World’s best food festivals: 14 places for the true foodie to go eat

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in May 2016.

CNN  — 

Seems everywhere has a food festival these days, or at least an excuse to sell overpriced paper bowls of pulled pork in a tent.

For the dedicated diner, the standard shindigs are unlikely to satisfy. They’re after something more. The good news is, as the global gastro revolution continues apace, there’s plenty from which to choose.

These are some of the world’s best festivals for anyone hungry for something special:

1. Wildfoods Festival (Hokitika, New Zealand)

Held mid-March in the quaint town of Hokitika on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, the Wildfoods Festival has visitors feasting on things they probably never thought could be cooked into a meal. Or even eaten raw.

OK, seagull eggs are nothing to write home about and mountain oysters can be an acquired taste, but what about possum cutlets washed down with gorse wine?

Earthworms? Huhu beetle grubs?

The less adventurous needn’t worry – there are always the more conventional platters of frogs’ legs and snails in garlic to fill up on.

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2. Annual Golden Spurtle (Cairngorms, Scotland)

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No food has been associated with Scotland more than porridge – a breakfast classic that can be as rough as gruel or as refined as muesli.

The Scots celebrate their superfood with a highly competitive festival at Carrbridge, a village in the Cairngorms National Park.

This is the World Porridge-Making Championships, a quintessentially Scottish event that awards one winner a Golden Spurtle – a wooden stick traditionally used to stir the porridge pot.

Successful contestants at the late September/early October event will be mindful of the superstitions surrounding the preparation of the oat-based dish.

For reasons lost in the mists of time, or at least the steam from the saucepan, porridge must always be referred to as “they.”

The pot must always be stirred clockwise. The finished product must always be eaten from a pottinger, or porridge bowl, standing up.

Fussy, perhaps, but this meal and its traditions have kept Scots healthy and hardy for generations – and even inspired poetry.

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3. The Onion Market (Bern, Switzerland)

Bern's Onion Market celebrates the pungent bulb.

The Onion Market is the biggest folk festival on the Switzerland’s capital’s calendar.

Yes, there are 50-tons of onion braids, rings and single bulbs on display, but textiles, jewelry, ceramics and children’s toys are also on sale.

A highlight is the confetti war, which, this being Switzerland, starts at 4 p.m. sharp.

Officially the festival begins at 6 a.m., but the city center fills with that distinctly pungent smell from 5 a.m, when the first onion soups start boiling and onion tarts are put in the oven.

If your eyes start to water too much, there’s always a Gluhwein stand close by.

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4, Watercress Festival (Hampshire, England)

Morris dancers herald the approach of the Watercress King and Queen.

This quirky little festival celebrates the humble watercress; a versatile aquatic herb liberally used in traditional English cooking in soups, salads and sauces.

On the third Sunday in May the center of the village of New Alresford turns into a street fest where farmers bring local products to sell and celebrity chefs create special meals.

Past years have seen recipes such as trout with watercress, beetroot and apple, beef Wellington in watercress and watercress sushi rolls.

The early highlight comes around 10:30 a.m. when a brass band followed by Morris dancers announces the arrival of the Watercress King and Queen.

They enter the festival in a horse and cart and distribute the first shoots of this year’s watercress harvest to visitors.

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5. Salon de Chocolate (Quito, Ecuador)

15,000 chocoholics are expected at the mid-June Salon de Chocolate.

There are many chocolate festivals around the world, but none deserves a mention more than Quito’s.

Ecuador produces more high-quality chocolate than any other country, and this is the best place to get a choc hit in the tasting sessions and cookery classes.

Eager locals come early, so by 10 a.m. there can be quite a line to get in.

It’s worth turning up an hour or so later, when the crowds have thinned out a little – but leaving it too late risks missing out on all the free chocolates.

About 15,000 visitors are expected at the mid-June event but the climax occurs on the final day, when the winners of the various awards are announced, including everybody’s favorite, the chocolate sculpture competition.

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6. Bacon Festival (Sacramento, California)

Bacon and beer: two of life's finest treats.

Bustling with bars, farm-to-fork restaurants and numerous breweries and wineries, California’s capital has raised its game for the foodie traveler with a festival focusing on everyone’s favorite: bacon.

Chefs cook the meat right outside on the street from organically fed hogs – factory farm animals aren’t allowed – and their dishes are accompanied by local craft beers.

With bacon gelato, bacon salad, bacon ramen and bacon tater tots on offer, no wonder the festival is popular.

There’s even a Kevin Bacon tribute band on the third night of the January festival.

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7. Blue Food Festival (Bloody Bay, Tobago)

Dasheen is a variety of taro that thrives in swamp conditions.

Now in its 18th year, this annual festival in the coastal village of Bloody Bay, on the Caribbean island of Tobago, focuses on dishes using dasheen.

This is a root plant of the taro variety, eaten in abundance in the Caribbean because it can be cultivated in flooded conditions.

The mid-October festival gets its name from the dasheen itself, which, when ground and cooked turns blue – not normally a color associated with an edible foodstuff.

The weekend-long festival attracts thousands of participants, rich and poor, all keen to cook inventive dishes using the root.

To add to the party atmosphere there’s live steel band music, limbo dancing and rum stalls.

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8. PoutineFest (Ottawa, Canada)

Poutine: A Canadian favorite.

The peculiarly Canadian concoction of fries, gravy and cheese curds serves as an excuse for a three-day festival of live music, eating contests and cooking demonstrations.

The mid-May event offers not only the best in traditional poutine, but also exotic international flavors such as pad Thai poutine, butter chicken poutine, beef jerky, smoked salmon and pulled pork poutine.

There’s also the cholesterol nightmare of deep-fried bacon-wrapped poutine.

Revelers are encouraged, or rather advised, to enjoy their poutine at the Craft Beer Garden and a fine wines bar.

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9. Castagnades chestnut festival (Ardeche, France)

Chestnuts done in the classic way: roasted over a hot flame.

Ardeche is France’s largest producer of sweet chestnuts, with an astonishing 62 varieties – begging the question, “How can they tell?”

For centuries, a whole way of life in the region has been based on the “bread tree,” as it’s locally called.

Chestnuts are an important ingredient in Ardeche cooking, ground into soups, added to stews or baked into a crisp flat cake called the Pisadou.

They can all be tried at the late autumn festival called the Castagnades.

The chestnuts are sold fresh, turned into confectionery as glazed “marron glaces,” converted into a brown flour and, this being France, brewed into a beer or a highly alcoholic liqueur.

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10. Dumpling Festival (Hong Kong)

Dumpling preparation in Hong Kong.

Celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth Chinese lunar month, this is when many Chinese families worldwide will feast on dumplings.

The zongzi dumplings consumed on this day in June consist of glutinous rice with different fillings wrapped in bamboo, lotus or banana leaves.

The day is a national holiday in Hong Kong and Macau.

By far the most spectacular activity that takes place is the dragon boat race – a sport now so popular that it has its own international federation.

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11. National Cherry Festival (Traverse City, Michigan)

Traverse City is rightly proud of its status as the U.S. cherry capital.

Traverse City, Michigan, has been closely associated with the cherry ever since a Presbyterian missionary planted a cherry tree in 1852.

Miraculously, the tree survived harsh winters and thrived.

Today Traverse City’s orchards supply three-quarters of America’s cherry crop and are declaiming this statistic with aplomb.

Visitors can fly into the town’s Cherry Capital Airport, stay at the Cherry Tree Inn, follow the Cherry Bomb Lacrosse Tournament or shout their support for the girls’ rollerblade team, the Toxic Cherries.

After such veneration of a single fruit, it comes as no surprise that there’s a weeklong cherry celebration in July offering pit-spitting competitions, pie-baking contests, a Grand Cherry Parade and the crowning of a Cherry Queen.

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12. Pizzafest (Naples, Italy)

Naples is the place to head to in September for classic Italian street food.

Every night during one week in September, Napoli’s Lungomare Caracciolo area becomes a pizza village with 500,000 visitors who consume more than 100,000 pizzas of every kind.

The best pizzerias in Naples serve the 50-odd historic versions with classics Napolitana, Margherita and Marinara taking pride of place.

The attractions vary from the stiffly contested World Pizza-Making Championships to the simple enjoyment of a hot pizza Vesuvio under the shadow of the real volcano.

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13. Vegetarian Festival (Phuket, Thailand)

The vegetarian food here comes with a side order of body-piercing.

This nine-day Thai celebration is part of a general mind and body detoxification.

The biggest event occurs on the island of Phuket, where the faithful hang lanterns outside temples and march through the streets beating drums to drive away evil spirits.

By far the most impressive spectacle at the September/October event is the sight of devotees deep in trance walking on hot coals, bathing in hot oil or piercing their body parts.

They seem immune to pain, believing that they’re protected by the gods they’re channeling.

With so many sights blinding the eyes, it’s easy to forget that the whole place goes veggie for nine days.

It might seem as though it’s the same carnivore-friendly dishes on restaurant menus, but the cooks use soybean and protein substitute products instead of meat.

Phuket: Insider Travel Guide

14. Herring Festival (Hvide Sande, Denmark)

Each April the Ringkobing Fjord in Denmark sees schools of herring swim in to spawn in its sheltered waters.

They in turn attract anglers to the tiny village of Hvide Sande from all over Scandinavia. Where there’s fishermen, there’s competitions, so the Herring Festival was born.

It’s just as well, since the herrings caught need to be eventually consumed – whether pickled, fried or ground into fishcakes.

Spectators with lots of patience can attend angling demonstrations, or go to fishing classes and filleting workshops.

Amazingly there’s also a fashion show demonstrating the latest couture for outdoorsy, waterproof and presumably smell-resistant clothing.

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John Malathronas is a London-based travel writer and photographer. He’s written or co-written 15 books, including the “Michelin Green Guide to Austria.”

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