Spain's La Tomatina: The World's Biggest Food Fight

By: Charles W. Bryant
Heirloom Tomato Image Gallery La Tomatina is a popular destition for the average American backpacker. See pictures of heirloom tomatoes.
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The late comic actor John Belushi is known for his many film roles and as a key player in the early years of the sketch comedy TV show "Saturday Night Live" (SNL). Belushi made his name in classic roles like Jake Blues of "The Blues Brothers" and legendary SNL characters like the samauri deli worker and the bumble bee. And while all of these comic roles stood out, Belushi may be best known as the drunken college student from "Animal House" who started the famous food fight in the cafeteria scene. That cinematic culinary melee may have been frowned upon by Dean Wormer, but there are real, organized food fights that take place all over the world every year.

The mother of all of these food fights is the La Tomatina Tomato Fight. This is the largest food fight in the world and it takes place on the last Wednesday in August each year in the small town of Bunol, Spain, near Valencia. The fight has gotten so huge that as many as 30,000 participants descend on Bunol to hurl squished tomatoes at each other. An entire week is dedicated to a festival with music, food, revelry and, yes, lots of tomatoes. On Wednesday, you'll be hard pressed to get anywhere near the town center, where truckloads of tomatoes are brought in for the big fight. But don't worry, from about noon to 1 p.m., chances are, you can be just about anywhere in town and get in on the action.


We'll take a look at the history of the world's largest food fight on the next page, as well as offer up some tips if you want to take part. Here's a hint -- don't wear your Sunday best.

La Tomatina Tomato Fight History

Tomato slinging madmen crowd the streets of Spain.
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No one is exactly sure about the origins of the La Tomatina food fight. There are stories of a food fight that broke out between friends and escalated to a full town of tomato hurlers. Other origin stories include everything from a bad musician to city councilmen getting pegged with tomatoes by angry townspeople. One story was simply that a tomato truck turned over in the center of town and people decided to have a little fun in the aftermath.

The most commonly agreed upon origin has to do with a town parade full of townsfolk wearing giant-headed costumes sometime around 1945. Legend has it, one of these human bobble heads fell over during the parade after some kids tried to join in, and his costumed head was knocked off. He was so angry that he started a fight with any and all takers. The local kids retaliated by raiding a nearby tomato stand and assaulting him with the messy vegetables. The following year, the same kids reenacted the event, and it followed as such each year until it was a bona-fide town event. The city council and local police weren't crazy about the event and attempted to stop it at various points over the years, but they eventually embraced it and the notoriety it brought to the sleepy town of 9,000.


If you want to take part in the world's largest food fight, you better make plans ahead of time. The sheer number of people who come to Spain for La Tomatina each year means that it's nearly impossible to find accommodations there. Your best bet is to reserve a room at a hotel or hostel in nearby Valencia. Trains leave for Bunol about once an hour.

You should also heed the following unofficial rules:

  • Do not wear flip flops.
  • Do not bring any kind of object to the food fight.
  • Do not tear or throw your shirt.
  • You must crush each tomato before you throw it.
  • The start and end is marked by a firecracker.
  • Respect the starting and ending times.
  • Avoid the tomato trucks.


Tomatina Festival Rules and Regs

Spanish firemen take part in the fun at La Tomatina.
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For the first 30 or so years of the food fight, it was strictly a B.Y.O.T. affair. Since 1975, the ammunition has been trucked in by "Los Clavarios de San Luis Bertran." Loosely translated, this means the cavalry, or army, of San Luis Bertran, the patron of the town of Bunol. Roughly 200,000 pounds (99,790 kilograms) of tomatoes are brought in for the festival to supply the 30,000 plus revelers with plenty of ammo [source: Leadbeater]. The police are pretty forgiving during the fight, as long as nothing violent happens and the crowd ceases the fight immediately upon hearing the second firecracker sound.

After that, the partying continues and the cleanup begins -- the tomatoes are simply hosed from the streets and into the sewer system. Locals and shop owners all chip in on the hosing duties, but the majority of the washing away comes in the form of fire truck hoses. So far the town has reported no nefarious activity or injuries, and those traveling to Bunol have been respectful of the tradition and its rules.


If you plan on going to Spain to take part in the La Tomatina tomato fight, you should heed the following tips:

  • Do not wear clothes that you care about.
  • Bring a change of clothing, especially if you're traveling by train from Bunol.
  • Bring along swimming or snow skiing goggles to avoid the sting of the tomato juice.
  • Only use an underwater camera.
  • Leave your video camera at home unless you have a watertight housing.
  • There are no spectators at La Tomatina. If you're there, prepare to leave red.


Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • "La Tomatina Tomato Fight in Bunyol." 2009.
  • "La Tomatina. Tomato Fight Valencia Spain." 2009.
  • "La Tomatina." 2009.
  • Leadbeater, Chris. "The sauciest Spanish festival." Aug. 15, 2005.
  • Roeper, Richard. "The food fight tradition: better stick a fork in it." Nov. 10, 2009.,CST-NWS-roep10.article