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25 unmissable food and drink festivals

Whether you’re a fan of mushrooms or mole, sake or seafood, a trip to a food festival is a chance to get outdoors, embrace new cultures and indulge your culinary passion. Here’s our pick of the world’s most delicious events

25 unmissable food and drink festivals
Image: Getty

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01 Maine Lobster Festival
Rockland, Maine, US. 31 July – 4 August 2019
In 2008, organisers had to commission the construction of the world’s biggest lobster cooker to cope with demand — a sign of just how huge this festival had grown. Over five days, the giant, steaming cauldron is capable of getting through 20,000 pounds of the crustaceans — to be served in a variety of dishes, from lobster rolls and creamy bisques to stuffed risotto balls and wontons. If all that wasn’t enough there’s an abundance of other seafood to choose from, including clams, fried shrimp, and steamed mussels. The fun doesn’t stop there, however; there’s a fiercely contested cooking competition, live music, local beers and wines, a parade, and a Maine Lobster Festival Sea Goddess beauty pageant. Perhaps best of all, though, is the bizarre lobster crate race, in which contestants run across a line of crates strung together in the chilly waters of Rockland Harbor, going back and forth until they fall in.

Image: StockFood

02 Galway Oyster & Seafood Festival
Galway, Ireland. 28 – 30 September 2018
This gourmet extravaganza was founded back in 1954, making it the world’s oldest oyster festival. Each year it attracts thousands of people, who descend on the city to celebrate the start of the oyster season (which runs until April), gorge on the native Galway bivalves, cheer on competitors in the World Oyster Opening Championships and watch the parade. There’s plenty of live music too, to keep the party going.

03 Bar-B-Q Festival
Owensboro, Kentucky, US. May 2019
You’ll likely smell this festival before you see it, as plumes of meaty smoke fill the air from scores of industrial smokers that line the streets, ready to feed 85,000 hungry people. With dozens of local chefs serving up barbecued chicken, mutton and pulled pork by the pound, and a spicy stew called burgoo by the gallon, this is an all-out meat feast. There’s also a healthy dose of competition, with the coveted Governor’s Cup awarded to the best barbecue team, plus the Mutton Glutton Sandwich Eating Contest. With all those calories to burn, the 5k charity run is surely a no-brainer.

04 Crop Over
Barbados. Summer 2019
Steeped in 300 years of tradition, Crop Over originally marked the end of the sugar cane harvest. It’s now a six-week celebration of Bajan culture; a riot of colour, music, rum and food. Local specialities include salt cod cakes and pudding ’n’ souse, a dish made from pickled pork and sweet potato. The rum flows like water — as the locals say, Crop Over ‘is sweet fuh days!’

Image: Getty

05 International Paella Competition
Valencia, Spain. 9 September 2018
There’s a saying in Valencia that goes: ‘Paella is a rice dish, but not all rice dishes are paella.’ It’s in honour of the province’s trademark dish that people have been flocking to the tiny Valencian town of Sueca (known for its rice cultivation) since 1961 for the final of this paella contest, in which top chefs and restaurants from around the world — everywhere from Peru to Japan — compete. Thousands of visitors come to feast on true Valencian paella, which is made with a strict list of ingredients that includes rice, snails, chicken, rabbit and an assortment of vegetables. It may not have the variety of other festivals but for lovers of Spanish food, it’s hard to beat.

06 Bordeaux Wine Festival
Bordeaux, France. June 2020
This biannual festival has done wonders for Bordeaux’s stuffy image, welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors to a 1.5-mile ‘wine road’ along the waterfront to try wines from such renowned local appellations as Pomerol and Saint-Émilion.

07 Salón del Chocolate
Quito, Ecuador. June 2019
Ecuador has one of the world’s oldest cacao-growing industries, and the crop is integral to its culture and economy. So it’s only right that the country should host the annual Salón del Chocolate, South America’s pre-eminent event for chocolate lovers, who come to sample the finest Ecuadorian cacao, prized for its unique floral aromas. Purists can try organic bars from Ecuador’s new wave of producers such as República del Cacao, and Pacari, whose range includes chocolate flavoured with lemongrass and cardamom. There are also truffles, cakes, chocolate drinks and live demonstrations.

Image: StockFood

08 Disfida della Zuppa
Lucca, Italy. Spring 2019
Don’t come to the final of Tuscany’s annual soup challenge expecting Bake Off-style dramatics. Organised by the region’s slow cooking organisation, this is a cook-off, Italian style, and everything comes down to competitors’ skills with nonna’s family recipe. It all centres around the humble zuppa alla frantoiana, a rustic bean and vegetable soup from Lucca that’s elevated by the judicious addition of top-notch local olive oil. As well as watching the final, you can drop in on the qualifying rounds, held across the region in early spring.

09 Street Food Festival
Cape Town & Johannesburg, South Africa. 1-9 September 2018
Open-air markets selling colourful quick bites set up stall on consecutive weekends in two cities, alongside live music and talks from food entrepreneurs. The vendors for 2018 are still under wraps but be prepared for foot-long Gatsby sandwiches, anything that comes hot off the braai and a crispy chicken foot or two (known as walkie talkies).

10 Bangkok Vegetarian Festival
Bangkok, Thailand. 9-17 October 2018
This festival — strictly speaking a celebration of the vegan, not vegetarian diet — transforms Chinatown’s restaurants and street stalls into a riot of colour, noise and taste sensations. Expect plenty of sweet cakes, noodle soups and tofu, as well as colourful parades, crashing cymbals and banging drums. But the real treat is the array of vegan (usually soy) meat substitutes, crafted to look just like the real thing.

11 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival
Melbourne, Australia. 15-24 March 2019
A celebration of Victorian fare, held at venues across the state (pictured) — from food trucks and basement bars to riverside cafes and rooftop restaurants. Visitors can take part in the world’s longest lunch: a three-course-meal at a 530 metre-long table running along the Albert Park’s Grand Prix circuit. The most scenic spot at the festival is by the Yarra River, where you’ll find pop-up bars and stalls.

12 Oktoberfest Blumenau
Blumenau, Brazil. 3 – 21 October 2018
This alternative to Munich’s beer festival takes place in the hills of south Brazil — because nothing says Oktoberfest like samba dancing and sunshine. The town was founded by German settlers, and with timbered buildings in among the skyscrapers it’s worth a visit for the novelty alone. But the beer is a serious business, with German brewery Eisenbahn supplying dunkel (dark lager) and Kölsch.

13 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival
Speyside, Scotland. 2 – 6 May 2019
Go behind the scenes at some of the world’s most famous whisky distilleries and explore the great outdoors too at this five-day celebration (pictured). Together with a programme of tastings and workshops, you can enjoy a ceilidh aboard the Keith and Dufftown railway and drive out to remote glens to hear stories of old-time whisky smugglers.

14 Berlin Beer Festival
Berlin, Germany. 2 – 4 August 2019
Spanning a mile-long stretch of central Berlin, this festival — known as ‘the world’s longest beer garden’ — features some 2,400 beers from 87 countries. Varieties can appear at one annual festival only, and the stars of the show are rare beers from tiny regional brewers. However, expect surprises — for example, the last festival saw the debut Lithuanian ‘pea beers’, made from recipes dating back to when grain was in short supply.

15 Isle of Wight Garlic Festival
Newchurch, Isle of Wight. August 2019
Garlic fudge, garlic ice cream, garlic scones and even garlic beer: stay well clear of Newchurch’s rolling farmland in August if you’re not a fan of the pungent bulb. The Isle of Wight is the biggest garlic producer in the UK, growing some 150 tons every year; some of the best comes from The Garlic Farm, a 50-year-old, family-run producer whose delicacies like aged, black and smoked garlic are available to taste at this family-friendly festival, alongside gourmet garlic mushrooms and posh garlic bread. As if that weren’t enough, ‘scrumpy and western’ band The Wurzels are on the bill.

16 Alba Truffle Festival
Alba, Piedmont, Italy. 6 October – 25 November 2018
Alba is well known for its white truffles, which are more delicate and rarer than their black counterparts. The town’s festival spans six weeks and includes food markets, a world truffle auction and ‘sensory analysis’ sessions. But how best to eat an expensive truffle — shaved over local tajarin egg pasta or muddled with butter atop a ribeye steak?

17 Ardeche Chestnut Festivals
Ardeche, France. 7 October – 11 November 2018
More than 60 varieties of the humble chestnut grow in the Ardèche, southeastern France, and they’re all venerated during a series of one- and two-day festivals in 11 different villages across the region. Used in a whole host of local dishes, they can be glazed, roasted and added to soups, or a soft, sweet, fragrant pie called Lou Pisadou. Meet the producers and makers, eat plenty of chestnuts, and go and gather some yourself. Highlights from this year’s programme include gourmet hikes in Saint-Pierreville, and a demonstration of traditional cooking techniques in Gluiras.

fodo and drink festivals

Image: StockFood

18 Humongous Fungus Fest
Crystal Falls, Michigan. August 2019
What started as a way to celebrate a natural oddity — an ancient 37-acre network of subterranean mushrooms beneath Crystal Falls, Michigan — has expanded into a rambunctious slice of mushroom-themed Americana. Enjoy mushroom Swiss burgers while you watch the opening parade, marvel at contestants in the three-hour eating competition, take part in the annual men’s beardy pageant, watch a giant pizza being made, and learn more about the locally grown Armillaria gallica fungus on a guided forage.

19 Saijo Sake Matsuri
Hiroshima, Japan. 13 – 14 October 2018
Winding through the streets of Hiroshima’s Sajo district, this is a pub-crawl with a difference. Sajo is one of Japan’s three great sake-brewing districts, and after a traditional Shinto festival gives thanks for the year’s sake bounty, its 50-odd breweries throw open their doors to the public. Despite being a rice wine, sake is brewed rather than fermented. Hiroshima’s is typically slightly sweet, and rather potent, so follow a trip to the festival’s ‘5,000 Person Izakaya’ (an outdoor pub) with street food from one of the many stalls, or the regional specialty — hot pot cooked with sake.

Image: Getty

20 Festival de los Moles
Oaxaca City, Mexico. July 2019
Oaxaca’s signature sauce, celebrated at this two-day festival in southern Mexico, is a slow-cooked, unctuous blend of spices, chocolate, chilli and other regional ingredients. Oaxaca’s seven traditional moles — including a deep, dark version thickened with bread and dried fruit, and Manchamantel, which is turned fire-engine red with chorizo grease and chillies — can be tried at the opening ceremony, in the Jardin Carbajal and at a tasting event in the Botanical Gardens. The festival is part of a month-long celebration of Oaxacan culture, called the Fiestas de la Guelaguetza, and restaurants across Oaxaca City showcase their twists on the regional moles throughout July.

21 Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival
Yorkshire, UK. 15 – 23 September 2018
You’ve heard of Wensleydale, of course, but what about Coverdale, Ribblesdale or Fine Fettle? No? Well you can find them all at this Yorkshire cheese extravaganza, taking place at 20 venues across the Dales. Highlights include a two-day ‘mini-festival’ at Wensleydale Creamery, with 35 stalls, plus tastings and pairings; guided national park walks; and a ‘War of the Roses’ tasting contest, where Yorkshire cheeses will compete against Lancashire’s finest.

22 Poutine Fest
Ottawa, Canada. April 2019
Chips, thick gravy, and curd cheese; if you’re not down with that then look away now. Canada’s defacto national dish (at least on the winter-embattled East Coast) is sometimes mocked but has lately been reimagined by such gourmet names as Martin Picard from Montreal’s Au Pied du Cochon restaurant. This festival in Canada’s capital comes with unapologetic trad varieties, served in City Hall. It features eating contests, plenty of local craft beer stands and refined, experimental versions from such hipster names in the world of poutine as Smoke’s Poutinerie and Toronto’s Roost food truck.

23 Festa do Pulpo O Carballiño
Galicia, Spain. August 2018
Each summer at this Galician event, up to 30,000 kilos of octopus is cut into bite-size pieces and dished up on wooden plates. Thousands of people gather around open-air kitchens to share octopus ‘a feira’ (‘market style’), cooked with sea salt, paprika and glistening virgin olive oil. All washed down with fine white Ribeiro wines.

food and drink festivals

Image: Getty

24 Fête du Citron
Menton, France. February/March 2019
A tourist board poster child, this celebration of all things citrus is nonetheless a foodie favourite. An integral fixture of the Cote d’Azur’s Lent carnival season, this is an all-out street party, with truly eye-boggling floats decked in towering displays of citrus, but it goes beyond the decorative. You can get your limes, oranges and lemons done every which way including loose, whether in jams, chutneys, syrups or tarts, or pickled, candied and lovingly preserved.

25 Naples, Italy June 2019
International pizza chefs are invited to a makeshift village by the sea to compete with Naples’ most renowned pizzerias. Unesco has officially recognised the cultural heritage of Neapolitan pizza tossing, and the sight of maestros whirling discs of dough around puts this event a class above other pizza festivals. Grab a slice of a margherita and ponder what makes molten cheese and tangy tomato so irresistible.

Published in Issue 2 of National Geographic Traveller Food, distributed with the September issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)