Food festivals are often part of or run concurrently with other festivals. Just about every festival that exists will showcase food of some sort. Music festivals and harvest festivals are particularly well-suited to feature the kinds of foods associated with the kind of music on offer or the kinds of foods most plentiful during certain harvest times.
Beer festivals like the world-famous Oktoberfest held in Munich, Germany can be as synonymous with traditional Bavarian food as it is with beer. Food is everywhere during the fair, and most of the tents will serve some combination of items like wurst (sausages of all kinds), grilled chicken (hendl), the trademark giant Bavarian pretzel (breze), sauerkraut, potato dishes like kartoffelsalat, schweinebraten (pork roast), and apfelstrudel. There are scores, if not hundreds, of Oktoberfests held in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and this is where some of the best food fairs are to be found.
Jazz and blues festivals when held in the regions of their birth (generally the southern states and the Mississippi Delta region) are also excellent venues for regional specialties to be showcased. One of the best examples of this is the New Orleans Wine and Food Festival, held just after that city's jazz festival in the spring. Food in this town is a cultural value, and the city is known for some of the finest cuisine in the world. The festival brings in thousands of attendees and features celebrity chefs from around the world as well as the works of resident chefs at local restaurants.
Other prestigious food and wine festivals in the United States are found in the beautiful ski resort of Aspen, Colorado in June. The Food and Wine Magazine Classic is one of the country's most important, and also draws a crowd and celebrity chefs from around the world.
There are also many food festivals in Florida. The Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBE) is held in the South Beach district of Miami each spring. Look for celebrities like Bobby Flay and Mario Batali. Also in Florida is the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which is held over a period of six weeks in the autumn at the Epcot Center in Disney World.
Many of the best food and wine festivals are events that focus on regional specialties. The gastronomic capital of Italy is Naples in the Campania region, and the most famous food from this region is the pizza. Head to the Napoli Pizzafest in September where you can attend workshops and sample some of the best in the world.
The Piedmont region of Italy is famous for its truffles, and the little town of Alba is its white truffle (tartufo bianco) capital. One of Europe's most important and best food fairs is the Alba Truffle Festival, held every weekend from the first of October to mid-November. At $1,000 and up for a single example of the rare fungus, this is also one of the richest food festivals in the world. The record paid for a white truffle is $330,000 for a 3.3 pound specimen. You can purchase one of these costly "white diamonds" in the open air markets and then take them to any number of restaurants that will happily prepare them for you.
The Nantwich Food and Drink Festival, held in that Cheshire town in England during September, is the largest and one of the best food fairs in the UK. Walking and hiking are very popular in the UK, and guided foraging walks are offered along with cooking demonstrations, tastings, and baking competitions.
Other food and wine festivals in Europe include the Feria du Riz (Festival of Rice) in the town of Arles, France, held in September and celebrating its Spanish heritage with foods from the Camargue region; the Great British Cheese Festival in Cardiff, Wales that features nearly 500 types of cheese; the Weimar Onion Festival in Germany that features onions; and La Pourcailhade (Festival of the Pig) in Trie-sur-Baise, France where you will find pork cooked in every conceivable manner.
Great food festivals are often part of local, county, and state fairs both in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Some are relatively unknown and modest local affairs that you might happen upon by chance while traveling in the countryside. Others are huge, like the Texas State Fair (look for signature barbecue), the Wisconsin State Fair (look for the state's famous bratwurst), and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (look for someone throwing a shrimp on the barbie).
Image: Food & Wine / Riccardo Savi