Some people travel the world for love and others for the love of food. With so many food and drink festivals to choose from, luck is on the side of the gastronomical explorer. Celebrate spring with lobster poutine in Ottawa or usher in winter with onion pie in Bern – here’s your guide to the world’s best food festivals.
1. Onion Market (Bern, Switzerland)
Held every fourth Monday of November, the centuries-old Onion Market is a multi-odorous celebration of onions, garlic and mulled wine. Festivities begin the day before when swimmers wear funny costumes and jump in the freezing Aare River. Before sunrise, vendors prepare onion pies and soups and sell wreaths made with dried onion bulbs. Festival-goers throw confetti in the air while children bob people with toy hammers.
2. Salón del Chocolate (Quito, Ecuador)
A region with a long history of growing cocoa, fruity aromatic Ecuadorian chocolate remains one of the most sought-after chocolates in the world. The annual Salón del Chocolate, held in June, will bring together home cooks and professional chefs and include a homemade chocolate contest, chocolate-making classes and a chocolate sculpture competition. Hot chocolate and coffee are also served.
3. Bacon Festival (Sacramento, California)
The February festival which takes inspiration from chefs chatting over bacon and beer during their downtime has, for the most part, stayed true to its humble mandate of celebrating one of the most “lowbrow” foods. Popular Sacramento eateries and breweries that participate in Bacon Festival include Magpie Café and Two Rivers Cider Company. Lately, pairings have become more elaborate (but still palatable). Think bacon and dim sum.
4. PoutineFest (Ottawa, Canada)
When a dish sparks a national debate, it must be to-die-for. Such can be said about poutine, a sinful mix of French fries and cheese curds swimming in brown gravy. Though the Québécois invented poutine, the annual PoutineFest, held on April 26-29 at Ottawa City Hall, shows how it has become a Canadian national dish. Chefs make creative renditions including lobster, fried pickle and even Pad Thai poutine, which festival-goers can enjoy on the lawn.
5. Dumpling Festival (Hong Kong)
Glutinous rice dumplings or zongzi is central to the millenniums-old Dragon Boat Festival, which takes place from June 16-18 this year in Hong Kong. The dragon boat races commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a minister to the Chu emperor, who drowned himself in the Miluo River upon hearing about the Qin takeover. Villagers wrapped sticky rice inside banana leaves and tossed them into the river to offer to Qu’s spirit. Today, shop owners sell zongzi with egg yolk, pork and other fillings.
6. Pizzafest (Naples, Italy)
Mid-June is the season of food festivals and for cheese and crust lovers, this marks the annual pilgrimage to the birthplace of pizza, Naples. At Pizzafest, pizzaioli (pizza chefs) from all over Italy, including some of the oldest pizzerias in Naples, compete to make the tastiest Neopolitan pizzas, which they display proudly on long tables. Work off the carbs by kneading dough at one of the many pizza-making workshops.
7. Vegetarian Festival (Phuket, Thailand)
Over the years, Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival, celebrated for nine days starting on the eve of the ninth lunar month (October 8-17 this year), has become synonymous with body piercings, knife-wielding and fire walking. Spectacle aside, the festival is a great opportunity to sample vegetarian versions of Thailand’s most satiable dishes, including tom yum soup and many noodle dishes.
8. Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival
Nothing beats eating oysters by the ocean. A hotelier from Galway had this idea in 1954 when he founded the Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival, which has since become one of Europe’s longest-running food festivals. Held on September 28-30 at the Spanish Arch along the River Corrib, the festival will bring back the popular oyster shucking competition. Visitors can also follow the “Seafood Trail” leading them to restaurants that serve seafood caught fresh from the Atlantic Ocean.
9. Taste of London
It doesn’t get more (Michelin) star-studded than Taste of London. One of the world’s most coveted food and drink festivals, Taste of London brings Michelin-star chefs and new restauranteurs to Regent Park twice a year, in June and November, for live cooking demonstrations and food and drink pairing classes. Past participants include The Cheese Bar and Duck & Waffle. People can also shop at the small producers’ market for homemade sauces, charcuterie and cooking utensils.
10. Dutch Chili Festival (Eindhoven, Netherlands)
Synonymous with van Gogh and tulips, the Netherlands is also famous for one other thing: chili. Held on September 9 this year, the Dutch Chili Festival promises to be an eye-watering extravaganza – especially for those partaking in the DIY hot sauce workshop. Visitors can look forward to the hottest pepper contest, hottest hamburger challenge and a “hot sauce and sambal show off.”