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Latin American Festival food comes to SouthPark

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Homesick? Want a taste of your travels or places you would like to go? If you're going south, the trip may be shorter than you think. On Sunday, Oct. 10, you'll be able to have cachapas and churrasquinhos in nearby SouthPark.

Festival Latino Americano: The Latin American Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and one of the goals of the festival organizers is to offer a variety of street — en la calle — foods from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of the Americas. This is a huge treat since truck food around town is primarily Mexican. The cuisines represented this year span about 4,500 miles: Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. Here's a brief guide to what you should try:

Mexican cuisine may be the easiest to find in town, but the best of their portable foods is not burritos and tacos (which will be sold here). Try a torta, a gargantuan sandwich on an eight inch oval roll with your choice of meat.

From El Salvador, try pupusas, similar to corn tortillas but thicker (like a pancake) and stuffed with quesco fresco or farmer's cheese, diced meat mixed with cilantro and seasonings, or beans. These are griddled and served hot with salsa and curtido, a vinegar-based rough cut cabbage, carrots and scallion slaw.

Costa Rican vendor Andres Vegas will be serving his country's specialties, including a baked plantain stuffed with cheese, which is then boiled and quartered; rice and beans; and Costa Rican flour empanadas stuffed with red beans and potatoes. Look for the Salsa Lizano, the popular Costa Rican condiment.

Similar to the Costa Rican sweet chorreadas is the Venezuelan cachapas. These round corn pancakes are savory, not sweet, and folded to encompass a center of melting creamy soft mozzarella-type cheese. You can also try Venezuelan arepas, a flat griddled corn bread the size of a silver dollar pancake. Colombian arepas are larger. Arepas are an original food of the ingenious Arawak population.

A Colombian vendor will be selling rotisserie chicken and bandeja paisa. The latter is the national dish of Colombia and consists of 13 ingredients, which may include red beans with diced pork, white rice, fried eggs, plantains, two sausages — Spanish chorizo and blood pudding — slices of avocado, arepas, pork rind, ground meat, lemons and a sauce.

Cuban food will be represented by its famous sandwich; empanadas; and croquettes, small fried rolls traditionally filled with ham or chicken.

Tamales from several countries will also be sold. Tamales are corn-based dough baked in either a plantain leaf or corn husk and filled with pork or chicken. Tamales are another ancient portable food thought to have been enjoyed by the Mayans and Aztecs.

Several booths will offer grilled meats including Brazilian churrasquinhos, beef tenderloin kebabs. Other vendors will sell grilled pork and chicken kebobs.

Corn is the featured food, whether in tamales, cachapas or elote, grilled corn on the cob. One stand will sell the traditional fair food: corn kernels in a cup with a helping of cream sauce and sprinkled with cayenne pepper. Some vendors will sell only one item like the delicious churros straight from the fryer, while others will be a fritanga, a cafeteria-styled vendor with multiple dishes to choose from.

My best advice is to go with a group, order different foods, and taste everything. Que lo pases bien!

Festival Latino Americano: The Latin American Festival

Symphony Park at SouthPark Mall. 704-531-3848. Sunday, Oct. 10 from noon until 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children. www.festivallatinoamericano.org.


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