Hail the Queen of Spice! Gilroy Garlic Festival

11Some 78 miles south of San Francisco, California, lies a city famous for its garlic produce. And proud of it. Each year, Gilroy puts up one of the biggest food festivals in the country, spread out over three days and attracting over 100,000 attendees. From the moment you approach Gilroy from the freeway, you know you are about to witness a massive event. Electronic signs direct you to the correct exit, while clearly-marked signs along city streets guide you to the festival site, but not without noticing a California Highway patrol car stationed at practically every other block.

You arrive at the parking area — several dirt fields constantly being water-sprayed by tank trunks — to the welcoming waves of volunteers in yellow t-shirts, trained to ensure an orderly row of cars and making sure every available spot is utilized.  Think of the number 4,000. That’s how many community members volunteer their time to help ensure that everything goes as smoothly as they possibly can.  As soon as your car is situated, you are then directed to the nearest shuttle station, where air-conditioned buses take you to the festival entrance.  “You can walk if you want,” volunteers will tell you after you ask the question, “but it’s about a mile’s walk.”

824The centerpiece of the festival site is a giant structure shaped like, what else, a bulb of garlic.  But it is also a flame torch, lit throughout the duration of the 3-day event, Olympic style. Then you are reminded by a sign that says the festival has raised “over $9.7 million for local non-profit organizations during the last 34 years. ” That’s right,  this is the festival’s 35th year.  This year’s festival runs July 26-28.

310Then the exploration begins.  Over 150 booths are spread over two areas of the festival grounds — 60 food vendors and 90 artisans. While food booths are located along the perimeter of the festival grounds, the focal point is  the Gourmet Alley, with its massive outdoor kitchen, garlic-infused cuisine, well-trained chefs and locally-grown ingredients.  The garlic cuisine offers traditional stuffed and marinated mushrooms, calamari, scampi, pepper steak sandwiches, pasta con pesto, Italian sausage, garlic bread and fries.  You can either choose to purchase individual menus or combination plates. Make sure you don’t stuff yourself at the Gourmet Alley.  You need to leave some room for other specialties being showcased by the other food booths:  garlic lumpia and garlic pansit, chicken adobo and pork adobo sandwiches, garlic salmon, garlic sautéed mussels, garlic cajun crawdads, garlic tilapia, hot wings, garlic rosemary chicken sandwich and many more. But wait! Be sure to have a scoop of garlic ice cream. “You can’t say you’ve been to the Gilroy Garlic Festival unless you’ve tried garlic ice cream,” exclaimed one of the vendors.

6And what’s a food festival without beer, beverages and wine.  They even have a dedicated pavilion where you can taste the products from the wineries of Santa Clara Valley.

For the young, there’s the children’s area for rides, face painting, bubble fun, jump houses — not to mention kids’ favorites like honey sticks, popsicles, popcorn and hot dogs.  For the young at heart, there’s the entertainment stages where one can sing along to Elvis songs.

How, you might ask, can a massive festival revolve around garlic?  Well, because garlic is the queen of spice.  Imagine a world without a clove, a bulb or a long braid of garlic!  Even the real queens – Miss Gilroy Garlic Queen and her Court — are truly proud of their city and the spice that put Gilroy on the world map.  As to the debate on whether garlic is a spice or a vegetable, that’s something that can be tackled outside of this great festival.71

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