You Say Tomato, I Say Tomatina! The Food Fight of Buñol, Spain

Located in the southeastern coast of Spain in the Valencia region, Buñol is a sleepy town for most of the year, until 20,000 lucky ticket holders descend on the last Wednesday in August for La Tomatina. Known as the world’s largest food fight, the whole downtown area gets covered in over one hundred tons of squished overripe tomatoes as townspeople and visitors alike wade into the fray. For one blissful hour, participants throw as many tomatoes as they can get their hands on. La Tomatina is the culmination of a week of celebrations throughout the town that pay tribute to their patron saints, Luis Bertran and the Mare de Deu dels Desemparats (Mother of God of the Defenseless).

History

No one is sure exactly how La Tomatina got its start. Most people believe it started in either 1944 or 1945, but that’s where people’s certainty ends. Some say it began as a class prank, while others insist that it started spontaneously, when a crowd of young kids wanted to participate in a local parade, but were told that they should sit and watch instead. The kids, annoyed at the pomposity of their parents and city officials, took out their frustration by throwing tomatoes at people walking the parade route. The next year, people decided to recreate the spontaneous event, and La Tomatina was born.

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Schedule

At 11am, trucks carrying the tomatoes arrive from outside the city, and park in the Plaza del Pueblo. Even if you don’t manage to get all the way into the center of town, don’t worry, because the street parties go for blocks around the main area, and are tons of fun even if you never get your hand on a tomato. If you want to stake out the best place, go as early as possible.

However, no one gets to throw a single tomato until someone has tried to climb to the top of the Palojabon: a greased up wooden pole with a giant ham sitting on top. In theory, the food fight doesn’t start until the ham has been retrieved, but in practice it takes a lot longer than people think, and often anarchy takes over and people just start throwing before anyone has had success on the pole.

People are allowed one hour of tomato throwing before a water cannon firing signals the end of the fight. After the fight is over, the fire brigade comes in and hoses down the streets. Many people dip themselves in the river to clean themselves off.

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The Keys to a Successful Tomato Fight

This seems obvious, but you should definitely not wear anything to La Tomatina that you care about. Most people recycle their clothes as soon as the fight is over. Some people wear goggles, but most experienced tomato fighters say that all you really need is a small bit of fabric or cloth that isn’t covered in tomato juice. Many people tuck in their shirts before the fight starts, and use the clean hem to wipe their eyes if they get hit in the face. Close-toed shoes are best, since there are thousands of people wading around in a very small area. Flip flops seem like a great option, but they often fall off or get torn away in the scuffle. As well, be sure to squish the tomato in your hands before throwing it, to help reduce the impact on your fellow fighter’s faces!

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Travel Tips

Buñol is quite a small town — on all the other days of the year, about 9,000 people call it home. On the day of La Tomatina, the town population swells to anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000 people, so accommodations can be limited. Many people stay in Valencia, and take a bus in for the fight.

In recent years, La Tomatina has fallen victim to its own success, and municipal officials have been forced to impose a limit on how many people can attend the event. If you aren’t in the first 20,000 people to purchase a ticket, you’re out of luck. Tickets aren’t too expensive — 37 Euros (about $40 US) buys your entry, as well as a bus to and from Buñol from Valencia.

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