Eat your way around the world's best food festivals

Many food festivals illuminate cultures by celebrating a special ingredient or dish. Here are a few of the best ones to visit

Savouring local food is an easy and enjoyable way to discover a new culture while travelling.

Ingredients unique to a region, cooking techniques and the way people eat - all these are a window into the cultural soul of a destination.

This is heightened during a food festival, when a town, or even the whole country, celebrates a beloved ingredient or dish and there is no better way to know a place than when you can revel with the locals and feast on their favourite food.

The Sunday Times rounds up some of the best food festivals around the world.

Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival, Ireland

The Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival, which had about three dozen guests when it launched in 1954, is now one of the biggest events on Ireland's social calendar, attracting more than 20,000 visitors every year.

Participants of the World Oyster Opening Championship at the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival. PHOTO: BOYD CHALLENGER

It is the world's oldest oyster festival and is held on the last weekend of September to celebrate Galway's annual oyster harvest, which runs from September to April.

Visitors travel from all over the country to join the seafood trail, with visits to the best restaurants and pubs throughout the city. They join oyster-cooking workshops, listen to talks about fisheries and frolic at a masquerade ball. For children, there is a carnival with face painting, games and circus acts.

Of course, the oyster is the hero of the day. The World Oyster Opening Championship, where participants try to shuck the most oysters in the shortest time, is a highlight, as is the chance to indulge in plate after plate of fresh Atlantic oysters, washed down with Guinness.

Irishman Stephen Murphy, 41, senior curator at the Asian Civilisations Museum, says: "A good pint of freshly pulled Guinness... combined with the briny taste of the Galway oysters, they tend to bring out the best in each other. "

Local cardiologist Leslie Lam, 74, who studied medicine in Dublin, loves the celebratory atmosphere of the festival, which he has been to three times.

"The oysters are not harvested for many months, so by September they are really fat, plump and juicy. Shucked fresh, the oysters are still moving when you add a dash of Tabasco and slurp them. "

When: Sept 22 to 24


Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, New Zealand

Huhu grubs – the finger-sized larvae of the huhu beetle – are said to taste like peanut butter. PHOTO: HOKITIKA WILDFOODS FESTIVAL/FACEBOOK

When people in Hokitika could not get enough of her gorse-flower wine and rose-petal brew, Ms Claire Bryant, a local, decided to start the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, a celebration of flavours from New Zealand's wild west coast, in 1990.

Located in South Island, Hokitika was once an important river port and the centre of a 19th-century gold rush. Today, the town is home to fewer than 3,000 people and its wild-foods festival is its main attraction, along with eco-tourism.

The festival, held at the end of the southern hemisphere summer, attracts more than 6,000 people every year. There are carnival games and rides, live music, costume competitions, concerts and, of course, the roughly 50 stalls selling food.

Picky eaters will enjoy the festival's more traditional fare, such as marinated tuna, smoked salmon, game meats and a Maori hangi (pit barbecue).

The adventurous will delight in the wild foods - which are wild in provenance or wild in the sense that they are shocking.

Huhu grubs, the finger-sized larvae of the huhu beetle, which is the largest endemic beetle found in New Zealand, are a festival favourite and are said to taste like peanut butter.

Crocodile bites, fish eyes, pork-blood casserole, grasshoppers, kidney kebabs, snails, roasted duck heads, mountain oysters (sheep testicles) and cow udders also make an appearance and new wild foods are introduced every year.

This year's newcomer? A stall called Deer Genetics, which served deer penis pate and semen shots.

When: March 10 next year


International Alba White Truffle Fair, Italy

White truffles can sell for tens of thousands of euros

When summer ends and skies fade to grey, foodies have something to look forward to as truffles arrive with autumn.

They may look like lumpy, dirty potatoes, but the scent of fresh truffles can elevate any dish.

And every year, the world's top chefs and food buyers flock to Alba, a city in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, to buy the world's best truffles at the International Alba White Truffle Fair.

Unlike black truffles, no cultivation technique has been developed for the white variety, which is rarer and grows only in the wild.

One must forage in the woods, where they grow symbiotically with oak, hazel, poplar and beech trees.

Though white truffles can also be found in certain parts of France, Croatia and Slovenia, they grow particularly well in the countryside around the Piedmontese cities of Alba and Asti, where truffle hunters dig for them from late September to December every year.

The fair is an opportunity for the hunters to showcase and sell their white treasures, which fetch prices anywhere from €50 (S$79) to tens of thousands of euros apiece.

Thousands of food-lovers attend the festival and truffles bought here are flown to restaurants all over the world.

The Alba Truffle Show - featuring talks, cooking demonstrations, book presentations and workshops with celebrity chefs - is held every weekend during the fair.

The Alba Truffle Kids area is a space where children can play with wooden toys and also learn how to create a menu, besides learning all about the prized ingredient.

The festival's undisputed highlight is the Alba White Truffle World Market, where the region's best truffles are on display amid stalls selling the best wine and gastronomic goodies Piedmont has to offer, including cheeses, salami, fresh and dry pasta, traditional cakes, chocolates and speciality hazelnuts and chestnuts.

Ms May Lee, who was at the truffle festival last year, says: "There were lots of people there, but in a very Italian, laidback way.

"People were enjoying life, shopping in the market, drinking their prosecco or Aperol spritz at the bar, relaxing," says the hospitality industry executive, who is in her late 40s.

Truffles filled the markets and were on every menu, she adds.

"Italy in October, during the harvest season when the weather is cooler, the wines are ready and the food is covered in truffles, has a great atmosphere and it is my favourite time of the year to go."

When: Oct 7 to Nov 26


Rose of Saffron Festival, Spain

A villager in the Castilla-La Mancha region separating the stamen from saffron crocus flowers. Saffron is the dried stigma of the flower. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Consuegra, at the southern tip of La Mancha, where the mountains greet the Spanish plains, has the air of a town forgotten by time.

Here, travellers will find an 11th-century castle, renaissance- style buildings and perfectly preserved windmills, which are said to be the ones that inspired the adventures of Don Quixote in the literary masterpiece by 16th-century writer Miguel de Cervantes.

But Consuegra, and the land surrounding it, is best known for saffron, the rich spice used as a dye and food flavouring in many Spanish dishes, including paella, and is worth its weight in gold.

Spain is one of the main producers of saffron, which is the dried stigma of the saffron crocus flower.

Spain's cultivation of saffron is almost exclusively in the central Castilla-La Mancha region and, every year at the end of October, Consuegra holds the Fiesta de la Rosa del Azafran (Rose of Saffron Festival) to celebrate the harvest and promote the region's cultural and gastronomic crafts and traditions.

A festival queen, called La Dulcinea, is selected during the three- day festival. She leads the celebrations, which include parades, saffron-picking competitions, handicraft and food fairs, an exhibition of agricultural tools and performances of folk songs and dances when townsfolk wear traditional garments.

At the end of the festival, everyone gathers around the Molino Sancho windmill for the Molienda de la Paz (Grinding of Peace) event, when wheat ground by the mill is handed out equally to each member of the town to symbolise their unity.

When: Oct 27 to 29


Tokyo Ramen Show, Japan

Visitors to the Tokyo Ramen Show can try different types of noodles prepared by 36 ramen shops from all over Japan. PHOTO: WWW.RAMENSHOW.COM

The dreams of noodle lovers come true at the Tokyo Ramen Show, an 11-day annual event gathering the best ramen-makers from all over Japan in Komazawa Olympic Park.

Visitors can sample different types of ramen, from classic varieties to regional specialities and flavour combinations created specially for the show by 36 ramen shops across the country.

Eighteen ramen shops will set up stalls during the first half of the show from Oct 26 to 31 this year. They will be replaced by another 18 ramen shops from Nov 1 to 5.

Admission is free.

Each bowl of ramen costs 850 yen (S$10.30), using a pre-purchased ticket. Additional ramen toppings are paid for in cash.

The names of the ramen shops for this year's event will be released on the show's website.

When: Oct 26 to Nov 5


American Royal World Series of Barbecue, United States

Barbecue sauce for sale at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri. PHOTO: AMERICAN ROYAL ASSOCIATION/FACEBOOK

Barbecue is serious business in the United States, where people will travel and queue for hours to sink their teeth into their favourite brisket, pulled pork and ribs.

Every region has its preferred cuts of meat and barbecue style, from grilled to wood-smoked, dry- rubbed to slathered in sauce.

One can find them all at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri.

With more than 100 barbecue restaurants, Kansas City is the barbecue capital of America, renowned for its slow-smoked and sauce-covered barbecue and burnt ends, the crusty tips of a brisket.

The World Series of Barbecue, which takes place over the Labour Day weekend on the Kansas Speedway racetrack, is the largest barbecue competition in the world. The US Labour Day is on the first Monday of September.

Racing teams travel from across the US and more than 10 countries to compete for the amateur and professional titles of Open and Invitational Grand Champion.

The family-friendly festival has live music, carnival rides and a car show, while dozens of stalls sell delicious, authentic Kansas City barbecue. For children, there is the Cowtown Family Fun Fest, with face painting, mechanical bull rides, pony rides and tractor races.

It is an all-American way to signal the end of summer.

When: Aug 31 to Sept 3


Herring Festival, Denmark

Visitors to the Herring Festival can not only eat herring, smoked (above) or prepared in another way, they can also learn how to fillet the fish and take cooking classes. PHOTO: SILDEFESTIVAL HVIDE SANDE/FACEBOOK

In the Hvide Sande fishing village on Denmark's western coast, where undulating white sand dunes meet the North Sea, anglers have for centuries made a living off the salmon, monkfish and schools of herring that thrive there.

Whether simply smoked, fried or cured - or served on brown bread or in a curry sauce with potatoes - herring forms a cornerstone of Danish cuisine.

Every spring, when the herring swim into locks at Hvide Sande on their way to spawn in the nearby Ringkobing Fjord, the town becomes an angler's paradise when virtually every line lands a fish.

To celebrate, the village holds Sildefestival, a herring festival attracting hundreds of anglers from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, who come to hook, cook and eat as much herring as they can over the last weekend in April. In 1999, a competitor caught a record 313 herring (29.8kg) in just one hour.

The festival, which started in 1995, includes live music, boat tours and fishing competitions for all ages. There are master classes on how to fillet and butterfly your fish and herring cooking classes.

Then there is a Mr Herring contest, where men dressed in nothing but waterproof waders must use their humour, intelligence and showmanship to win the title.

When: April 27 to 29 next year


Beaujolais Nouveau Day, France

The first Beaujolais Nouveau wine of the year is released with much fanfare. PHOTO: LES SARMENTELLES DE BEAUJEU/FACEBOOK

On the third Thursday in November, Beaujolais Nouveau Day is celebrated in France to salute the year's first wine as it is released at 12.01am.

Beaujolais is a light-bodied, low-tannin red wine typically made from the Gamay grape in the Beaujolais region, north of Lyon.

The wine is fermented for just a few weeks before being released to celebrate the end of the grape harvest.

Traditionally, this easy-drinking wine, called Beaujolais Nouveau, was only for local consumption but, over the past 40 years, the taste for it has spread across France and Europe and to Asia.

The celebratory parties, which were found only in France, are now held worldwide as an occasion to drink and be merry. But the biggest and best celebration is still found in the town of Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region.

Its Les Sarmentelles celebration runs from Wednesday to Sunday, when the townspeople and visitors enjoy wine tastings, dancing and live music. On Wednesday evening, a torch-lit parade tours the town to honour the farmers who made the wine, before a vivid fireworks display erupts as the wine is released at midnight.

Revellers fill the streets drinking the clean, cherry-red wine until dawn and continue the party over the next few days with more wine and food tastings, contests and music performances, until the festivities wind down with an artists' market on Sunday.

A celebration of the harvest and the countryside, there is nothing uppity about this festival or its wine.

When: Nov 15 to 19


Other notable festivals

Here are some other great food festivals around the world:


Zambales, on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, may be best known for its pristine sand beaches, but it is also home to the sweetest mangoes in the world. Savour them during the Mango Festival, a celebration with dances, parades and mango-eating contests, held during their peak season in April.

When: April next year, date to be confirmed



Every year, thousands of people from all over the world gather on the coast of Maine in the United States to indulge in sweet, freshly caught lobster, the region's prized delicacy.

Last year, the Lobster Festival cooked and served more than 8,000kg of the crustacean, along with steamed and fried clams, fried Maine shrimp, shrimp cocktail and steamed mussels slathered in fresh Cabot butter, the traditional Maine way.

When: Aug 2 to 6


Different types of poutine – a plate of French fries doused in cheese curds and brown gravy – served at the Ottawa PoutineFest. PHOTO: OTTAWA POUTINEFEST


Poutine, a French-Canadian classic that is arguably Canada's national dish, is a plate of French fries doused in cheese curds and brown gravy and has won fans the world over.

Thousands of people gather in one of Ottawa's main squares to gorge on its many iterations, including shawarma, lobster, Greek-style, sausage and nachos poutine, at the Ottawa PoutineFest every year.

When: April 27 to 29 next year



Hawaiians love Spam, a type of canned meat that is found in homes and restaurants across the state.

They are so serious about Spam - almost seven million cans are consumed every year - that they hold an annual festival in its honour. More than 25,000 people attended last year.

A main street in the Waikiki neighbourhood turns into a street carnival of games, concerts, and food stalls, where restaurants, including some of Honolulu's finest, serve their interpretations of Spam.

When: April 28 next year



Tens of thousands gather in a 30,000 sq m venue in Naples, the birthplace of pizza, to celebrate one of the most enduring symbols of Italy.

More than 50 of the most renowned pizzerias globally are represented at the event, churning out more than 100,000 pizzas over nine days.

This is a cultural festival more than anything and visitors come for the delicious pizzas, seminars, workshops and concerts.

When: July 17 to 25


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'Eat your way around the world'. Print Edition | Subscribe