09 April 2022

Splat (Or, How They Do It in Buñol)

Travel is coming back, y’all. If this August 26th you can get to Spain and love tomatoes -- you’ll need to love love tomatoes -- our wonderful world has crafted the perfect destination: Buñol, a picturesque village near Valencia. Doubly picturesque this particular weekend. One August hour per year, Buñol is awash in tomato pulp. Tens of thousands of festival goers hurl pulped tomatoes. At each other. Ten of thousand of tomatoes.

La Tomatina. It’s Europe’s biggest food fight. 40,000 people jam Buñol’s narrow streets and peg each other with tomato slop. Repeat: 40,000 people bought tickets for the privilege.

Full disclosure: I’ve never participated or been to Spain. I stumbled onto La Tomatina years ago, and I still internet-surf along each August as those hardy souls don goggles and bathing suits and splat tomatoes smack in each other’s kisser. 

La Tomatina has its rules and traditions, of course. I've learned something about them.

It begins as such things must: with a serrano ham tied atop a greased pole. It’s 10a.m., and as soon as someone fetches el palo jabón, the battala campal can begin.

Prime spots fill early. You need access to ammo and a good firing angle. Sensibly, it's only tomatoes that get hurled. Bottles, backpacks, and blunt objects aren’t allowed. Tomato fights are the sort of thing that can get out of hand.

Also, you can’t bring your own tomatoes. That’s a rule now, so I guess someone ruined that for the rest of us. Instead, the organizers buy market rejects cheap -- surely, you get a bulk rate when scoring 150,000 tomatoes unfit otherwise for sale -- and load them onto dump trucks that roam through the fray. Also, you can’t just grab and whip the pulped suckers at someone. No, you have to crush the tomatoes if not crushed already. We’re not trying to hurt anybody.

Another rule says only to target someone if you've drawn a clear bead. Smart, but this is a close quarters stuff. A melee. Crossfire, friendly fire, accidental fire? Hey, it’s La Tomatina.

In an hour, it’s done. 40,000 juice-smeared warriors have chucked 150,000 pulped tomatoes free-for-all. Everyone looks like they just survived an explosion at the Hunt’s cannery, except the smiles are ear-to-ear. Endorphins abound, skin has been super-moisturized, and even the streets will gleam from a citric acid wash. Once the fire department hoses Buñol down.

You would think such a festival has a wild origin story, a revolt against a cruel noble or a patron saint of garden salads. Nope. In 1945, there was a festival parade of musicians in big head outfits, and near a vegetable market one guy’s big head fell off. The guy apparently lost it with the other musicians and the crowd, which led to fisticuffs and inevitably to produce-flinging. One imagines alcohol was involved.


tried it again each August for a while, but each festival descended one way or another into tomato-throwing. Outsider were showing up, armed to splat. The city leaders caught on that these people were coming not for music but the tomato fight. One imagines alcohol remains involved. Buñol took a more Chamber of Commerce-like approach, and La Tomatina as a sanctioned festival was born. Not even Franco could stop La Tomatina from taking off. And he tried.

As of this writing, La Tomatina is returning after a two-year pandemic hiatus. It delights me to believe this summer we'll have a proper pasting. That's in four months, folks. Plenty of time to book those tickets, if you love love tomatoes.

Or if citrus is your thing, Italy has a giant food fight but with oranges.

Oranges? That’s just weird.


  1. And if that doesn't float your boat, there's always Holi in India, where everyone sprays color all over everybody else! It all sounds GREAT.

  2. Vitamin C wars!

    I think we should start a … let's call it a Stink Kitty Festival. Bear with me. See, a classic treatment if you're sprayed by a skunk is to bathe in tomato juice. Lots and lots of tomato juice. Supposedly. Skunks are fearless and they can be friendly, but sometimes they get nervous, see. So I'm thinking we preempt problems by combining an annual tomato fight festival with the skink works… No? Well, it seemed like an idea at the time.

    Oranges… Mmm, I can see that.


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