Erik Wolf, executive director of the World Food Travel Association, which provides resources and training to help food and travel pros create culinary travel experiences. He has nearly three decades worth of experience in the travel industry and is author of Have Fork Will Travel. WorldFoodTravel.org
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You may have a favorite food fair or festival that’s worth traveling a few miles to reach, perhaps one that features barbecue, chili, pizza or even lobsters. But there are some food festivals so special that they are worth planning a big trip around. In order of upcoming dates, here are 10 that stand out, stretching from Portland, Oregon, and Charleston, South Carolina, to South America, Europe and Asia…
Singapore Food Festival: Singapore, July 13 to 29.* Large sections of this bustling Asian city transform into an urban food festival each July. Singapore is something of a cultural melting pot, and its food draws influences from Chinese, Malaysian and Indian cooking, to name just a few. Expect a wide range of noodle and seafood dishes…distinctive spices and flavors…and interesting tropical fruits. As at most food festivals, there are meals made by chefs from top local restaurants, but here you also will find affordable and delicious street food. At “The 50 Cent Fest,” for example, traditional snacks are sold for the equivalent of 38 US cents apiece, based on recent exchange rates. It’s great fun. There’s no entry fee for most venues and events. VisitSingapore.com
Krakow Pierogi Festival: Krakow, Poland, August 11 to 15. Pierogi—stuffed dumplings traditionally filled with ground meat, mushrooms, cheese, potato or sauerkraut—are among Poland’s favorite comfort foods. At this festival you can sample dozens of regional variations and even try pierogi stuffed with atypical fillings such as seafood or venison. There are dessert pierogi stuffed with fruit and topped with sweet cream, too. Krakow’s pierogi festival isn’t as large or famous as most of the other festivals on this list, but the food and atmosphere are wonderful. It’s a great reason to visit this beautiful, historic city. Admission is free, and the pierogi are extremely affordable—typically around 45 to 60 cents apiece at recent exchange rates. BiuroFestiwalowe.pl
Feast Portland: Portland, Oregon, September 13 to 16. Since debuting in 2012, this has quickly become one of the most tempting food festivals in the US. There are more than 40 events, including a “Sandwich Invitational” where top chefs compete to elevate the humble sandwich…and a “Best New Restaurants” dinner featuring foods from some of America’s best up-and-coming chefs. Feast Portland also offers “Hands-On” cooking classes…a “Smoked!” event featuring creative barbecue…wine, beer and cocktail tastings …and more. Ticket prices range from $35 to as much as $185 per event, so feasting at Feast Portland can get expensive—but no more so than indulging in this much fine food elsewhere in the US. Tickets go on sale June 8 at 9 am Pacific time and sell out quickly for some events. FeastPortland.com
Terra Madre Salone del Gusto: Turin, Italy, September 20 to 24. Nearly 1,000 farmers and food producers from approximately 150 countries are represented at this festival. There’s no better single place to sample dishes and ingredients from around the world. The focus is small-scale farms and artisanal foods, not celebrity chefs and five-star dining. The festival is a favorite of the so-called “Slow Food” movement. A counterpoint to fast food, slow food features nutritious local ingredients produced by small farms and cooked fresh with great care. Explore spices from Asia…smoked meats from Scandinavia…artisanal gelato from Italy…cheeses from all around the world…and much more. If you miss this festival in 2018, you’ll have to wait until 2020—unlike the other festivals on this list, this one is held every other year. Admission is free, and the food tends to be affordable. SaloneDelGusto.com/en
Oktoberfest: Munich, Germany, September 22 to October 7. Oktoberfest is famous for beer, but it’s a fun way to explore Germany’s food, too. It’s billed as the biggest festival in the world, attracting more than seven million guests each year—being part of this massive party is an unforgettable experience. There are parades, performances and, of course, beer tents of incredible size where you can down beers from mugs of equally impressive proportions. The food is not limited to bratwurst, Germany’s famous sausage. There also are German classics such as Schweinshaxe (roasted ham hock)…Brathendl (roasted chicken)…Steckerlfisch (grilled fish)…and Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes), plus desserts such as apple strudel and Black Forest cake. Admission is free, and meals tend to cost perhaps $14 to $25 at recent exchange rates. Oktoberfest.de/en
Eurochocolate: Perugia, Italy, October 19 to 28. Each October, approximately one million chocolate lovers sample sweets from more than 100 mainly Italian confectioners in this historic city in central Italy. The aroma alone is unforgettable. In addition to chocolate candy, there are chocolate desserts made by pastry chefs. It’s a wonderful stop on an autumn driving tour of Italy—Perugia is roughly halfway between Florence and Rome. Admission is free, and the cost of samples varies widely. Eurochocolate.com
Mistura: Lima, Peru, typically late October to early November. Mistura isn’t just South America’s biggest food festival—it ranks among the best food festivals in the world. There’s everything from fine dining to food trucks, as well as a massive farmer’s market where you can buy Peruvian coffee beans, citrus fruits, quinoa and more directly from the people who grow these crops. This is a great place to try traditional Peruvian dishes made 100% authentically—including seviche (raw seafood marinated in citrus)…aji de gallina (a delicious creamy, savory chicken dish)…and cuy (roasted guinea pig, a local delicacy). An entire pavilion is dedicated to cacao, chocolate and coffee, all Peruvian specialties. Another pavilion offers the country’s wonderful broths and soups. Be sure to try Peru’s classic cocktail, the pisco sour, made from lime, simple syrup, egg whites, bitters and pisco, a local grape-based brandy. Prices for 2018 had not yet been announced as of mid-April, but based on last year’s pricing and current exchange rates, expect admission to cost less than $10 per day, with most dishes costing $5 or less. Mistura.pe
The South Beach Wine & Food Festival: Miami, Florida. February 20 to 24, 2019. While much of the US is shivering in February cold, attendees at this food festival sip wine and sample expertly prepared food made by acclaimed chefs on the beach in Miami. The festival attracts top chefs from across the country—it has been called “spring break for chefs.” The “Grand Tasting Village” is a highlight. Attendees can try foods from more than 50 restaurants under tents on Miami’s beach for a single entry fee. A “Burger Bash,” featuring upscale takes on the hamburger, is always very popular, too. Prices vary by event but are not low—expect to pay $75 to $200 per person per event. “Intimate Dinners” hosted by top chefs can cost as much as $250 per person. Sobewff.org
Charleston Wine + Food: Charleston, South Carolina, typically the first full weekend in March. Southern chefs, southern cooking and alcohol aplenty are the focus of this late-winter food festival in picturesque Charleston. But that doesn’t mean the event is only for lovers of southern classics such as fried chicken and grits. This is where South Carolina’s best chefs (and guest chefs from other parts of the country) come to show off their contemporary takes on the cuisine. There are more than 100 events, everything from wine tastings to barbecues to fancy sit-down “Signature Dinners” where high-end chefs curate multicourse meals. The “Culinary Village” is an annual highlight—attendees can spend up to five hours tasting foods and sampling drinks from dozens of restaurants for a single entry fee ($110 to $125 in 2018). CharlestonWineAndFood.com
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival: Just south of Brockworth, near Gloucester, UK, typically the last Monday in May. This isn’t a food festival in the traditional sense, but it is among the world’s most memorable annual food-related events. On England’s spring bank holiday, competitors chase seven- or eight-pound wheels of locally made Double Gloucester cheese down a steep, grassy hill. The tradition has its roots in pagan fertility rites that date back centuries. Anyone can compete (the winners get to keep the cheese), but most attendees opt to pack picnic baskets and watch the fun. The region is home to charming Cotswold villages and natural beauty, and it’s only around an hour away by car from Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare, and Oxford, home to England’s great universities. It’s a nice side trip if you’d like to escape London’s bustle during a visit to England. Free.