Tourism fair satisfies travellers’ appetite

Around 15,000 eggs go into this monster.
Around 15,000 eggs go into this monster.

By Sorrel Moseley-Williams
Herald staff

Appearances can be deceptive. Judging by the vast number of exhibitors at the annual Feria de Turismo Internacional (FIT) at Palermo’s La Rural, tour operators are clearly oblivious to the financial crisis as are travellers keen to check out destinations. Unless, of course, that is as close as they are likely to get to seeing the Pyramids or the Eiffel tower over the next 12 months…

Closing on November 17, the fair dominated various pavilions at the exhibition centre for four days. Aimed at both the traveller and the professional, the weekend attracted thousands of visitors, who took advantage of free pisco drinks at the Peru stand, warrior dancing courtesy of Chile and fancy leather baseball caps given away by the Patagonia city of Bariloche. According to FIT’s website, over the course of the fair more than 80,000 visitors wandered their way through Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, the Caribbean and Central America and other international destinations with ease.

According to FIT, 1,788 exhibitors participated in order to tempt both tourist and tour agent into taking up their destinations. Argentina’s sector was the largest with most of the provinces’ tourism boards in attendance as were individual resorts such as Pinamar and Mar del Plata, beach destinations looking to kickstart summer 2010.

North American Allen Graziadei, who lives in Buenos Aires city and went to FIT on Saturday, said: “Corrientes had a rather grand display as they paraded through the venue in full Carnival kit and banged on their drums. It was pleasant, if perhaps a bit awkward, to watch half-naked ladies in glittery head gear strutting their stuff in front of the typical polo shirt-wearing trade show crowd.”

He added: “However, the Puerto Madryn stand explained really well when the best times to visit would be to see specific types of animals and when would be best to get some good photos without too many tourists around.”

In the international section, both Taiwan and Egypt emphasised that 2010 will see a push into the Latin American markets. Elsayed M. Khalifa, consul and director of the Egyptian Tourist Authority in New York, confounded fears about the risk of terrorist attacks. He said that tourism is the number-one revenue source for the Arab nation, and that Egyptians absolutely appreciate that. He added that tourists should, of course, consult their local bureau of consular affairs before travelling anywhere.

THE TIME IS NOW. But one destination that totally captured my imagination, as well as my appetite, is in Argentina and its event of the year is fast approaching.

A starvation and a cholesterol health check are mandatory preparation for a weekend away to Pigüé in the Buenos Aires province. Why? The French town will be hosting its annual Giant Omelette party, where the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Giant Omelette will be have a cracking good time breaking open 15,000 eggs (that’s 1,250 dozen) to cook up in a frying pan measuring an impressive four metres in diametre.

The valley town of Pigüé is in the south west of the province 545km from the capital, and was founded by French immigrants from the Aveyron area. Its name is taken from Pi-Hue which means “meeting point” or “place for assembly” in the Mapuche Indian language, and refers to the battle of Pihué which took place on February 15 and 16, 1858, a fight instigated by the Indians over claims regarding that particular area of land.

The first such eggstravangza took place in 1999 on the first Sunday of December to commemorate the founding of the town on December 4, 1884, and the event is overseen by the brotherhood. Sixteen teams of four members first pour in 30 litres of oil and then constantly move the mix around for a good 20 minutes (now you see why a pre-Pigüé cholesterol health check is necessary?).

Not only do the local chickens offer up their produce but so do the local pigs: some 100 kilos of ham make it into the frying pan, as do three kilos of green onions, four kilos of parsley and five kilos of chives, and each year, the town’s tourism board, which had a stand at FIT, assured me that an eggstra special ingredient is added to spice up this bad boy. An obvious addition to the mix would be cheese but for once bovine products don’t enter the equation for two reasons. First, the cheese-and-ham omelette has its origins in Switzerland and this event is all about French heritage, and second, cheese aggressively sticks to the pan, creating even more mess. Which beg(g)s the question: who washes up this enormous skillet?

In case you think this food festival is some kind of bad yolk, fear not, three-metre baguettes are baked especially for the occasion to mop up your free meal. That’s right, your portion is free, although dessert is not on the house. And if you’re still peckish, plenty or barbecued meat is available from the Municipal Park where the party takes place.

But there’s a moot point: how do the 16 teams flip an omelette? Well, it‘s all in the translation. Omelette, to the good people of Pigüé, means scrambled egg, and should not be confused with “omelet” which does in fact mean omelette of the flipped variety in English.

Confused? All you can do is get your cholesterol levels checked out and head to the valley town for December 6 with an appetite verging on unhealthy to claim your share of the 8,100-portioned omelette.

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