The unassuming town of Buñol, Spain, home to 9,000 residents, is situated along the quiet Buñol river. It boasts a great paella, along with its many fruit, almond and olive trees, and compared with its neighbor to the east, the city of Valencia, is rather sleepy.
Until 40,000 people from around the world start throwing over 100 metric tons of tomatoes at one another.
La Tomatina, Buñol’s annual tomato throwing food fight, took place this morning with participants trying hard to reach one goal: to throw as many tomatoes as possible in what has come to be known as the world’s biggest food fight. With one single fruit and one single color, it might not be all that aesthetically pleasing, but you’d have to be crazy to say that it doesn’t look like a hollering good time.
The event began with its traditional Palojabón (literally, hamstick), a greased wooden pole two stories high topped with a delicious-looking Spanish ham. One brave participant must climb the slick stick and retrieve the ham in order for the events of La Tomatina to officially begin. This year, like most, nobody reached the ham. And this year, like most, it did not matter. People began throwing tomatoes anyway. Heeding only a few rules–tomatoes must be squished before being thrown to avoid injury, and tomatoes are the only weapons to be used–participants in this year’s festival donned protective glasses and gloves to protect themselves from the flying fruits. You may be asking yourself, what is the point of such chaos? It is just that. Pure, chaotic tomato-celebrating fun.
But La Tomatina is not only a food fight. Though the tomato throwers might be the most memorable part of the week-long event, the festival is a true celebration of cuisine and the end of the summer. It features paella cook-offs, parades, dancing and fireworks and attracts tourists from around the world to enjoy the scenic city and take part in its local pride.
The origins of the tomato fight, which dates back to the 1940s, is unclear. The AFP says that it began with a friendly, neighborhood food fight, while townspeople in Buñol claim that the first tomatoes were thrown by residents angry at the city’s councilmen. Whatever its humble beginnings, the event is now an internationally recognized event.
Dictator Francisco Franco banned La Tomatina for its lack of religious ties, but when he left power in 1975 the event was swiftly resumed. While most raucous, obscure European traditions seem to date back centuries (Oktoberfest, for example, began in 1810), La Tomatina is a relatively new event, fueled by a nationalistic passion for celebrating even the most everyday oddities.
When the fight ended and the participants were covered in tomato puree, the streets were left cleaner than they were before. Bunol’s officials say that it is the acidity levels of the tomatoes that scrub the concrete clean, but it might also be the water used, sourced directly from a Roman aqueduct. Town residents kindly sprayed down a couple of hundred residents, while other tired food fighters headed to the Bunol River to wash themselves free of tomato residue.
It’s a shame they never added any garlic or basil to the mix, to spread over a nest of angel hair, but we can only hope that tomato fighters will be more industrious and culinarily-inclined in coming years.