26. April 2008 · Comments Off on Fiesta San Antonio · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, General, World

On Friday night, Blondie and I daringly ventured into one of San Antonio’s most popular and certainly one of the most tasty – in the culinary sense – Fiesta events. Oh, dear, now I shall have to explain San Antonio’s yearly Fiesta to those who have not heard the legend; you may think of it as our peculiar version of Mardi Gras, but it has grown into something considerably more. My some-time employer, a San Antonio native, describes it as a city-wide, week-long block party, but it is a great deal more than that. One upon a time, in the 1890s, it started as a parade to commemorate the victory of the Battle of San Jacinto, where people rode around in carriages and threw flowers at each other. That was the humble beginning with the Battle of Flowers Parade. But everybody wanted to get into the act, and now Fiesta covers ten days, beginning to end and takes in just about every part of town and just about every socio-economic element.

There is a grand debutante coronation, where the two-dozen daughters of local elite wear gowns and trains crusted with about fifty pounds of rhinestones, sequins and metal-thread-embroidery (look, I am not making this up!), a raunchy variety show that sends up the whole concept (not making up that part, either!) , half a dozen elaborate parades – one of which is an evening torch-light parade, and anther is on flat-boats along the San Antonio River – an open-air oyster-bake on the grounds of a local private university and exhibitions, parties, open houses, athletic contests, pageants, shows and concerts all over the city, (schedule for this years’ events is here – one more day to party hearty, people!). It’s an excuse for people to dress up in strange costumes, eat, drink, party hearty and bash total strangers over the head with confetti-filled eggs. Like New Orleans Mardi Gras but on the whole, we like to think it is a bit more cooth. The crowds along the parade routes don’t yell at the girls on the floats to show their tits; they ask them to show their shoes. Under their ornate and gorgeous gowns, they are usually wearing running shoes, or crocs. One year, when rain threatened, one of the debutants was wearing swim fins, which earned her quite a lot of laugher and applause.

The culinary crown-jewel just might be NIOSA, or Night in Old San Antonio, a sprawling food-fest in La Villita, the old ‘Little Village’. It’s sponsored by the San Antonio Conservation Society and runs for four nights. My some-time employer has worked on the set-up for years, and knows practically everyone. He asked if Blondie and I would like to go, as his significant other had volunteered to dress up like a gypsy and work in the fortune-telling booth. I have to admit, Blondie was keener on this than I was. It was hot and sticky last night, thunderstorms threatened, and there would be dire traffic downtown, both coming and going. (Which there was – getting out of the parking garage afterwards was a lengthy agony; 45 minutes to get from where we parked to the exit!)

La Villita was crammed with food booths – and the extraordinary thing is, all of it was pretty good, and not that expensive, even if Some-Time Employer basically comped stuff for us, from booths where his friends and buddies were in charge. It was all organized roughly by ethnic neighborhoods; Mexican foods all clustered together, regular American (mostly barbeque of various animal parts) a hugely popular booth with egg rolls and other orientalia, a French-Cajun section offering jambalaya and delicacies like -umm, snails – and the German neighborhood, who had cannily set up inside the biggest building, the assembly hall where they could benefit from the air conditioning. (Sausages, pretzels and cream-horns, but we were all pretty filled by then). The thing about the food is that many of the food booths have been run by the same set of volunteers for years, and they have done a lot of tinkering with the recipes, besides cooking it all from scratch. (One variant of meat-onna-stick is famous locally; this is one recipe for it, but apparently the original was done with beef hearts. It’s a Peruvian specialty; one of the volunteers adapted the recipe for American palates years ago with considerable success.)

And every third or fourth booth offered soft drinks, water and tasty adult beverages – sangria, wine and beer. We even dared to try escargot; snails to you. Having had a couple of cups of beer first helped. Three dark little wads of gelatinous phlegm drenched in melted butter and garlic, served on a slice of baguette; which only goes to prove that if you throw enough melted butter and fresh garlic on anything, you have a chance of rendering it edible. Not appetizing, but at least edible. You could have done a whole fifteen-course dinner, just walking from booth to booth, grazing; appetizers, fish course, vegetable, entree, salad, dessert- eating out of hand as you walked.

In the German area, Blondie and I talked to a re-enactor and local history fan all dressed up like a member of the 19th century Bavarian royal regiment. Blondie refrained from asking him earnestly why he had a feather-duster stuck on top of his hat – since he did have a sword, too. I passed out my “books and writers” business card to a couple of people; I mean, why turn down a chance to network. Got home at nearly midnight, in the middle of a thunderstorm, which mercifully had held off until well after NIOSA closed for the evening. Good times – and I just may do it again, but I think I?ll pass on the snails, next time.

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