Native to Central Asia and Northeastern Iran, garlic has grown to become one of the world’s most essential cooking ingredients. Equally important in cuisines from China to France, garlic’s unique ability to enhance flavour has helped it blossom and flourish in almost every kitchen.
However, for all the plant’s global popularity, there is only one place that can truly claim to be the “Garlic Capital of the World”.
Known for its prodigious crop and annual festival, the Californian town of Gilroy is a community that runs on garlic. Famed across the world for its collection of markets, events and stores that celebrate the humble bulb, Gilroy is something of a haven for the world’s garlic lovers. Though the agricultural town also has a reputation for producing high quality wines and mushrooms, there is little doubt that it’s garlic that has put Gilroy on the map.
Perhaps the most significant event in Gilroy’s calendar is the annual Garlic Festival. Originally set up as a fundraising event for local charities, the festival has since bloomed, attracting over 100,000 visitors to the small town every year. The event boasts a number of unusual, garlic themed traditions, including a Great Garlic Cook-off and garlic braiding workshops, culminating in the coronation of “Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival Queen”. This particular activity is, according to organisers, supposed to represent “having a garlicky good time with fellow lovers of the pungent bulb”.
It’s not just the eccentric activities that have earned Gilroy its bulbous reputation. The festival also specialises in producing a number of weird and wacky recipes, all featuring the event’s eponymous star. Street food specialists and celebrity chefs come from miles around in order to prepare a series of unusual creations, pushing the potential of garlic far beyond what would be considered normal.
Recent years have seen a number of delicious options made available at festival food stands. Some of the most popular include garlic crab fries - aioli, garlic and fresh crab meat slathered on crispy potatoes - and garlic kettle corn, both of which have received extremely positive reviews from festival goers. However, the endless shoe-horning of garlic into every recipe also produces some bizarre results. Garlic chocolate peanut butter cups and garlic pineapple upside-down cake are just a couple of the stranger menu options.
Possibly the most alarming dish available is the festival’s now famous garlic ice cream. The gentle sweetness of vanilla combined with the tangy heat of raw garlic is a cocktail guaranteed to split opinion. One critic described the experience in relatively positive tones, stating, “First it tasted like plain vanilla, then I get garlic on the back of my tongue, and it expands as the ice cream melts down my throat.” While many people find the experience revolting, the ice cream’s existence is testament to the creative potential of everyone’s favourite bulb.
While many of the greatest dishes ever created rely on garlic as a key component, there is only one destination that should be at the top of every enthusiast’s bucket list. In order to experience garlic like never before, Gilroy is the only place to go.