23 Nov

This April I visited San Antonio for Fiesta. I brought my Texan appetite, but no suitcase could have accommodated the right hat.

Of over 100 cultural events spread out over 11 days, my favourite was NIOSA–A Night in San Old San Antonio–a street food party representing the city’s diverse cultural communities.  You could get Black Forest Gateau, Wonton noodle soup,  armadillo eggs (jalapenos stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon),  and all kinds of tacos and flame-cooked goodies on a stick:

The one thing nobody warned me about was the cascarones.

These are egg shells filled with confetti and dyed pretty colours. They’re sold by sweet, grandmotherly types for charity, to be smashed over peoples heads. First time, I felt the crack on my skull, I thought I was being mugged, but once I’d apologized for yelling in my friend’s ear, I bought some and joined in the fun.

Fun is a way of life in San Antonio. Who wouldn’t want to get up early on a Sunday morning to sing along with a mariachi church choir?

To stroll a network of riverside trails, where turtles go to people watch?

To take in a parade with the city’s best-dressed couple (centre)…

Or to catch a glimpse of Elvis?

“I’m on a boat.”

I loved San Antonio for its warmth, colour and amazing dining scene. In between the Fiesta celebrations I discovered some fantastic restaurants. At La Gloria, I feasted on Mexican street-food-inspired tapas such as quesadillas made with several different regional cheeses, tlayudas (corn tortilla pizzas), and ceviches (raw fish and shellfish pieces marinated in spices and lime).

At The Guenther House–a 1920s working flour mill–I sunk my teeth into the most enormous and fluffy cinnamon buns.

And at Mi Tierra Restaurant and Bakery in Market Square, I got to sit in a dining room strewn year-round with enough Christmas lights and tinsel to glitz up a small country. There were strolling mariachi players doing the rounds too, for extra stimulation. There I checked out the wall-of-fame mural featuring decades worth of local celebs. The painting has been regularly updated since the seventies and includes everyone from dancers to union leaders to news anchors. I loved how the real diners blended right in.

I sampled the Mexican Ice Cream at Mi Tierra. It was rolled in coconut, pecans and peanuts, deep fried then served in sweet and crispy sopapilla shell–also deep-fried and tossed in sugar. Tip: get as many spoons for sharing as possible or you’ll jump a dress size before the bill arrives.

That dessert will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime treat. But I joined a Mexican appetizers bootcamp at San Antonio’s new Culinary Institute of America before leaving, to be able to recreate some of the healthier dishes I discovered here back home.

Not only do I love the abundance of fresh veggies, herbs, citrus and spices in Mexican cuisine, I love how you can lay out several different dishes and toppings on the table and let everybody stuff what they want into their own tortillas. It works really well for accommodating people’s food sensitivities and preferences–100% corn wraps mean no gluten; protein-rich black beans can accompany or replace meat–without having to make three different meals. And the whole DIY approach is convivial too.

At the bootcamp, we split up into teams and made the most incredible feast to share. There were Baja style fish tacos, with battered mahi mahi fillets slathered in salsa Mexicana; there were Mexico City-style Masa Boats filled with refried beans and onions; and there was puebla-style shredded pork garnished with creamy sliced avocados and slivers of onion. There were tons of spicy accompaniments too and we made hibiscus flower iced tea and lime agua fresca to wash it all down.

For dessert: tres leches pastel (three milks cake), a fresh-baked sponge drenched in milk, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, then topped with maple chantilly whipped cream.

That technically made ours cuatro leches cake.

As I mentioned, everything in San Antonio is that bit more fun.

*     *     *     *     *

As we’re heading into winter now, I felt inspired to bring some warmth back to Toronto by making some San Antonio-inspired dishes and drinks for a brunch with friends.

Click below for recipes:

Photo: Ayako Oi

Puebla-style Shredded Pork

The World’s Freshest Margarita

Tres Leches Cake with Maple Chantilly Cream
(Posted by my San Antonio travelling companion, Sarah Lee)


4 Responses to “Fiesta!”

  1. Mira January 10th, 2013 at 2:52 PM #

    What a wonderful sounding trip – the people, the food, everything is so colourful. I remember my son’s Mexican gardienne making Tinga for us at a party one time, but she didn’t dress it up like yours 😉 Next time, don’t worry about the hat, take me with you 😉

    • Valerie Howes January 11th, 2013 at 11:16 AM #

      Mira, I’d go back with you in a heartbeat. The boys would LOVE it.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Puebla-Style Shredded Pork (Tinga Poblana) | Reader's Digest Open Kitchen - November 23rd, 2012

    […] Reader's Digest Open Kitchen Skip to content Home ← Fiesta! […]

  2. The World’s Freshest Margarita | Reader's Digest Open Kitchen - November 23rd, 2012

    […] more San Antonio-inspired recipes, click here. This entry was posted in Drinks and tagged agave nectar, lime, margarita, San Antonio, tequila. […]

Leave a Reply