10 Bizarre Food Festivals Around The United States

spam jam While you’ll find no shortage of ethnic food festivals, craft beer shows and wine tasting events around the United States, sometimes it can be fun to do something a little out of the ordinary. For a bizarre yet delicious experience, attend these wacky food festivals around the country. Want to make your trip extra quirky? Add some of these roadside attractions to the itinerary, as well.

Waikiki Spam Jam
Waikiki, Hawaii

Who wouldn’t want to take part in a celebration dedicated to canned meats? Judging by the 20,000+ attendees each year, it seems like there are quite a bit of dedicated Spam-lovers out there. Visitors can enjoy Spam burgers and Spam fried rice, as well as purchase Spam T-shirts and watch Spam dancers and Spam theater productions. While the festival is a bit unusual, it actually has some historical significance, as during WWII meats were in short supply, forcing Hawaiians to grow a love for Spam. In fact, according to Waikiki Spam Jam, Hawaiians eat more Spam than anyone else in the world. The fun festival also helps those in need, as money from the event is donated to the Hawaii Food Bank. Don’t be upset if you missed the 2012 edition, as you can start planning a trip to Hawaii to coincide with the 2013 festival on Saturday, April 27. Additionally, you can follow Waikiki Spam Jam on Facebook and Twitter.Yuma Lettuce Days
Yuma, Arizona

Vegetarians and healthy eaters will love this festival, which celebrates locally grown produce and agriculture. Yuma Lettuce Days is an annual event that takes place each March, combining education, entertainment and a lot of vegetables. While the festival’s name makes it sound a bit bland, there are actually many exciting experiences to be found, like interactive salad bars, harvest dinners, wine and microbrew tastings, the world’s largest salad, a homegrown cooking contest, lettuce sculptures, cabbage bowling and more. You can attend next year’s festival from March 8 to 10, 2013.

shroomfestShroomfest
Telluride, Colorado

This mushroom-centric festival features four full days of shroom-themed activities. Their mission is “to educate citizens, both visitor and local alike, about the many incredible aspects of the amazing world of mycology.” Attendees can immerse themselves in mushroom forages, fungal lectures, live music in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and, of course, live cooking demos and mushroom-infused meals. Shroomfest is an annual tradition, and this year from August 16 to 19 will mark the event’s 32nd year.

Cheese Curd Festival
Ellsworth, Wisconsin

Ellsworth is the “cheese curd capital” of Wisconsin, so of course, it is only logical to hold their annual Cheese Curd Festival there. Celebrated every year since 1984, the festival boasts 6,000+ visitors each year. The focus of the event is the curd eating contest, where kids and adults race in heats to shove either a quarter or half pound of cheese curds down their throats. The prize? Ten dollars and a trophy. Attendees can also enjoy live music, fun runs, crafts, games and more. If you’re interested in indulging in some cheese curd goodness, the 25th annual Cheese Curd Festival will be held May 31 to June 3, 2013.




The International Rutabaga Curling World Championship
Ithaca, New York

The International Rutabaga Curling World Championship may sound bizarre, but it’s an annual tradition that marks the end of the market season in Ithaca. Attendees can see the offbeat sport as well as hear the melodic rutabaga choir. The town has been playing with rutabagas since 1996, although the first official Rutabaga Curl was in 1998. Moreover, around December when the event takes place, rutabagas are the only vegetable left in the market. And, nobody wants to eat them.

Turkey Testicle Festival
Huntley, Illinois

What started over 30 years ago as a joke has blossomed into one of the most traditional yet oddest festivals in the United States. The Turkey Testicle Festival is not a play on words, but actually cerebrates the nether region of the turkey. Around Thanksgiving each year, people flock to Parkside Pub to chow down on batter-fried turkey testicles while enjoying cold beers and live music. The event boasts 4,000+ attendees, as the pub makes over 1,000 pounds of turkey testicles each year. Moreover, the $10 admission charged at the door goes to helping local charities.

bugBug Fest
Raleigh, North Carolina

Put on by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, BugFest is all about educating and fascinating. While there are presentations, roach races, Q&As, street fairs and exhibits, the “main course” of the event is Café Insecta, where visitors get their own taste of entomophagy. All dishes feature bug-infused recipes created by local chefs, so you’ll be helping the community while also heightening your sense of adventure.

Roadkill Cook-Off
Marlinton, West Virginia

Before you start gagging, know you won’t be seeing any tire marks on your meal. This food festival focuses on wild game like deer, possum, squirrel, raccoon and other animals that are commonly squashed by cars. Some example entrees from past years include “Biscuits and Squirrel Gravy,” “Pulled BamBiTo under Saboogo,” “Deer on a Stick” and “Rigor Mortis Bear Stew.” The event takes place annually in September, with this year’s Roadkill Cook-Off being held on September 29, 2012. Some highlights will include a Possum Trot 5k, a welcome ceremony of Mr. and Mrs. West Virginia Roadkill (elected at a prior pageant), tasting and judging of roadkill recipes, harvest games, a dog show and more. Click here for the full schedule.




RC Cola And Moonpie Festival
Bell Buckle, Tennessee

The RC Cola and Moonpie Festival happens annually on the third Saturday in June. Here you’ll find a craft fair, 10-mile run, bluegrass music, and clog dancers, as well as quirkier fare like deep fried Moon Pies, the cutting of the world’s largest Moon Pie, parades featuring people dressed up as RC Colas and Moon Pies, a Moon Pie toss, a watermelon seed spitting contests, a “Moon Pie Song Contest” and an RC dash where runners balance a full soda can on their heads.

Testicle Festival
Clinton, Montana

While Illinois celebrates turkey testicles, Montana honors the balls of the bull. Also known as “cowboy caviar,” attendees can order the delicacy fried, boiled, sauteed or even raw. Held at the Rock Creed Lodge, the Testicle Festival draws over 15,000 people and requires over 2.5 tons of bull balls for a weekend of bizarre food fare, as well as crazy partying and debauchery. Quirky happenings include a bull-chip throwing contest, wet T-shirt and hairy chest competitions and even a game of bingo that involves a bull defecating on the game card. If you end up drinking a little too much of the event’s signature beer, Bull Snort Brew, party-goers can camp at the lodge or take the free shuttle. You’ll have so much fun attending this event, you may leave drunkenly babbling their motto: “I had a ball at the Testicle Festival.”

[images via madmarv00, Visit Telluride, audreyjm529]

Food & Wine Classic at Aspen celebrates 30 years, tickets going fast

aspen food and wine 2012Who would have guessed that 30 years ago, a high-altitude, fancy-pants gathering of some chefs, winemakers, and hungry and thirsty revelers would have evolved into the nation’s preeminent food and wine festival?

This year, from June 15-17th, Food & Wine magazine will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary Food & Wine Classic at Aspen. Join the nation’s top chefs including Jacques Pépin, Mario Batali, Ming Tsai, Michael Symon, and Tom Colicchio, as well as internationally renowned winemakers, master sommeliers, brewmasters, and mixologists at the most anticipated and prestigious culinary event of the year.

The three-day weekend also features over 80 cooking demos, wine and interactive seminars, panel discussions, tasting events, and classes on food and wine pairing, as well as a bacchanalia involving 300 winemakers, craft brewers, distillers, and food purveyors in the Grand Tasting Pavilion. This year, new seminars and demos include “Game on!” with Andrew Zimmern; Ming Tsai’s “Asian BBQ;” “Undiscovered Grapes of Spain” by Steve “Wine Geek” Olson; “Fried Chicken for the Soul” by Marcus Samuelsson, and “Swill for the Grill” by uber-restaurateur Danny Meyer.

Special anniversary events are also on the menu, including a hands-on knife skills seminar, “Butchering for Beginners,” by acclaimed chef John Besh, a 5K charity run, an anniversary party, and a late-night dessert bash (Fact: your metabolism actually speeds up at 8,000 feet!). Additional special events will be announced over the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen Facebook page over the next few months. Psst…tickets are selling fast, so hop to it.

Tickets are $1,125 before March 15, 2012 and $1,225 thereafter. Food & Wine donates two percent of the net proceeds from all tickets sold to Grow for Good, a national initiative dedicated to supporting local farms and encouraging sustainable agriculture. To purchase tickets, click here.

Need an affordable place to stay after splurging on said tickets? Here’s an insider tip.

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

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“Food” preparation around the world: a video round-up

Every savvy traveler knows that meals that are considered taboo (pets), weird (ingredients that are still alive), or gross (insectia, specific animal innards) at home are likely what’s for dinner elsewhere in the world. Even if the food or dish isn’t unappetizing by our standards, its means of preparation is often spectacle-worthy.

Thus, the following collection of videos, all devoted to the creation of specific regional delicacies from around the globe. Check them out: next time you down a shot of mezcal or snack on some fried grasshoppers, you’ll understand that someone, somewhere, put a lot of hard work into their preparation. Bon appetit!

In Mongolia, where food and other resources are scarce, innovation is crucial:




Making noodles is an art form in many parts of the world, including Xian Province in northern China:

A boss iced tea vendor in Thailand:



Too tame? Witness a testicle (from unidentified animal species; most likely goat or sheep) cooking competition in Serbia:



The “Holy Grail for [beef] head tacos,” in Oaxaca…



Cooking up grasshopper in Zambia:



Preparing maguey (a species of agave, also known as “century plant”) for mezcal in Mexico:


Brace yourself for the most disturbing food prep yet, courtesy of the United States:

Gusta: your online community for food events, worldwide

food eventsWhat happens when two former food-loving Airbnb.com employees get together and create a company? You get Gusta, an online global community of chefs, venues, food enthusiasts, and events.

Founders Chris Collins and Carly Chamberlain wanted an outlet for world and armchair travelers to find out about food events and dining locales in specific regions, and enable them to purchase tickets or make reservations directly from their site.

How it works: industry peeps go to Gusta and post events for supper clubs, food tours, food trucks, cheese shops, wine bars, cooking classes, pop-up and traditional restaurants, food festivals, event spaces, or any other creative food endeavors. You go to Gusta, create a free account, select your city of choice, and see what’s going on when you’re in town.

Just looking for a great meal? Use Gusta to find, review, and book dining experiences in your home city and when you travel. Want to automatically receive a $10 coupon for any one event posted on Gusta? Click here. Happy holidays!

Dropping the F-bomb: why “foodie” needs to go away

foodieLife used to be so easy. You ate to live. Then, man discovered fire and realized mastodon tastes a lot better with a nice sear on it. Around 500,000 years later, Homo foodieus evolved, and now it’s impossible to go out to eat without camera flashes going off at the tables around you.

Mercifully, there’s a Foodie Backlash taking root in America, and I feel the time is ripe (Did you see how I tossed two food puns into that sentence? Annoying, isn’t it?) to go public with my loathing for this odious word and the obnoxious behavior that too often goes with it.

I realize I’m setting myself up here. I’m a food journalist. Don’t I perpetuate all of this silliness, getting readers in a lather over the Next Big Food Thing? Don’t I eat at nice restaurants and drink expensive wine? Well, yes. And, no (and to that latter hypothetical question, less often that you’d think in this economy).

I like to think that through (most of) my work, I promote importance of understanding where food comes from, and urging localized food security. I’m concerned about protecting the environment, public health, and genetic diversity in plants and livestock; conserving natural resources, and finding more humane ways to raise and slaughter livestock.

Does that make me the culinary equivalent of Mother Theresa, or absolve me of my written transgressions that are less pure in culinary intent? Hell no; I can be a hedonist, too. But I’m trying to make a point here. I realize that my bordering-on-obsessive hatred of “foodie” is really about the culture it’s perpetuating. That said, the word itself is infantile, idiotic, and meaningless, and makes me want to poke my eyes out with a larding needle. Can’t people just say they love food?

My biggest issue with foodie as a concept is that it’s detrimental to the remarkable, burgeoning food culture we’ve finally achieved in the United States. In a mere 100 years, we went from agrarian society to culinary wasteland to possessing identifiable food regions. We established a world-class artisan food, sustainable agriculture, and fine dining scene in certain parts of the country.

What went wrong? We paid $200 (for a bottle of estate olive oil), and instead of passing “Go,” we became a cult of food elitists. It’s the antithesis of why many of us got into the food business in the first place. Yes, care about what you eat, but food shouldn’t have a sense of entitlement attached to it.

Do you really need to be on a first name basis with the person who sells you fava beans? It’s a wonderful thing to develop a relationship with local growers but the posturing and farmer name-dropping one-upmanship I’ve witnessed while working at farmers markets in recent years is over the top. Real supporters of sustainable agriculture–of real food–don’t go trolling for discounts or freebies, because they understand just how hard farmers work for a living.

In a perfect world, everyone should have access to fresh, wholesome, local, delicious food, especially children. Thanks to the good work of organizations like the Chez Panisse Foundation and the increasing number of school lunch programs, community gardens, and other food security initiatives across the country, this isn’t an impossible goal for Americans to achieve, nor is tackling our obesity epidemic in a one-two punch.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to spend disposable income, if you have it, on costly ingredients or dining out. But the fetishizing of food, the pissing contest that is the hallmark of the archetypal foodie is what I cannot abide. This is what’s at the heart of foodieism; the need to belong to a special club, with a language all its own. In our status-obsessed society, we need to separate ourselves from the plebes who think that the Olive Garden is serving “Italian” food.

Eating well (not necessarily synonymous with eating “expensively”) is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and cooking for other people and joining them at the table sustains us in ways that go beyond filling our stomachs. Every food lover (see? doesn’t sound so bad, does it?) has a deep, fundamental reason for why they’re so moved by the act of eating.

foodie
For me, it’s the cultural aspects of food, its intrinsic relationship to travel, as well as the people who grow, forage, raise, catch, and make food on a small, sustainable scale that I find captivating. These are things that I was fortunate enough to experience in childhood, and they made an indelible impression on me, as well as fostered my culinary career.

Good food–be it a ripe peach, a great street taco, or a lavish, multi-course meal–brings me joy. For what it’s worth, however, my parents aren’t “food people.” I grew up on a ranch, but I also ate a lot of frozen vegetables and TV dinners, because my mom had two kids to raise, dislikes cooking, and for her, the ’70’s with its advent of guiltless convenience foods was a godsend.

There’s also the bad manners perpetuated by foodie culture. On what planet is it okay to “just pop into the kitchen” during a packed dinner service to talk to the chef…especially when s/he’s a total stranger? Yet my boyfriend and I witnessed this scenario, while dining at a certain famous restaurant.

After three hours of listening to the ten-top beside us discourse on the merits of Brittany sea salt purchased at the source versus approximately 12 other kinds of hand-harvested salt, we were ready to clobber them. Look, if you want to spend your money on that shit and then have a debate about it, that’s your perogative. Just don’t hold a small, intimate restaurant as captive audience. Few things are more deadly boring than foodies in a feeding frenzy.

We watched their lengthy progression of courses congeal and grow cold as they scurried around the table snapping food porn. At meal’s end, the ringleader hopped up and made her foray into the kitchen. And, because it was a small, intimate restaurant and my boyfriend and I were seated nearby, we heard the following words come out of the mouth of the extremely irate sous chef who blocked her path: “Lady, we’re in the middle of fucking service. Get the hell out of here!”

Cue applause meter.
foodie
Foodies should also remember that while home cooking, traveling, and dining out most certainly give you an education about food, they don’t, in most cases, make you an expert. Yelp serves a purpose, to be sure, but it’s often a means of settling a score or self-promoting. Or, in the case of food blog reviews written by foodies (as opposed to, say, writers with actual journalism and culinary credentials, both) a way to say, “I’m a food writer too!” One food blogger I stumbled across while researching this story had written on a recent post, “I think [foodie] is a very serious title. It’s like calling yourself a writer or an artist. It means you have to have the knowledge, talent and experience to back it up.”

Um, please get over yourself. Knowing about food, winning a Pulitzer, being the greatest chef on earth…at the end of the day, it’s just effing food. Not the cure for cancer or achieving world peace.

I think esteemed food writer and author Amanda Hesser said it best when she was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article last year: “Having more people interested in good food is never a bad thing,” she said, but what she can’t abide is eating dinner with people who “only want to talk about food and every place where they ate, like, doughnuts or something, and where the best doughnuts are secretly found. Knowing a lot about food culture is a good thing. That cataloguing of food experience is becoming tiresome. I’m pro-food experts. I’m just not so sure I want to have dinner with them or have them judge me on the coffee I drink.”

Amen.

[Photo credits: mushroom cloud, Flickr user Juampe López, poster, Flicker user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com]