All You Really Need To Know
- Cost: $48/person for the entrance ticket, while food inside ranges from $2 (chicken feet) to $20 (stallion shot)
- What: Food Festival
- Where: Hokitika, South Island, New Zealand
- When: Mid-March
- Why: Because you saw a porn involving drinking horse semen and it excited something in you that you don’t want to actually tell people about.
The Hokitika Wildfoods Festival
I drank a shot of horse semen a while back. There’s no great way to put that point across – and trust me, I’ve spent about an hour now trying to think of a way to save my dignity – so I’m just going to get it out in the open. I took a knee and had a syringe full of stallion spunk blasted across my eager lips. It dripped into my beard. It stayed there all day for all I know.
Let’s back up about three hours. Context is key at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, where drinking equine ejaculate isn’t some niche fetish. There, it’s but an apéritif on a day full of foods that would make their consumers, on any other day, vomit all over the sidewalk. Not that they were completely appetizing on this particular occasion. Chunk puddles dotted the grass of the festival grounds, yellow and red and green, though it was unclear whether they were caused by an undercooked sheep testicle or a superhuman amount of alcohol. The ratio was at least half-and-half, given how much people had been drinking leading up to the event.
The festival came to my attention modestly. A small blog post mentioning a few small, boutique festivals worth going to around the world. I usually don’t pay too much attention to micro-festival lists, as I find them to be based entirely on the subjective experience of one person rather than the communal conclusions of an entire audience, and therefore less concerned with quality than exclusivity. But Hokitika, a small town on the west coast of New Zealand famous for little more than a clock adorning a roundabout, was only an hour north of me, so I mentioned being interested in attending.
“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of it,” was the resounding consensus from the locals in Franz Josef, “it’s one of the biggest parties of the year.”
Because as it turns out, that list had gotten it wrong. The Wildfoods Festival isn’t a small little gathering, a family affair to enjoy some quiet tunes and eat some food you’d never try anywhere else. The Festival is a townwide blowout that begins long before the gates open and finishes long after they close. Though it’s far more of a secret to the international crowd, kiwis come from all over the country, from Auckland to Queenstown, swarming into Hokitika and setting up residence in hostels, hotels, and campsites.
According to Festival Coordinator Ashley Cassin, attendance was actually down in 2015, with about 6,000-7,000 tickets sold to the actual event. And yet, despite that, operations actually expanded this year. A chartered plane flew between Hokitika Airport and Wellington to deliver punters from the North Island straight into the heart of the action. There were more live acts performing at any given time, and more vendors selling more and more exotic food, from chicken feet to sheep’s testicles to live bugs and more.
[alert type=”info”]Although the festival is only a single day, you should consider arriving the night before to get a good spot in the main campsite on Hokitika Beach, which will fill up by mid-morning on event day. The festivities begin that night and continue for over 48 hours. It’s practically a separate festival, one which some people don’t even escape to go to the actual Food Festival… which explains the discrepancy between ticket sales and turnout.[/alert]
Our car pulled into the campsite on Hokitika Beach at 10 in the morning. The tent city was already well into an age of industry, with hordes of people creating nylon neighborhoods that stretched over the bluffs and into the driftwood-strewn sand below. Firepits were being dug. Giant, professional-grade stages were being bolted together, ready for performances to be seen by the sufficiently lubed as they stumbled back to the campgrounds. And all the while, the bass was pounding in my ear, as music was blasted from car stereos as people drank, and drank, and drank, preparing for the day. Despite the festival’s small size, it already had an air like Coachella mixed with Bay-To-Breakers, as ridiculous costumes came out of the woodwork, themed camps and themed tramps parading down the street to the festival grounds.
And because participation is half my duty, I partook. By the time we arrived, three or four beers down and media pass in hand, the Wildfoods Festival was already in full swing. There was nothing to do but dive in.
The Stallion Shot
I would start big. There was no need to put it off, let my mind wrap itself around the sexual assault I would undoubtedly commit on it at some point in the day. Like ripping off a creamy white band-aid, I would take the Stallion Shot first. The stand was manned by two beautiful girls covered in bodypaint – one covered only in bodypaint – which, I assume, took some of the mental kick out of the fact that the stuff in the shot glass was formed just recently in the bollocks of a beast that could kick you dead in an instant. Emasculation is a disgusting chaser.
This year’s vintage came from an American stallion named Monarchy, who I’m told has had some major success on the racing circuit this year. Breeders would pay top dollar to get their mares all knocked up on what we were about to knock back. As it were, Monarchy’s Champion Juice was harvested within the last 48 hours, mixed with an extender to keep the sperm alive, given a small flavor boost (because the only thing more emasculating than drinking horse sperm is drinking strawberry-flavored horse sperm), and served up in a shot glass to the fine citizens of Hokitika.
I ordered two.
Not all for me, mind you. If I was going to be guzzling some of that fine pony spooge, then I sure as hell wasn’t doing it alone. I had a strategy, see? The girls selling the shots looked like fairly open-minded people, not to make blanket statements about the personalities of everybody who goes topless while painted as Batman at an all-ages event. So I bought a second shot, and asked if a friend could take hers as a body shot. It was the perfect crime. If I’m to do something so disgusting I’m hesitant to even tell people it happened, then at least I can make somebody look even more ridiculous than myself while doing it. Hiding in plain sight.
And I have to say, it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. The texture should be obvious to just about anybody past the age of 13, and the taste – albeit altered slightly by whatever additives they injected – was far from the bitter, sour, spicy, whatever I should have expected from the reactions of my first girlfriend. It was a little sweet. I wondered what they fed Monarchy.
Of course, I lacked the frame of reference for human comparisons, so my attention turned to the horse semen dripping down from the vendor’s bellybutton, as it was slurped up into an unnamed friend’s throat. She wiped her chin.
“I think they’ve been feeding that horse pineapple,” she said.
There were scorpions for sale at the same stall, and given what I had just done, it was never an option to skip them. I’ve had experience eating bugs before. There were, of course, the fried crickets in Thailand, and the honey ants in Australia. A scorpion and a grasshopper shouldn’t be problems at all.
It’s easy enough to eat a fried cricket, crispy and breaded and sitting on a stick as you pluck it off a food cart. It’s an entirely different thing to shake a fresh scorpion out of its tube, watching it’s tail curl and uncurl in your hand. While the stallion shot had entire brochures filled with information on how they harvested that sweet nectar, the vendors handed the scorpion to me like they were offloading plague rats. I remembered this game. My brother and I used to play, daring each other to trust with closed eyes before we shoved dirt in each other’s mouths. It was a fun game when you weren’t the one with closed eyes.
[alert type=”info”]As disgusting as the food could be, all of it was perfectly healthy. As festival coordinator Ashley Cassin explained, all the food and vendors had to get their products independently approved by an FDA-like agency, ensuring that while you could be emotionally scarred, you’d at least avoid E. Coli.[/alert]
I held the scorpion by the tail, wondering how to avoid it stabbing the back of my throat and climbing back out like some kind of action hero with an ice pick. It wasn’t exactly wiggling. Maybe it would go straight down.
It didn’t go straight down.
At least I didn’t have to worry about the tail, because the body popped like a cherry tomato with just the slightest bite pressure, spreading goop in the back of my throat not unlike the white stuff that had been in there just a few minutes before. You may not realize this, but scorpions are fat. Those things are like eating a chicken nugget, if the chicken nugget were liquid and also a fucking scorpion, covered in pokey bits. I covered my mouth as I chewed, expecting a gag that I was ultimately able to suppress.
The grasshopper was worse, for several reasons, not the least of which being the fact that it was actually alive and squirming desperately to avoid becoming the latest victim of a cruel world it was never destined to survive. The taste was fine, and not unlike what I was already used to, having eaten a that fried cricket in Thailand.
It was getting the damned thing into my mouth that was the problem. Several times, it made a daring escape from my cupped hands, and one time from my mouth itself, making its mad dash for freedom before being scooped up yet again. I felt bad. Here was this creature, caught in a web of torture that it couldn’t possibly have the neurons to understand, knowing nothing but the sheer impulse of flight, flight flight, that every aspect of where it was was wrong on a fundamental level, that it should not be there. Nothing in its grasshopper heart but the feeling of impending doom, like the sudden icy grip of reality that comes with the tipping of a chair, only sustained not for a split second but for the rest of its sad grasshopper existence.
I bit the thing in half and chugged a beer.
By mid-afternoon, the alcohol was beginning to take effect, and while I can’t assume that impacted my experience of the festival (given how, despite it all, I was still rated fairly low on the relative “off my nut” scale), I can say that it impacted my taste buds. Sheep testicles, for example, are actually delicious. They have the taste of chicken, with the texture of tofu, soft and chewable. I wound up buying three. The Huhu Grubs, likewise, went down smooth, as did the the fresh oysters from the Cloudy Bay Clam Company that had a stall set up by the entrance.
And while it’s easy enough to experience the festival through that filter of alcohol, it’s best to avoid letting it take the wheel. It’s easy enough to stumble through the festival, chugging down chicken feet and bollocks like they were candy, before stumbling back to the campsite off your rocker, spending the rest of the night drinking by the bonfires, before waking up facedown in the sand the next morning and going about your life. Many people do that. But if you make an effort, you’ll find that it’s about so much more than the drinking culture that’s enveloped it.
If you take a second, you may learn about how the Cloudy Bay Clam Company has been operating for 25 years in the same family. Or how the technology used to collect and filter the different types of clams were invented by that family. You can taste the difference of the techniques when you eat the clams. They’ll go out of their way to show you what they do.
So will everybody at the festival. It’s not called the Disgusting Foods Festival; it’s the Wildfoods Festival. It’s not just a chance to try things that you’ll find disgusting. It’s a chance to try something different.