Celebration of Colombia's Independence Day officially kicked off ten days early on Sunday at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim with the Festival Colombiano O.C. The day-long event featured food & drink stands, gift booths, musical stylings, and more sombreros volteados than you could shake a machete at.
My fellow festival-goers and I arrived in the mid-afternoon (an American, a Colombian and a Swede walk into a Colombian festival--there's a joke in there somewhere), joining
what was at least a couple thousand 4371 (per the organizers) of our closest friends; the towering, permanent Festhalle tent was thumping with some vaguely cumbia-esque pop sounds.
Turns out it was Los Cantores de Chipuco, a band that parodies other Latin music acts (Weird Alfonso?). They were... well, the crowd inside the tent were digging them, so I'll fall back on what Ice-T once said of Siouxsie and the Banshees: "Cool, but not really my thang."
But, wait--this isn't the music blog! What about the food?!!?!
The lines for the four food stands were daunting to say the least, so we decided to grab an oblea from the Mi Colombia Mia booth first. This is a very typical Colombian sweet-street-food treat: A pair of what are essentially Frisbee-sized communion wafers with some sweet paste spread between them. We went with the classic plain arequipe obleas; arequipe is the Colombian name for dulce de leche. You can also get jam or other sweet goop sandwiched in them.
We made a circuit of the outdoor space in the club's backyard, snagging a couple of beers and a Colombiana soda (kind of like a cream soda, but not as vanilla-y; almost exactly like Jamaican-style kola champagne), but we needed something more substantial. So, back to the food lines we went.
The dishes we wanted most--tamales, empanadas, bandeja paisa--were at the stand with by far the longest line: La Fonda Paisa, a Pico Rivera restaurant. But I was determined to tough it out. And one hour, fifteen minutes, one nice chat with a Mexican-American lady from Temecula, uncounted instances of line-jumping, and one near-brawl over one dude directing piropos at another dude's girlfriend, I returned with MOST of the goods.
They ran out of tamales while I was in line, which sucks. Colombian tamales are much bigger than Mexican ones, they're wrapped in plantain leaves rather than corn husks (the Gulf coast states of Mexico do use plantain leaves, but those tamales are usually pretty small), and often have a stew-like mixture of ingredients inside, even bone-in pieces of chicken. AND they ran out of bandeja paisa, but I've already sung the praises of this dish before.
I did score some rice and beans (very good), some chicharrón (perfectly crispy--like bacon, only better) and a couple of chorizos (thick, salty and bursting with flavor--not as spicy as the Mexican version, but just as flavorful). But the real stars here were the empanadas.
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These are nothing like the baked, pie-crust-dough-like Argentinian version. They're smaller, filled with some kind of seasoned meat and/or vegetables, which are then embraced in corn masa and fried. Unless you have a problem with, like, flavor or something, this is clearly a superior preparation--and the La Fonda Paisa version didn't disappoint. The crisped-up outside gave way to thin layer of tender masa, which wrapped slow-cooked, shredded chicken stewed up in a bright yellow mix of spices. With the added the vinegar-onion-cilantro kick of the aji sauce that came with them, they were straight-up street food heaven.
Almost--almost--worth the wait.