¡El Splato!

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!

Our desire to travel to Spain was born out of a desire to be a part of La Tomatina in Buñol, a small town about an hour outside Valencia; a bucket list item that we just had to be a part of, even though we were twenty years older than most of the participants. We’ve seen images of this event for years and each time we do, we swear we’re going to make the trip. Now we can gratefully cross the item off our list.

La tomatina

Tomatoes--good for eating and for throwing.

If you’ve ever been in a mosh pit (mosh pit:  for the AARP crowd, it’s a large crowd of hooligans at a punk concert that slam, push and bounce around) imagine being in the craziest one ever with 45,000 people who’ve come from all over the world to be packed into the narrow streets of Buñol for four hours or more–that’s La Tomatina. For hours we stood (if you can call it that) in the middle of a narrow street leading to the village square while being pushed from side to side as waves of bodies moved with a pulsing motion forward, back and from side to side. As more and more people pushed their way to the front of the throng, the crowd grew more and more dense until it was impossible to find a spot where you were not crushed against bodies. One wrong step and a fall and it could be the end. Luckily, neither one of us suffered any injuries. And, this was all happening before the beginning of the tomato fight.

45,000 people packed like sardines, waiting for the fiesta to begin!

We ended up next to a gang of thugs ripping off t-shirts from unsuspecting men trying to push by. And once the t-shirts were ripped from the men the shirts were tied in knots and thrown around the crowd.By the way, none of the men harassed any of the women and most of the young men were even protective of the women in the crowd. We eventually decided to just take our shirts off instead of having them torn off our bodies.

Hot messes!

As more and more people jammed closer to the square, the temperatures soared. All of those bodies produce a lot of heat and when you combine that with a hot, cloudless day in Spain in August, well  you can imagine the crowd’s growing discomfort.  We did get the occasional relief from the stench and sweat whenever the locals threw buckets of water and sprayed hoses from their balconies or rooftops down onto the crowd. This only made the knotted shirts that much harder as they grew saturated from the water accumulating at our feet. By the way, it’s no fun to get hit in the head with one of those. And someone had the nerve to bring a hollowed watermelon as a warmup. Another thing that hurts like a mother f#$%er when it hits you in the head.

Here come the tomatoes!

The actual tomato fight doesn’t officially start until some crazy young man climbs to the top of a greased poll and captures the jamon. And once he does, he’s then hand passed overhead through the crowd along with the jamon, as a type of hero, until he reaches the end of the crowd. Once he reaches the end, a huge cannon blast signifies the start of the tomato fight and all hell breaks loose! If the sardine packed crowds weren’t enough, the crowd gets pushed out of the square as huge trucks drive through the small street with huge rugby player-types (the forwards, not the backs) walking in front as they push everyone who is not on the narrow sidewalk out of harms way of the truck. Of course as they do this everyone is being smashed up against one another and the wall. Riding on the trucks are more rugby players throwing tomatoes (think of the hard Roma variety) into and at the crowd and that’s when the fun begins.

Watch those tomato seeds (and the wet knotted shirts).

We were pushed down a side street by the first truck and as each truck passed by we were pushed further and further down the street until the second blast signaled the end of the tomato fight. By that time we were standing in a river of red as water and tomato filled the streets. Once the trucks pass and the streets run red everyone who has not had enough will body surf down the streets and throw handfuls of red mucky whatever at who ever is around. (This is the part that most people see in images). After all those hours of being in the mosh pit from hell with smells of sweat, tomatoes, sewer (Buñol at the end of summer smells just as bad as any major city in the summer) and god only knows what else, we had had all we could take as we gagged our way out of the crowd. Our forty year old bodies had given up. We threw a few tomatoes and had a great time but we weren’t covered in red like many of the participants.

Will they ever be clean again?

At the beginning, just as we exited El Arbol’s bus and as we walked down to the city center, we thought that this might be an annual pilgrimage, but as we ascended back to our bus after the tomato fight neither one of us wanted to return to the event again. At dinner that night, it took all the muster we had left to gag down a few cherry tomatoes. Maybe our next bucket list item needs to be something more age appropriate and serene, like yoga in Bali.


Bright beautiful vegetables! ...and Steve can't spell.

In less than a week we will be enjoying the sun, food, wine, culture, and everything else Spain has to offer. It will be our first visit to Spain and our second trip to Europe and we can’t wait. It has been an extremely foggy summer in San Francisco’s Sunset District and we are in dire need of some rays. Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and San Sebastian spread over 15 days. In preparation, Jason has been taking a beginning immersion Spanish class at Casa Hispana. Though his Spanish language skills are in their developmental stage, he’ll be doing a much better job with communicating than he did on last year’s trip to Paris. His French speaking skills were so pathetic that even the baristas at Starbucks couldn’t understand his simple request for coffee. Cafe con leche is our typical morning brew so we’ll at least get started on the right foot when we land in Madrid.

Susan and Jason at the Ferry Building's Farmers Market on Saturday morning. Thanks for all the help, Susan.

For the last ten years or so, Jason has been making a ratatouille (French) or pisto (Spanish), which is basically a summer veggie stew, that seems to get better and better with each batch. Neither one of us is a big fan of zucchini, summer squash, or eggplant, but when they are roasted and then stewed with onions, tomatoes, roasted peppers, garlic, thyme and lots and lots of olive oil it becomes the best thing in the world to eat. This year, with thoughts of Spain ever on our mind, an idea was hatched to combine the best that pisto has to offer with the spiciness of Mexican salsa.

As far as we know, there is not a salsa or other dish that combines all the vegetables mentioned above with the spicy peppers of Mexico. We imagine it must be because of a feud centuries ago that forbade adding squash or zucchini to salsa. We’re probably completely wrong, but since we’re gringos who are essentially biologically mutts we figure we can add just about anything to our salsa without upsetting any familial laws.

We describe it as Old World meets New World salsa or, in this particular case, a salsa-touille. We hope you try our recipe and let us know what you think.

Salsa-touille Recipe

1 small to medium globe or Italian eggplant, cut into 1/2” thick “steaks”
1 lb summer squash or zucchini, cut into 1/4” planks
1/2 lb red onions, cut into quarters or eighths depending on the size of the onion(s)
2 1/2 lbs firm tomatoes, roasted, skin on (dry farmed preferred)
1 head of garlic, roasted, skin on
1 jalapeños, with or without seeds, or more if you like it spicy
1 red bell peppers
1 small pepper from a can of Chipotle peppers in adobo
sea salt to taste
3 tbsp lime juice

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Place eggplant, squash, onions, tomatoes, and garlic on the two baking sheets. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, rotate and roast for another 10-20 minutes or until slightly -medium toasted. At the 20 minute mark the garlic may be toasted enough to come out of the oven. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

If you have a gas-burning stove you can roast the jalapeños and bell peppers on the stovetop over the open flames of the burners. If you cook with an electric stove, roast the peppers under the broiler, turning regularly until completely charred. Once the peppers are charred, wrap them in one or two paper towels and cover the wrapped peppers with a bowl for 5-10 minutes. Take off the bowl and gently wipe off the charred skins . Do not rinse under water. It’s OK, if there is a little charred skin left on the peppers. Cut off the tops of the peppers and discard the seeds and ribs for a more mild salsa. Include the seeds and ribs for one with more heat.

Once all the vegetables are cool, rough chop or tear apart with your hands and add them to a food processor with the chipotle pepper. Pulse 3 – 4 times then add salt and lime (or vinegar). Process for approximately 10-20 seconds or until an even , slightly chunky consistency is achieved.