fight and offer some advice if you wish to participate.

The Festival's History

Nobody knows where the La Tomatina food battle originated. There are accounts of a food fight between buddies that turned into an entire town of tomato hurlers. Other origin myths range from a lousy musician to city councilmen being pelted with tomatoes by enraged citizens. One version goes that a tomato truck flipped over in the middle of town, and people decided to have some fun in the aftermath. The most widely accepted origin is a town parade consisting of townspeople dressed in giant-headed costumes sometime around 1945.

According to legend, one of these human bobble heads toppled over during the procession as some children attempted to join in, and his dressed head was knocked off. He was so enraged that he began a fight with anyone who would join him. The kids in the neighborhood replied by looting a nearby tomato shop and beating him with the strewn veggies. The next year, the same youths reenacted the event, and it continued in this manner each year until it became a legitimate town event. The city council and local police were not thrilled with the event and attempted to put a stop to it several times over the years, but they gradually accepted it and the attention it gave to the peaceful town of 9,000.

If you want to participate in the world's largest food fight, you should plan ahead of time. The huge number of people who visit Spain for La Tomatina each year makes finding accommodations practically impossible. Your best bet is to book a room at a nearby Valencia hotel or hostel. Every hour, trains depart for Bunol. You should also respect the following unwritten rules:

  • Wear no flip flops.
  • Bring no foreign objects to the food fight.
  • Do not rip or throw away your garment.
  • Each tomato must be crushed before being thrown.
  • A firework signals the beginning and end of the performance.
  • Respect the start and stop times.
  • Stay away from the tomato trucks.

Rules And Regulations

The food battle was purely a B.Y.O.T. event for its first 30 or so years. Los Clavarios de San Luis Bertran, loosely translated as the cavalry or army of San Luis Bertran, the patron saint of the town of Bunol, has been trucking in the munitions since 1975. For the festival, over 200,000 pounds of tomatoes are brought in to ensure that the more than 30,000 attendees have enough of ammunition. As long as no one is hurt physically and the mob stops fighting as soon as they hear the second firework sound, the cops are very understanding during the altercation.

After that, the celebrations continue and cleanup gets under way; the tomatoes are simply hosed into the sewer system. Locals and business owners all help out with the hosing, although fire truck hoses are used for the majority of the cleaning. No criminal activity or injuries have been reported thus far in the town, and visitors to Bunol have shown respect for the custom and its guidelines. The following advice should be taken into consideration if you intend to travel to Spain to participate in the La Tomatina tomato fight:

  • Wearing items that you care about is not advised.
  • If you're leaving Bunol by train, especially, bring a change of clothes.
  • To protect your eyes from the sting of the tomato juice, bring goggles for skiing or swimming.
  • Specify an underwater camera alone.
  • Unless you have a watertight casing, leave your video camera at home.
  • At La Tomatina, no spectators are present. Prepare to leave red if you're there.