If you love to eat as much as I do, then exploring the foods and cuisines of different cultures is a big part of the quest for new tastes, knowledge, and a greater understanding of those who inhabit this big rock spinning around the sun. Besides getting a great meal, you can learn a lot about other people when you sit down with them to share food over a special occasion.
Sure, there are some very good, authentic restaurants around serving all sorts of ethnic specialties, but there are other great treasures out there, too. Namely- local churches. As our community grows and continues to become home for people from places much different than Northwest Iowa or West River, the area churches grow and adapt, as well. Next time you are driving around town, take note. You may notice a Buddhist meditation center, Ethiopian Orthodox churches, Hispanic churches, or services offered in African languages and tradition.
Every so often, these faith communities will throw a festival to have a meal together and open their doors to the community for some fun and fundraising. These, aren't invite-only affairs. They are pretty much open to the public and new faces are always warmly welcomed. These events might be a bit of a challenge to ferret out, but the effort will be handsomely rewarded. Read your own church bulletins, pay attention to flyers on bulletin boards or posted in local restaurants, look for ads in publications like The Shopping News, and keep an ear open for word of mouth. Then, go get some cash, and just go.
One such event was this past Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish here in Sioux Falls. This is the small brick Catholic church located on the corner of 8th and Cliff. It was once St. Therese Parish, which has since moved east to a larger location and the Diocese shifted the focus of the parish to the growing Latin American community.
Phenomenal music and phenomenal food. The festival ran from the morning until early afternoon and the kitchen was staffed by a very hard-working group of men and women who would look like your grandma, aunts, uncles and a few cousins, if you were from Gudalajara or El Salvador. They were manning huge steaming pots, portable roasters full of cooked meats, and making handmade tortillas on a flat top grill.
The offerings included breakfast, plates of birria (goat or mutton), pozole, mole, tamales, elotes (Mexican street corn), desserts, and drinks like aquas frescas and horchata. We decided on mole and pozole.
Mole is a sauce made up of an insanely long list of ingredients including things like nuts, cinnamon, herbs, chocolate, chiles, and then cooked until it all melds into a deep, dark, mysterious sauce. It came served over a portion of chicken that had been cooked into utter submission. The sauce did not disappoint. Every bite tasted a little different. It would take a mighty sophisticated palate to tease out all of the flavor components. The mole was served with rice and beans that had undoubtedly started out as a 50 pound bag of dried pinto beans on Thursday or Friday. They didn't look like the sort you plop out of a can of taco night. But they also tasted a whole lot better. A couple of those warm hand made tortillas came with this to mop up any bits you couldn't get with a fork.
Pozole is a big bowl of mildly spicy broth that contains pork and hominy- those big blown-up corn kernels. Add some shredded cabbage (unfortunately there wasn't any), radishes, and a couple of squirts of lime, and you've got yourself a feast. The pork was super tender and tasty, since it was a shoulder or another cheap cut. And the squares you see in the photo below? Yeah, that's pork skin. Silky texture and supercharged pork flavor. (Eeeeew! Skin! Yeah, yeah. Just eat it. It's good and has the added benefit of like a year's worth of collagen- your nails and hair will thank you.) I ate the whole bowl and went straight home to take a nap.
Only tactical error was not getting some of the corn. Next time!
It's out there people! Happy hunting and good eating!