Food is such a unique and beautiful part of what makes a country special. Traveling to a new country is always an exciting time, and trying local delicacies is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and really get a feel for the country
That being said, walking into a tiny restaurant somewhere where you don’t speak the language can be intimidating. But never fear, there are AMAZING food festivals all over the world that offer a smorgasbord of their region’s culinary fare, usually served alongside some local wine and a whole lot of entertainment.
Here is a list of a few of our favorite foodie festivals and their rich histories, plus a scrumptious wine pairing for their signature dishes:
Maine Lobster Festival
When: First Weekend Of August Each Year
History of the Maine Lobster Festival: Residents of Camden Rockport were determined to bring fun summer activities and events back to their coastal towns post World War 2. Upon hearing of a “Lobster Carnival” across the border in Pictou, Canada, The idea of a similar marine fest in Maine seemed like the perfect idea!
A non profit event, it featured copious amounts of lobster and a large parade. To lure in as many festival goers as possible the town served up all you could eat lobster for just one dollar. 11,960 pounds of lobster were served in a matter of hours, with one participant even eating ten large lobsters in one sitting! The festival was a huge success with over 10,000 people in attendance, but unfortunately the town lost money due to their rock bottom pricing.
In 1948 Rockland Maine decided to have their own crack at the festival. The town’s event was even more successful, and many of the traditions we see today such as the crowning of a Sea Goddess were born this year. The festival continued to grow and by the following year it was a 3 day long event.
About the Main Lobster Festival Today: The Maine Lobster Festival still attracts thousands of local and international visitors who can’t wait to get their claws into some of that famous lobster! On the first weekend of August each year the coastal towns of Maine are full of life with an exciting event every day of the festival.
Blending together old traditions such as the Big Parade and Crowning of A Sea Goddess, with new fun events such as the “International Great Crate Race”, where brave participants must dash across a string of floating wooden crates. Or the Steins and Vines Event which showcases locally made Brews, Wines and Spirits.
Signature Dish and Wine Pairing: Unsurprisingly, The signature dish at this event is *drumroll please* Lobster! The delicious crustacean is served up in a wide variety of ways at the event. From Lobster Bisque Lobster Mac ’n Cheese and Lobster Won-tons to Lobster Stuffed Risotto Balls, but unquestionably the foodies focus of this festival is the Hot Maine Lobster Dinner Served up with butter for dipping’, an ear of fresh corn, coleslaw and a bread bun.
Wine Pairing 🍷: There are many options for pairing seafood with wine, but when it comes to the delectable and delicate tastes of a Lobster dinner such as this one, an excellent choice is Albarino. This refreshing delightful white grown on the Iberian Peninsula is a dream to pair with seafood. Its rich stone fruit flavors are exquisite alongside the Lobster and really highlight its delicate flavor.
Hong Kong Dumpling Fest
(This festival actually has over 20 names, it is commonly known as the ‘Dragon Boat Festival’ and ‘Double Fifth Festival’. It is called ‘Duanwu Jie’ in Mandarin and ‘Tuen Ng’ in Cantonese)
When: Celebrated annually on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in the Chinese calendar
Where: Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour
History of the Hong Kong Dumpling Festival:
This exciting festival is celebrated as a commemoration of the tragic death of patriotic poet and minister Qu Yuan.
Out of disappointment in the Chu monarch, Qu Yuan waded into the Mi Lo river. Upon hearing that Qu Yuan was drowning, villagers rushed out to the river in their boats, beating drums and throwing rice dumplings in the water to ward off evil spirits and keep away fish. Unfortunately their efforts were in vain. The villagers continued to throw dumplings in the water as an offering to his spirit.
About the Hong Kong Dumpling Fest Today:
Today, The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in many locations all over the world, but the festival in Hong kong remains the largest and attracts international teams ready to take part in the Dragon Boat race. This colorful and lively festival draws crowds and has something for everyone. Some go for the entertainment and delicious dumplings, while others go to take part in the fiercely competitive Dragon Boat Race. Due to its surge in popularity there are now several different events across the summer months in Hong Kong including a three day long carnival party!
Of course there are many different types of dumplings, but at this festival the traditional ones to snack on are ‘Zongzi’. These delectable pockets of goodness are made with sticky rice and a variety of different fillings that are then wrapped in Bamboo leaves. Some of the most popular fillings include salted egg yolk, pork belly and chinese sausage.
Wine Pairing 🍷:The dumplings are most commonly paired with Chinese Tea, but are irresistibly good paired alongside a glass of bubbles. A crisp, dry champagne matches perfectly, with the slight acidity cutting through the richness of the filling, and the floral and citrus notes complimenting the flavors.
Where: Valencia Spain
When: March 15th-19th
History of the Las Fallas Festival:
There is some uncertainty surrounding the origins of the Fallas festival, but a widely believed theory is that the festival’s origins lie in commemorating the day of Saint Joseph (San Jose), otherwise known as the Saint Of Carpenters. Back in the 15th century during the winter, wooden handles were used by carpenters to hold up their lamps. Come spring, there would no longer be a need for these wooden poles. The tradition was that they would burn them on March 19th, as a symbol of winter coming to an end and spring beginning.
About Las Fallas Today:
Declared a Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO back in 2016, This festival is one of Spain’s most eclectic annual events! The streets are an explosion of colors and happiness, with a little satire thrown in for good measure, thanks to the roughly 800 brightly colored monuments dotted around the city. These sculptures, otherwise known as Fallas, are burned at the end of the festival on the 19th of March.
There are many mouthwatering offerings at this festival, but the main event has to be the Paella! Surrounded by rice fields and amazing farmlands that produce world class food, it makes complete sense that Valencia is the unrivaled king and home of Paella. Valencians take to the streets during Las Fallas to cook the dish, some do so in giant pans that can feed over 100 people!
Wine Pairing 🍷: Paella is a magical dish and can be made with different proteins, usually a variety of seafood, chicken and chorizo. Different regions make the dish differently, and even in Valencia the birthplace of the dish there are different variations. The big difference with valencian Paella is that it does not traditionally include seafood, instead it’s packed with additional meats such as rabbit and duck.
Due to the varying proteins in the dish here are two different wine pairings:
Seafood Paella: Rose. What’s better than sitting on a patio in sun soaked Spain chowing a delicious seafood paella? A chilled glass of tempranillo Rose bursting with citrus and berry notes and a hint of herbaceousness to wash it down.
Paella Mixto (containing more meat): Garnacha
This acid forward medium bodied wine is a beautiful accompaniment – anything heavier will drown out some of the more nuanced flavors of the dish and tannin rich wines could bring out a metallic taste due to the tomatoes in the dish. Garnacha is the perfect blend of earthy and fruity to compliment every single bite of that Paella.
Where: Munich Germany
When: September – October
History of the Octoberfest Festival:
The first ever Oktoberfest in 1810 was actually a Royal Affair – a Celebration Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig I’s marriage to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The celebrations consisted of 2 of the most prominent things we see at Oktoberfest today – Feasting on a wide array of food and enjoying copious amounts of beer! The event culminated with a horse race in honor of the royal family. The festival was received so well it was made into a yearly event and Oktoberfest was born.
The year 1818 saw the introduction of a lot of the elements we see in today’s festival – A carousel and swings popped up alongside small stands serving beer. The festival kept growing and the city took over the event and expanded the grounds. Various new attractions and rides were built as well as the addition of new entertainment for guests.
By 1896 those small booths selling beer were replaced by the giant tents seen at Oktoberfest today.
Each year a crowd gathers to watch the Mayor of Munich tap the inaugural keg of the festival. The crowd counts how many blows it takes the mayor to crack into the beer keg, the record is currently 2 blows but in 1950, the first year this was done it took a whopping 17! He yells “O – O’zapft is!” which means it is tapped and from there the beer and good times start flowing!
While the tantalizing food and the various beer tents are what attract hordes of people each year, There are a plethora of activities to do at Oktoberfest when you’re not downing a stein of weiss beer or indulging in a pretzel. You can take a ride on the Krinoline carousel that’s been spinning at this festival for over 100 years or shop for Tracht – traditional costume, one of the stores in Munich will have you kitted out in Dirndl or Lederhosen in no time!
Signature Dish and Wine Pairing:
Oktoberfest is famous for so many different dishes – Roast Chickens, Pretzels, Various Sausages, Schnitzels… The list goes on. But one in particular is (in my humble opinion) an obvious show stopper – The Bavarian classic Roasted Pork Knuckle AKA Schweinshaxe.
This behemoth of a dish is the quintessential Oktoberfest feast, a succulent pork knuckle roasted to perfection with a glorious crispy skin – it is heaven on a plate.
Wine Pairing 🍷:
Now for a wine pairing – Wait. Wine? At Oktoberfest??!
Crazy, I know, given that Germany and in particular Oktoberfest is synonymous with beer. But German wine is very popular at the festival and growing in popularity around the world in general. There is a common misconception that German wine is just made from one grape and that it is sickeningly sweet , but this is quite incorrect! They have some truly fantastic offerings with a vast range of grapes and flavor profiles.
A glass of Dry German Riesling is a superb pairing for this dish – that hint of sweetness and high acidity cuts through the fat of the pork but still allows the flavor of the crispy crackling to take center stage.
Taste Of Chicago
(Also known just as “The Taste” or “Taste” by locals)
Where: Grant Park, Chicago,USA
When: Annually in July
History of the Taste of Chicago Festival:
In 1980, Arnie Morton ( Morton Steakhouses ) came up with the concept to hold a food focused festival on the 4th of july, after being inspired by the debut of ChicagoFest 2 years prior. Confident the event would be a success and attract over 75,000 food loving people, he approached the mayor who gave him a $150,000 budget and allocated just 2 blocks for the festival. Morton got to work on his plans for the 1 day extravaganza.
The event was a smash hit attracting 4 times the amount of guests Morton had hoped and a whopping 330,000 dollars in gross sales.
Needless to say, the following year a much larger space was allocated – Grant Park.
About Taste of Chicago Today:
Today, Taste is the largest food specific festival in the whole world!! It is no longer a 1 day affair but a 5 day long event that brings in foodies from the world over.
It even attracts world class entertainers to play at various stages across the 5 days.
There are outdoor dancing classes and stages where revelers can take part in everything from Ballroom lessons to Line dancing.
Of course the most popular activity at Taste is strolling around Grant Park and indulging in the various treats and dishes vendors have on offer, but if you get tired, you can always head to the Cocktail Lounge or the Wine And Beer tent!
Each and every year passionate vendors bring something new and exciting to the festival, so it makes it very difficult to define a Signature Dish for this particular event. That being said, the classic dishes of Chicago are Always a prominent feature of the festival and a fan favorite is of course Deep Dish Pizza.
With its higher crust allowing for copious amounts of fillings, the cheese gets placed at the bottom of this pie so it doesn’t burn, then come the toppings (Pepperoni or Italian Sausage are some crowd fav’s), and then an abundance of slightly sweet yet spicy tomato sauce is ladled on top. This pie is an absolute must have in the Windy City and Taste of Chicago is no exception, you will see inventive toppings in exquisite pies on offer throughout the festival.
Wine Pairing 🍷: For Deep Dish Pie with Pepperoni, We want a fruity red wine to add an exciting layer of flavor. A nice juicy Shiraz will complement this pie nicely, enhancing the subtle sweetness of that tomato sauce and cutting through the fattiness of that gooey cheese.