When Charlotte’s ninth annual Puerto Rican Festival cranks up this Saturday in Marshall Park, don’t miss the roast pork.
There’ll be music, to be sure. Nine ensembles will share a range of Latin sounds – from brassy big-band salsa, by Charlotte’s popular Orquesta Mayor, to the young vocal duo NG2, which comes directly from Puerto Rico.
“I’m most excited about Odilio González,” says Alba Colon-Nieves, who organizes the festival with Charlotte’s Puerto Rican Cultural Society. “He tours throughout Latin America, a singer of the traditional Puerto Rican music.” González’s jíbaro style records, dating back to the 1960s, influenced pop star José Feliciano, among others.
While you listen, don’t miss a rare chance to sample down-home Puerto Rican cuisine. Nearly a dozen vendors will be on hand. Most cook for catering clients but seldom get to show off their traditions in public.
One will be Tara Quinones, whose busy Monroe-based Catering by Tara serves clients like Olde Providence Racquet Club. She grew up outside of New York City in the Catskills, where her Puerto Rican family ran a popular resort that was a destination for Latinos.
For the festival, she’ll make pernil with arroz con gandules – roast pork with rice-and-pigeon-peas. “My family, we were raised on this meal,” she says with pride.
She rubs the pork with a homemade spice mix called sofrito, then slow-roasts it for hours. The skin becomes leathery and crunchy, locking in juices. Grab a bit of the skin, called cuero, for a tasty treat. At her family table, “if you’re dumb enough to get up from your seat, we’ll steal your cuero,” she laughs.
The festival opens that family table to all Charlotteans. “As Puerto Ricans, we are U.S. citizens, of course. But it’s like being from another country with our special food, our music,” says Colon-Nieves. “For me, it’s about our culture. Showing what we are.”
Puerto Rican Festival
The largest festival of its kind in the Carolinas will include food, live music, dancing, entertainment, a children’s area, vendors, souvenirs, raffles, giveaways and more.
When: Noon-8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Marshall Park, 800 E. Third St. at the corner of South McDowell Street in uptown Charlotte.
Admission: Free (pay by-the-item for food).
Details: www.prcsc.org/pr-festival-2016; 704-777-0670.