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10 Brilliantly Specific Food Festivals in the USA

The music is pumping and the drink is flowing as crowds jostle for space around a stage. They’re not here for Beyonce or their favourite bluegrass musician. This is Belzoni, Mississippi – and the excited crowds have come to the annual World Catfish Festival to watch an eating contest. At various times of the year, similar scenes are repeated across the USA. People could be going gaga for garlic or nuts for doughnuts. America is king when it comes to niche food fests, or throwing huge celebrations inspired by a single edible item. Here’s our pick of the quirkiest, most delightfully specific food festivals across the US:

Po-Boy Festival

WHEN: Around mid-November; 2018 date TBC

WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana

WHAT: Only in New Orleans would you find a street party dedicated to a sandwich. But then, the city has around 130 annual festivals. And New Orleanians do love their food. Especially the po’ boy, a sub-style sandwich invented in the city. Top chefs serve up sarnies filled with everything from cheese to catfish at this popular party on Oak Street, Carrollton. And of course, because it’s New Orleans, everything comes with a generous side of live jazz and blues.

Avocado & Margarita Street Festival

WHEN: September, dates vary; 8 September in 2018

WHERE: Morro Bay, California

WHAT: Fans of avocados and salty, tequila-laced margaritas will be in heaven. Held annually in the charming Californian beach town of Morro Bay, this cute festival celebrates all varieties of creamy, locally-grown avos. Music from local bands and drinks – which come in every size and variety you can think of – elevate it from a farmers’ market to a proper party. 

Key Lime Festival

WHEN: Late June to early July; 30 June to 4 July in 2018

WHERE: Key West, Florida

WHAT: The chain of islands that make up the Florida Keys may be skinny, but the food the archipelago is famous for certainly isn’t. Every eatery, from roadside diners to high-end restaurants, has its own spin on creamy, zesty Key lime pie. All shapes and sizes, from simple triangles topped with cream to huge wedges crowned with meringue, are celebrated at this four-day ode to the citrus treat, which kicks off with a huge pie being dropped from Key West Lighthouse. Expect Key lime cocktails, chef-hosted dinners, pie crawls and scavenger hunts.

Chicago Donut Fest

WHEN: April, dates vary; 21 April in 2018

WHERE: Chicago, Illinois

WHAT: They had us at “donut” (although, we’d spell it “doughnut”). Throw in three drinks tokens, included in the ticket price to exchange for beers or mimosas, and we’re completely sold. Though the city is best known for its deep-dish pizza, Chicago’s shops and bakeries sell some of the fluffiest, prettiest and most downright delicious doughnuts around. Sample dozens at this annual fest.

World Chicken Festival

WHEN: September, dates vary; 2018 dates TBC

WHERE: London, Kentucky

WHAT: Where else would you expect to find a celebration of finger lickin’ chicken than in Laurel County, Kentucky, home to Colonel Sanders’ first KFC restaurant? They clearly take that heritage seriously, dedicating four whole days to the feathered and fried. But not too seriously. There’s a Colonel Sanders lookalike contest, after all.

Kodiak Crab Festival

WHEN: Memorial Day weekend; 24-28 May in 2018

WHERE: Kodiak, Alaska

WHAT: Celebrating its 50th year in 2018, this festival launched as a way to market king crab and boost tourism. It also celebrates the end of a long winter. Expect buckets of seafood and salty silliness including a race to the sea. Ironically, it’s a non-seafood dish that attracts the longest queues. Bruin burgers, where ground beef and cheese are wrapped in dough and deep-fried, are crazily popular.

World Grits Festival

WHEN: April, dates vary; 13-15 April in 2018

WHERE: St George, South Carolina

WHAT: Made by boiling coarsely-ground corn kernels with water or milk, grits are as much of an acquired taste as they sound. With the consistency of porridge and the versatility of polenta, they can actually be delicious. The folks in this tiny South Carolina town certainly think so, with three days devoted to grits in all their glory. There are grits in every guise, parades, live music and – for the brave and the silly – the annual “rolling in the grits” contest.

Gilroy Garlic Festival

WHEN: Late July; 27-29 July in 2018

WHERE: Gilroy, California

WHAT: Vampires (or general garlic-haters), look away now. Everything here is infused with the pungent stuff, from calamari to ice-cream and even wine (we’re not joking). Gilroy proudly markets itself as the “Garlic Capital of the World”, and that certainly isn’t a boast they take lightly. The quirky three-day fest also features live music, games and craft stalls, where you can purchase your very own garlic-bulb hat.

Apple Scrapple Festival

WHEN: October, dates vary; 12-13 October in 2018

WHERE: Bridgeville, Delaware

WHAT: This small town is known for growing apples and making scrapple – scraps of pork meat stewed with cornmeal and shaped into loaves, which are then sliced and fried (tastier than it sounds). Food is the main event, from scrapple sandwiches to apple fritters, alongside craft and car shows and live music.

World Catfish Festival

WHEN: First Saturday in April

WHERE: Belzoni, Mississippi

WHAT: Belzoni claims to be the “Catfish Capital of the World”, with a museum celebrating the whiskered fish and a 40-foot sculpture known as “King Cat”. Once a year, the catfish love steps up a gear with this one-day festival. Against a soundtrack of Delta blues is a Miss Catfish pageant and a catfish eating contest.

Feeling hungry? Chat to a Travel Expert about tailor making your USA holiday to include some of the best food festivals in the States.

Written by Ella Buchan

Based in London but rarely at home, I spend most of my time searching for the tastiest food, the best drinks and the oddest things to do around the globe. From navigating a subterranean neighbourhood in Chicago to joining a bizarre honey harvest in Ethiopia, I make it my mission to hunt down the weird.

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