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There's no shortage of fun food festivals around the world, but some go beyond the usual concession stands, tastings, and cook-offs. In a few places, the featured food isn't just for eating — it's also used to make art or as part of an athletic competition. (Pancake races, anyone?) These seven unique food festivals around the world are as entertaining as they are delicious, and should be on any foodie's bucket list.
Lemon Festival, France
If you’ve ever wanted to see an enormous dragon made entirely out of lemons, head to Menton, France, in mid-February. During the Fête du Citron, or Lemon Festival, locals in the French Riviera town build gigantic sculptures out of citrus fruits — think lemony castles and larger-than-life animals in bright shades of yellow and orange. The festival is held during the peak of citrus season, when the fruits are plentiful and ripe. It has been running since 1928, with annual themes and a procession of the citrus sculptures through town. More than 250,000 people come out to watch the show, and to stock up on limoncello, orange wine, and lemon olive oil from local vendors.
Giant Omelette Celebration, Louisiana
The Giant Omelette Celebration in Abbeville, Louisiana, is the U.S. version of a similar festival in Bessieres, France. Legend has it that when Napoleon stopped in Bessieres with his army, he had an omelet he enjoyed so much that he ordered the town to gather up all the eggs they could to prepare one for his troops. Bessieres turned that moment into an Easter Omelette Festival in the 1970s, and Abbeville adopted the tradition in 1984. Today, there are seven cities in the so-called "Brotherhood of the Knights of the Giant Omelette" — Bessieres, France; Abbeville, Louisiana; Dumbea, New Caledonia; Granby, Canada; Malmedy, Belgium; Frejus, France; and Pigüé, Argentina. The showpiece of the Abbeville celebration is a massive Cajun omelet made from 5,000 eggs.
La Tomatina, Spain
At La Tomatina in Buñol, Spain, playing with your food isn't just allowed — it's required. Each August, tens of thousands of people gather to hurl more than 300,000 pounds of ripe tomatoes at one another in a massive (and massively messy) food fight. According to local lore, the origins of the festival can be traced back to an actual fight in 1945, when a parade participant fell off a float and got so mad that he started hitting things in his path. In the ensuing commotion, the crowd began throwing tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stand. The next year, people brought tomatoes from home so they could recreate the fight. The event grew every year after that until the early 1950s, when La Tomatina was banned. However, residents protested so much that it was reinstated shortly after and eventually became an official annual festival.
Pancake Race, England
In England, people celebrate Shrove Tuesday — the day before Ash Wednesday, typically associated with the confession of sins in preparation for Lent — by running through the streets carrying pancakes in frying pans. These pancake races take place all over the country, but the most famous one is held in Olney, where the tradition supposedly started more than 575 years ago. Back then, a bell would call locals to church for confession on Shrove Tuesday. According to lore, in 1445, a woman was making pancakes in her kitchen when she heard the bell, and she immediately ran to the church, wearing her apron and carrying a pancake in a pan. The bell still rings today (though now it’s called the Pancake Bell), and locals — dressed in aprons — race to a finish line while flipping a pancake.
Night of the Radishes, Mexico
Every December 23, Oaxaca City, Mexico, is overcome with spectacularly carved radishes. The aptly named festival, Noche de los Rabanos, or Night of the Radishes, began in 1897, when the town’s mayor introduced a radish-carving contest during the Christmas market. Radishes are an integral part of Christmas meals in Oaxaca City, and the contest was a way to celebrate that. The first carved radishes were simple, with cuts meant to simply enhance their natural shapes. But today, participants create intricate sculptures and elaborate presentations, such as nativity scenes and other biblical tableaux. The festival is short-lived, though; once the radishes turn brown, which happens after just a few hours in the open air, it’s over.
Spam Jam, Hawaii
People in Hawaii consume more Spam per capita than those in any other state. There’s even an annual street festival dedicated to the canned meat in Waikiki. At the Spam Jam each April, live bands and vendors are interspersed among booths selling Spam in almost every form you can imagine. You can get it breaded and fried, candied, plain, as a corndog, in tacos, or even covered in chocolate. After you fill your Spam tote with Spam coasters and other merch, don’t forget to take a photo with the people who come dressed as Spam cans and pieces of Spam.
Chinchilla Melon Festival, Australia
Every two years, the town of Chinchilla in Queensland, Australia, hosts a festival to celebrate its most famous crop: watermelons. A quarter of all the melons (of various types) in Australia are grown in Chinchilla every year, so it's fitting that the gourds play such a big part in the town's identity. Interestingly, the Melon Festival began in 1994 to cheer people up during a drought. It was reportedly meant to be a one-time event, but it was so successful that organizers decided to keep bringing it back. Today, festival attendees can enjoy markets, parades, concerts, craft booths, and a slew of watermelon-based competitions — known as the Melon Games — including melon tossing, a melon rodeo, melon skiing (where participants use melons as skis), melon bungee, and tug-of-war on a long tarp full of watermelon slices.