La Tomatina festival of Spain gives a new meaning to the expression 'playing with your food'. For most of the year Bunol is a silent industrial town, 40km from Valencia, quietly going about its own business. But come the last Wednesday of August, the town's streets turns into a salsa riot, with over 20,000 revellers pelting each other with large, red, squishy tomatoes. More than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets.
The week-long festival features music, parade, dancing and fireworks. Tomatina is not just about throwing food, its also about preparing it as on the night before the tomato fight, participants of the festival compete in a paella cooking contest. It is tradition for the women to wear all white and the men to wear no shirts.
At around 10 a.m., the first event of the Tomatina begins. The first feat is for the crowd to figure out how to get someone to climb up a greased pole with a ham at the top. Whilst this is happening, the group works up a frenzy singing and dancing whilst being showered from hoses. Once someone is able to release the ham from the pole, several trucks haul the bounty of tomatoes into the center of the town, Plaza del Pueblo. The tomatoes are grown specifically for the festival as they are not of good taste for consumption.
The signal for the beginning of the fight is firing of water cannons, and the chaos begins and continues for one hour until water cannons are fired again to signal the end. Once it begins, the battle is generally every man for himself.
There are certain rules to be followed in this fight.
- You must squish the tomatoes before throwing for safety precautions.
- No one is allowed to bring in anything that may provoke a more serious fight.
- No one can tear anyone's clothes.
Still, last rule is generally not followed and crowd tend to invariably rip the shirt of any clothed person, man or woman.
No one is completely certain how this event originated. Possible theories on how the Tomatina began include a local food fight among friends, a juvenile class war, a volley of tomatoes from bystanders at a carnival parade, a practical joke on a bad musician, and the anarchic aftermath of an accidental lorry spillage. One of the most popular theories is that disgruntled townspeople attacked city councilmen with tomatoes during a town celebration. Whatever happened to begin the tradition, it was enjoyed so much that it was repeated the next year, and the year after that, and so on. In fact, it was enjoyed so much that it now attracts 'mata throwers from all around the world.