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La Tomatina: The Tomato Festival of Spain

Updated on August 25, 2010

The origins of a food fight

Buñol is a small pueblo in Spain just 30 miles inland from Valencia. It is home to about 9,000 industrial-working citizens, making it a fairly quiet place. But on the last Wednesday in August, tired business owners of Buñol begin to tarp up their storefronts in preparation of 50,000 people, and millions of over-ripe tomatoes. It's the time when citizens and travelers alike come together to brew up a disgustingly large batch of bolognese sauce for no good reason. It’s La Tomatina, the messiest food fight in Spain.

La Tomatina Festival has been a strong tradition in the town of Buñol, beginning around 1944. As for why this giant tomato fight festival began, well, there are many guesses. A practical joke, a friendly food fight, or possibly a surprise attack on city council members are a few of the local theories. No one is sure. Whatever the reason, the festival has been an annual tradition ever since (except for a temporary ban whilst under rule of fascist dictator Fransisco Franco). 

Let the festivities begin

The first event begins at 10:00am in the city center. The crowd is packed like sardines and drenched in water coming from the buckets and hoses of resident’s balconies above. At this time, someone must climb a large greased pole and release a ham tied to the top. Once the ham is liberated, the tomato fight begins. The tomato throwing commences around 11:00am when the first truck appears and starts to unload its supply of tomatoes as it unyieldingly makes its way through Plaza del Pueblo.

The tomatoes used are grown specifically for this festival, and are not good for consumption (making them smell a little rancid). Obviously, locals feel that chucking them at strangers is a much more appropriate use, and I agree. Several trucks and over a million rejected tomatoes later; everything and everyone within throwing distance is tainted by an aura of defeat and a layer of red pulp.

Food fight

I don't know about you, but I hate tomatoes. Granted, I like to eat chips and salsa, but tomatoes have activated my gag reflex ever since I was a little guy. It’s certainly not the fruit (vegetable) that I want pureed all over my body and seeping into the back of my eye sockets and other dark places that a tomato should never see. This is something to take into account before getting amongst thousands of boozed up merrymakers and tons of rotting tomatoes.

For the most part, everyone is too busy throwing and dodging tomatoes to care about anything else, other than having fun in the moment. It's an experience that brings one back to childhood. Like being 8 years old again in a summer time water balloon fight, only much more people, much more alcohol and no water balloons (tear). Hard core festival go-ers hang around the former war-zone until 1:00pm, purifying themselves in what is now a polluted tomato bath. Once the tomato orgy is over, the town of Buñol begins to return themselves to the quiet normalcy whence they came by bringing in fire trucks to spray down the streets and it's visitors. The rest of the day is spent in true Spanish form, singing and dancing, eating bocadillos de jamon, and drinking copious amounts of beer and sangría in the streets. In the days that follow, multiple showers and the strongest soaps can't wipe away the smell of tomatoes. Alas, the stench fades, but the memories, they do not.

Planning Ahead

While La Tomatina isn’t one of the most well known festivals in Spain, it’s definitely electrifying. Besides, what better way to blow off some frustration amassed while traveling than to blast a stranger in the face with a lusciously rotten tomato? To arrive in Buñol fresh and ready will take some planning. Such an influx of visitors means you need to book in advance. Many day trips are available from Valencia and nearby Barcelona. Below is everything you'll need to get nice and saucy in Buñol next year.


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    • jdaviswrites profile image

      Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

      stephhick68 - Once indeed. And when I say the stench of rotting tomatoes doesn't fade for a few days after either, that is no joke....thanks for reading.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Looks like a lot of fun - great coverage of La Tomatina. Not sure I'd want to be covered in tomatoes, either, but you only live once, right?