12 Highly Specific (and Extremely Delicious) Food Festivals
Food is a staple of any great public festival, but for some, it's more that just a feature—it's the entire point. From Hawaii to New York, we've rounded up 12 food festivals that are centered on particular items, products, activities or recipes. If you've got a highly specific grub passion, here's where you can meet up and celebrate with all your fellow foodies.
1. WAIKIKI SPAM JAM
Residents of Hawaii eat more Spam than any other state, so it's only natural that Hawaiians throw a party for the canned meat. The Waikiki Spam Jam draws crowds of up to 25,000 people for the single day event. This year, several restaurants will be there showing off their unique Spam recipes, and there will be two stages at the ends of Kalakaua Avenue with free entertainment. The event is a fundraiser for the Hawaii Food Bank, and you can donate cans of Spam at the festival. The 2017 Spam Jam will be held on April 29.
2. WINCHESTER BEER CHEESE FESTIVAL
Ah, beer cheese. The spread has somewhat murky origins, but is believed to have appeared around the 1940s at Johnnie Allman's restaurant in Kentucky. The blend of cheese, beer, and spices is now made by quite a few manufacturers, who converge on Winchester, Kentucky in June for the Winchester Beer Cheese Festival. The event holds a competition for both commercial and amateur beer cheese makers, and there's other food available, as well as arts and crafts, entertainment, and family activities. The dates for the 2017 Beer Cheese festival have not been announced, but you can keep up with developments on Facebook.
3. RC-MOONPIE FESTIVAL
The Southern tradition of enjoying a Moon Pie with an RC Cola finds its zenith in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, where the RC-MoonPie Festival takes place every year on the third Saturday in June. It began in 1994 when the town (population 405) was trying to find a way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Moon Pie company. The first festival was such a success that Bell Buckle decided to repeat it every summer. Events include the "who traveled the furthest" contest, a foot race, a parade, royalty coronation, and the ceremonial cutting of the world's largest Moon Pie. The 2017 RC-MoonPie festival will be held on June 17.
4. WHOOPIE PIE FESTIVAL
Whoopie Pies are a New England treat comprised of two mounds of chocolate cake with a filling of cream, frosting, or marshmallow in the middle. Whoopie Pie is Maine's official state treat, and the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival in Dover-Foxcroft makes the most of that designation. The signature event is the Whoopie Pie baking competition, but if you'd rather eat than cook, there's also a Whoopie Pie eating contest, and you can work it all off at the street dance that night. The 2017 Maine Whoopie Pie Festival is scheduled for June 24.
5. PHELPS SAUERKRAUT WEEKEND
Phelps, New York has long been known for its impressive sauerkraut production, so in 1967, the Chamber of Commerce partnered with Silver Floss Sauerkraut to launch the first Phelps Sauerkraut Weekend. Fifty years later, the annual festival is still going strong, even though the town's sauerkraut production has diminished. The three-day festival includes a sauerkraut recipe competition, kraut and kraut hot dog eating contests, and a cabbage head decorating contest. The 2017 Phelps Sauerkraut Weekend will be held August 4 through August 6.
6. SACRAMENTO BANANA FESTIVAL
The Sacramento Banana Festival goes, well you know, over everyone's favorite yellow fruit. Despite the name, the festival is held in nearby Elk Grove, California, as a fundraiser for the National Academic Youth Corps. Food for the 2016 Banana Festival included banana guacamole, banana kabobs, banana ginger pudding, banana tacos, banana sorrel, and more. There's also a cook-off pitting Sacramento against Oakland, and plenty of entertainment and family activities. Dates for the 2017 festival are not set, but will likely be sometime in August.
7. LIGONIER MARSHMALLOW FESTIVAL
Ligonier, Indiana, inaugurated a festival in 1952 and named it Strawberry Valley Days in honor of local crops. Forty years later it was redesigned to celebrate a very different kind of food item: the marshmallow. (By 1992 the sugar puffs had become one of the town's biggest industries.) Now the Ligonier Marshmallow Festival is held every Labor Day weekend. Marshmallow-related activities at the festival include marshmallow games, a marshmallow bake-off, photos with the Marshmallow Man, and of course, marshmallows toasted around the fire. To cleanse the palate, there's even a pizza-eating contest. This year's Marshmallow Festival will be held September 1 through September 4.
8. LOWER EAST SIDE PICKLE DAY
Manhattan is the place for the annual Lower East Side Pickle Day. For one day in the fall, the Big Apple's Orchard Street is filled with vendors showing off a wide variety of pickled cucumbers and other vegetables, and salty snacks to go with them. The festival features free entertainment and something called the "home pickling/dancing contest." We're not sure if you're supposed to do both at the same time, but you can find out at the 2017 Pickle Day (the date has not yet been announced).
9. BRIDGEVILLE APPLE-SCRAPPLE FESTIVAL
Scrapple is a Pennsylvania Dutch dish developed as a way of making sure there's no waste in the hog-butchering process. Pork bits are formed into a loaf with cornmeal and flour, then sliced and pan-fried. The Bridgeville Apple-Scrapple Festival in Delaware celebrates both scrapple and the apple harvest season—with plenty of both available depending on your craving. Events include the Ladies Skillet Toss, Scrapple Chunkin' Contest, Kids Apple Toss, Invitational Scrapple Sling, and the Home Decorating Contest, in which Bridgeville residents decorate their lawns with the theme of apples and scrapple. The 2017 Apple Scrapple Festival will be held on October 13 and 14.
10. PORTLAND BOURBON & BACON FEST
The Portland Bourbon & Bacon Fest just wrapped up its second annual event, so cured meat and brew-lovers will have to wait until next year to bask in the glow of this delicious celebration. Sponsored by the Oregon Museum of Space and Industry, the event features pork entrees from various local restaurants, drinks from local craft breweries and distilleries, and the freedom to stroll through the museum without children.
11. FELLSMERE FROG LEG FESTIVAL
The Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival is one of the few food festivals taking place in January, since Fellsmere is in perpetually-balmy Florida. The municipal festival raises funds for the city's parks and recreation needs, especially when it comes to projects and facilities for kids. In addition to contests, entertainment, a car show, and carnival, the main draw is the many frog leg and gator tail dinners served up during the festival. You may have missed this year's party, but stay tuned: Dates for the 2018 festival should be announced later this year.
12. NEW YORK CITY'S FILM FOOD FESTIVAL
Finally, for eaters who are more interested in an experience than any particular food item, there's the Film Food Festival in New York City. For this twist on a traditional film festival, the selected movies are all about food or feature food in a notable way, and while you watch, you eat the same meals alongside people on the screen. Often, the food in the theater is even cooked by the same chefs as in the film; otherwise, local restaurants are recruited to recreate the dishes. The audience is served when the food appears onscreen. Selections are balanced between dramas, food documentaries, and short films. The 2017 Food Film Festival will be held October 19-22. If you can't make it, the festival hosts similar events in other locations.