Savouring San Antonio at the Culinaria Food Festival
At the Culinaria Food Festival, you can attend an authentic barbacoa, where a complete cow’s head is cooked in an outdoor pit, or sample authentic mole sauce and chiliquiles verde. Rosalind Cummings-Yeates finds a tasty piece of Mexico in Texas.
I peer down at the open pit dug into the grassy environs of a backyard, outfitted with banana leaves and lined with bricks. I snap my eyes shut as the cow’s head is lowered slowly into the hole, ready to be smoked into barbacoa de cabeza, or barbecue made from mostly the cheeks of a cow’s head. Barbacoa is popular throughout Mexico, but in San Antonio, authentically smoked barbacoa is a delicacy that occupies menus throughout the city.
Beer, beef and big appetites may be Texas hallmarks, but I discovered that the Lone Star State offers a surprising array of dishes that defy these expectations at the Culinaria Wine and Culinary Arts Festival in San Antonio.
During the four-day event, held every May, I sampled everything from watermelon topped with pickled ginger, lump crab and H2O melon bubbles, to curried coconut chicken wings. But my favourite foodie experience was visiting top chef Johnny Hernandez’ house for his popular barbacoa brunch, called Sabado at Casa Hernan.
Stepping into Hernandez’s colourful home, surrounded by lush foliage and a koi-filled pond, I felt like I was starting a real eating adventure. After eyeing the stations representing the chef’s interpretation of regional Mexican specialties, I skipped the barbacoa and chose chiliquiles verde, a classic breakfast dish of fried tortillas, chicken and a spicy green salsa, and mole xiqueno, a complex, fruity chocolate sauce served with chicken from the Mexican state of Veracruz.
Washing it all down with fresh coconut and guava juices as I basked in the vividly hued Mexican masks and artwork that dots the walls, I was transported to the San Antonio version of Mexico.
I quickly uncovered other San Antonio food highlights at the food truck competition, which presented the city’s trendiest dishes from 14 rolling kitchens.
Besides the sweet and spicy coconut curry chicken wings, I lined up for rich duck fat fries, seasoned chicken samosas with tamarind sauce, crispy duck confit tacos and bread pudding laced with bourbon and bacon. Local beer and wine capped off the round-up.
If that sounds like a lot of food, that’s because it was. And that was considered a light dinner.
I also nibbled a six -course winemaker’s lunch at Becker Vineyards, sipped peach mimosas at Pearl Farmer’s Market and grazed a pile of gourmet delicacies at the Grand Tasting finale. The only thing that kept me from turning into an oversized Texas turnip was nightly strolls along the tree-shaded river walk and a hike through the city’s landmark mission built in 1718, The Alamo.
Culinaria proved that despite the stereotype of limited Texas cuisine, San Antonio serves up extremely diverse dining. But it didn’t disprove another stereotype; Texans do everything big.