You know you’ve arrived in Gilroy, California when the unmistakably pungent aroma of garlic invades your car even with the windows closed. During the last weekend of July, this self-proclaimed “garlic capital of the world” comes together to put on what they call “the world’s greatest summer food festival.” Every year, approximately 100,000 people come by plane, train (Caltrain “Garlic Express” runs to the festival on Saturday and Sunday), and automobile for this unforgettable foodie-friendly festival. Since 1979, the festival has reached 4,216,918 people and has raised $10,931,725 to pass onto community non-profits.
The star of the event, the lure that draws people in is “the stinking rose.” Every year, festival attendees consume upwards of 2 tons of fresh garlic and the options seem pretty endless in the dizzying spread of food trucks and tents located in the heart of the festival known as gourmet alley. There, garlic gets slathered on bread, speckles fries, gets grilled into sauce-sopped hunks of barbecued meat. Along with garlic-laden food, attendees can anticipate three days of entertainment as musicians croon on one of three stages, with a full line-up that includes tribute bands like Donald Elvis and the Hound Dogs. For the first time, in 2016, local EMTs, police officers and firemen competed to raise money for their favorite charity in the Champions for Charity cook-off. This is the first year also for “Garli-que” BBQ Challenges (one for professional cooks, the other for home cooks) that bring garlicky goodness by barbecue at this Kansas City BBQ Society sanctioned event.
Whatever whets your whistle you’re bound to find a fun time at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. If you’ve visited the festival, what is your favorite food?
Annelies Zijderveld’s first cookbook, Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea, is available now. She has been published in Curator magazine, Arthouse America, and Sated Magazine. Follow her teatime antics and cooking with tea journey on Instagram.
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Crab Fries for the Crowds: See food. Beer-battered garlic fries come topped with crab aioli and a mess of snow crab perched on top. One festival attendee remarked that she always heads here first after entering the festival to procure her two favorite foods: crab fries and key lime fried calamari.
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Stay active: This family-friendly festival appeals to kids and adults alike. Its robust children's section offers activities like bungee jumping, zip-lining, an electric bull and two climbing walls.
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Get Ready for Garlic-Infused Foods: Vendor Garlicdude sells garlic-flavored foods to take home. They sample unusual items like garlic chocolate and garlic blue cheese butter.
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Fun for the Whole Family: Arts and crafts activities make for easy entertaining in the kids' section. A little girl leaps out of her makeup chair with newly inked face paint of a wave and dolphin. At another booth, a tow-headed toddler squirts a spinning Frisbee with paint.
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Takko, Japan comes to Gilroy, California: Nagisa Okubo, Takko Garlic Lady for 2016 visits the Gilroy Garlic Festival, flew in all the way from Takko-Machi, the garlic capital of Japan and sister city to Gilroy.
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Home of Gilroy Garlic Fries : Gilroy garlic fries are legendary and well-known beyond the town border. Typically, garlic fries consist of French fries tossed with minced fresh garlic and parsley. Two women traveled all the way from New Mexico for the Gilroy Garlic Festival and tried their first garlic fries greedily. The festival also offers a variation battered in beer.
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Ga-ga for Garlic: Garlic paraphernalia is profound at the festival as garlic gets sold in braids, hats shaped as garlic bulbs and even tie dye t-shirts and banners with a smiling garlic bulb proudly featured.
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Great or Gross? Try Garlic Ice Cream: Love it or hate it, garlic ice cream stands out as the must-try food of the festival. Over the course of the weekend, they will have sampled upwards of 10,000 mini cones to revelers waiting in a line that snakes across the meadow near the cook-off stage for creamy soft serve with a bit of bite.
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Kettle Corn with a Twist: Sweet and salty kettle corn gets a garlicky facelift.
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Overwhelmed by Options, Go Bite-Sized: It's easy to be overwhelmed by all the edible options available at the festival. You can find garlic sautéed mussels, Italian sausage sandwiches and even garlic watermelon. Simple stuffed mushrooms make garlicky bite-sized snacks.