Will Travel for Food: 8 Food Festivals Worth the Flight to Visit

Food Festivals (Feast Portland)

As culinary tourism becomes ever more popular, foodies are traveling far and wide searching for exotic ingredients and dining at bucket-list restaurants. Food festivals have become the new music festival, from Chicago Gourmet to the Mango & Food Festival on the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis. Here, an in-depth look at Nevis’ unique food fest celebrating one delectable fruit, plus seven more food fests around the country worth traveling to.

Nevis Mango & Food Festival

It’s raining mangoes! Hallelujah! It’s raining mangoes!

Every summer in Nevis, mountains of mangoes rain down from the trees — 44 different varieties — including Amory Polly, Julie, Rosie Cheek, and Seedy. Nevisians love mangoes. Nearly every family has at least one mango tree in their backyard, and even if they don’t, their neighbors surely will.

Few tourists get to experience this bounty though, because mango season coincides with hurricane season, the slowest time of year in the Caribbean. Five years ago, the tourism authority launched the Nevis Mango & Food Festival both to boost summer tourism and to introduce Nevis’ favorite fruit to a wider audience. Due to quarantine restrictions, Nevis cannot export fresh mangoes, although the agriculture department has purchased a mango-pulping machine from India and hopes to soon export the frozen pulp. For now though, to taste the mangoes of Nevis, you’ll have to visit in person. During my stay in July, the weather was nothing but lovely, sunny with temperatures hovering around 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

International celebrity chefs like Judy Joo and Seamus Mullen taught cooking master classes this year and prepared multi-course mango dinners alongside local Nevisian chefs. Over the course of four days, I learned how to best peel and slice mangoes (Nevisians normally peel mangoes with their teeth, but vegetable peelers work great too) along with several great recipes to try back home. My favorite was Mullen’s mango salsa using both green and ripe mango along with local Scotch bonnet peppers that we heaped generously over fillets of mahi mahi just caught that morning.

Food Festivals: Nevis Mango & Food Festival
Mahi Mahi with Mango Salsa from Chef Seamus Mullen’s Master Class (Photo courtesy of the Nevis Tourism Authority.)

I picked up so many mango tips throughout the weekend: Joo recommends using a mango marinade to tenderize meat and Mullen suggests using green mangoes for their unique prebiotic benefits. Tasting through a dozen varieties of local mango at Cades Bay Agriculture Station really opened my eyes to the vast world of mangoes and their different flavors, textures, shapes, and sizes. I loved the slightly tart Graham and Julie mangoes, while locals consider Amory Polly mangoes some of the best for their sweet, almost caramel-y flavor. Most Nevisian mangoes, like the Cornmeal, Teeny, and Bull Stone varieties, are more fibrous than ones back home, so you’ll need to floss after enjoying these juicy delicacies.

Food Festivals: Nevis Mango & Food Festival Mango Tasting
Mango Tasting (Photo by Amber Gibson.)

There were a multitude of classes and dinners throughout the weekend, and plenty of mango rum cocktails, including at The Botanical Gardens of Nevis where we enjoyed a beautiful al fresco dinner with dishes from each celebrity chef. Joo made mango kimchi to pair with fried rice cakes that evening while Mullen prepared a lovely dinner at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club in the candlelit Great House the following night including mango gazpacho with crab salad and coffee-rubbed pork tenderloin with mango turmeric coulis. At the Sunday tasting grand finale, a couple dozen Nevisian chefs sampled their favorite mango dishes for hundreds of hungry foodies. Montpelier Plantation & Beach took top prize for the second year in a row with mango-marinated snapper and spinach roulade served with curry market vegetables and torched mango wedges in a sweet and spicy mango sauce.

7 More Festivals for Feasting

The Sun King CANvitational — Sept. 8

food festivals: The Sun King CANvitational
Photo courtesy of Visit Indy.

More than 50 craft brewers from across the country sample their beer in downtown Indianapolis accompanied by food trucks and live music. This is the largest beer festival in the Midwest dedicated to canned beers — proving that cans are not just for cheap beers.

Feast Portland — Sept. 13-16

food festivals: Feast Portland
Photo by Carly Diaz.

This is the most compelling food and wine festival in the country, with more unique programming like intimate hands-on classes and collaborative dinners and panels, rather than simply large-scale demonstrations and walk-around tastings. New this year, chefs from Portland and around the country will compete with their favorite dishes of the past in an ’80s vs. ’90s challenge.

Cleveland Eats — Sept. 15

food festivals: Cleveland Eats
Photo courtesy of Cuyahoga Community College.

This local taste of Cleveland includes cooking demonstrations and small plates from top chefs like The Flying Fig‘s Karen Small and EDWINSBrandon Chrostowski along with craft beer and fireworks. Proceeds benefit scholarship funding for Hospitality Management programs and students at Cuyahoga Community College.

Pueblo’s Chile & Frijoles Festival — Sept. 21-23

food festivals: Pueblo's Chile & Frijoles Festival
Photo by John Wark.

In Colorado, this harvest celebration pays homage to Pueblo’s most loved crop — green chilies‚ particularly the Pueblo chile. There’s music‚ arts and crafts‚ cooking competitions, a farmers market, and a jalapeño-eating contest.

Texas Hot Sauce Festival — Sept. 22-23

Try hundreds of hot and spicy eats from salsa and hot sauce to marinades and jams at this Houston food festival. Compete in the Carolina Reaper pickle-eating competition if you’re feeling brave. Don’t worry, there are plenty of cold beverages too, and a children’s area. 

Chicago Gourmet — Sept. 26-30

Stay local and taste all Chicago has to offer during the main event in Millennium Park. This year, a Rock the Fork theme combines food with music at an Italian Feast and concertoBlues, Booze & Bites at River Roast; and a Battle of the Masters with nine master sommeliers competing to pair dishes with the best wine and song.

Wild About Game — Sept. 30

Chefs from Portland and Seattle compete in this meat-centric culinary event, preparing specialty game meats from Nicky USA on the slopes of Mt. Hood. Last year, Chef Sarah Schafer of Irving St. Kitchen took home the title with her dish of Grimaud Farms guinea hen and foie gras ballotine croquette.

Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. Her writing and photographs have appeared in print, online, and on the radio for outlets including Four Seasons Magazine, NPR, Saveur, Departures, Rhapsody, Hemispheres, American Way, Private Air, Wine Folly, Plate, Chicago Magazine, Tasting Table, and Serious Eats. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley. Champagne, dark chocolate, and gelato are her biggest weaknesses. She also admires and supports CAASE in Chicago. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.