Festivals are definitely on our radar and bleep loudly just like hamburger joints and maritime museums. In fact, we go out of our way to play tourist at these events just like the time we planned for months so we would be in Rockland, Maine for the Lobster Festival. (Is anyone surprised that Betsy orchestrated that?) Festival subject matter spans the spectrum from food to animals to historical figures. In Montana we went to the cleverly named “Testy Festy” (a festival celebrating testicles), Maryland had the Sheep and Wool Festival, Azaleas were celebrated in Wilmington, NC and tamales were devoured at the Tucson Tamale Festival.
Last weekend was our second year going to the Sandestin, Florida’s 26th Annual Gumbo Festival nicknamed “Do the Roux.” We easily talked our foodie friends and restaurateurs, Jennifer and Nikki, (owners of Cowgirl Kitchen and a few other awesome joints) into going with us. It is safe to say that one taste of this event and they were hooked and heading back next year.
Here’s how it works, you pay $20 and get to eat all the gumbo you want plus listen to great zydeco music. Twenty dollars for an all-you-can eat may sound high but it was well worth it. This year had 17 contestants vying for the praise of having the best gumbo. Nearly 2,000 people turned out for the event and got to weigh in for who they thought deserved the “People’s Choice Award.” One of our favorites had cream added to it which is quite the novelty. A Mexican restaurant added their twist of placing an empanada on top, and a seafood restaurant added sea scallops to impress. There was also a judges award and one for “Best Display” which may explain why one group was serving gumbo out of a toilet bowl.
You might not think there is much to gumbo and they taste pretty much the same. But spend some time in the south (especially Louisiana’s Cajun Country) and you will quickly learn there are more flavors of gumbo than RV’s in Quartzite, AZ in January. The premise is simple – start with a roux (the thickening agent), add vegetables, seasoning, stock, meat, and cook. But once you start sampling gumbo you realize the complexity of the flavors that shine through when a roux is carefully constructed (time, heat and color make a difference), just the right type and amount of stock and seasoning are added, and meat is perfectly cooked – it is then you understand how diverse gumbo can be. Most common meat ingredients are chicken and sausage or seafood, but look around and you will find that anything can go be thrown in like alligator, coot, duck, nutria, and other oddities.
How does one find festivals? Here are a few websites that will help you discover what is happening in an area. Whether you are interested in beer, BBQ, jazz, garlic, or mules, there is a festival for you. Definitely check out the local paper and find your city/towns tourism department website when you first arrive. But if you want to do a little pre-planning and make a festival your destination, turn to the web. Here are a few websites that encompass all different types of festivals and allow you to search by subject matter, location, and date.
If you are looking for music festivals there are plenty of good websites and here are just a few.
The Gumbo Festival reminds us of how much we like to travel and eat and when we can share that with friends or family it is even better.