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Jan 19, 2009 12:47 PM

Meet me at the Feria-La Feria de Leon

The ferias(fairs) of Mexico are a must for those seeking authentic Mexican experiences.Bullfights,concerts, cockfights,rides,eating regional foods, rodeos, gambling, dancing to roving banda groups, drinking, beauty pageants, exercizing you chivalry,partying with friends and family,and celebrating your hometown.The big three are La Feria de San Marcos(Aguascalientes), La Feria de Zacatecas(Zacatecas), and La Feria de Leon(Leon).While visiting family in Aguascalientes a few years ago I was fortunate enough to receive my first Feria encounter at the most grand of all, La Feria de San Marcos.I still recall a battle of four banda groups, each with their own crowd of partiers, competing in a decibel contest all within a small area as my cousin and I tried to squeeze through the compacted celebration on our way to the casino.In my job as musician for a prominent Mexican artist, I have been to many a feria, including Zacatecas, and La Feria de Leon last weekend.Ferias can last nearly a month and you can catch top acts such as:Vicente Fernandez, Jenni Rivera, Alejandra Guzman,Joan Sebastian,Pepe Aguilar,Ninel Conde(why not!),Marc Antonio Solis, and Los Horoscopos de Durango.Of the many concert venues, the palenque is the one I'm most familiar.Yes, that's right, that mulit-purpose arena where roosters fight 'til the death.We go on after the "peleas"(fights).

Women throw and catch tennis balls to and from the crowd full of money for gambling local guacamayas make a crunchy and satisfying lunch

Each Feria brings forth the best local foods: antojitos(little whims), tacos, junk food, and some unique local items. The beers, tequila, Buchanan's whiskey, and palomas(tequila and fresca cocktail) are flowing night and day. I walked around the Feria in Leon scoping out the eats and enjoyed a local guacamaya, a torta of chicharron with tomatoes and onions.A deliciously crunchy torta from the heart of Mexico accompanied by an agua fresca of horchata with strawberry, the epicureans "Strawberry Quick."I spoke with a taquero(taco maker)preparing his al pastor, assembling the marinated pork carefully on the trompo(spit), and was impressed by all the time he spent marinating, constructing, and cooking his taco earmark.I would give these a whirl later along with the excellent local "huaraches"(sandal like massa shape with toppings) estilo Bajio(lowlands of Central Mexico).

a taquero loads his trompo

Later in the afternoon, after our souncheck, I headed in the historic city center to sample more foods, including a taste of the fondas in the Mercado Soledad.The downtown is a beautiful Spanish colonial neighborhood, full of culture and fantastic local cooking.The loncherias(luncheonettes) and fondas were enchanting with their albondigas, soups, sauced meats, chile rellenos, and the famed carnitas and birria de borrego of El Bajio.A sweet gordita de trigo from a street vendor, the neck birria of lamb tacos, the albondigas with chiles gueros, and the chile relleno of picadillo cooked by Mexican grandmothers were exquisite.

chile relleno de picadillo just like grandmother makes
albondigas con chile guero
An outgoing taquero trims some birria de borrego for a taco
the fountain in centro historico, Leon

A walk through the mercado was an steer and pig anatomy lesson.Beef hearts with freakishly large valves protruding, and the inelegant task of carrying whole parts of a bloody quarter of a butchered animal on your back.Our beef horror show needed refreshment, so we grabbed an agua fresca of alfalfa, one of the most complex and blissful agua frecas of Mexico.

(warning:not for the faint of heart)Giant beef heart and parts in a market stall, valves still attached agua de chia

After cleaning up and resting, it's time for La Feria.Some tacos al pastor from the taquero I met earlier in the day, and a Guanajuato style huarache to take backstage, a great end to a delicious day's feasting.There's so much energy at the food booths, hungry people crowding around, plating their tacos and huaraches, attractive Guanajuatense women gossiping and laughing, cool vaqueros(cawboys) sipping a beer while telling jokes.Meanwhile, roosters are fighting for their lives while the crowd gambles, shouts, and celebrates the chanticleer's victory.It's midnight, and after eating, going on rides, dancing to banda in an intimate circle of revelers, drinking whiskey and squirt,sending a bottle of Chivas over to the "chavas"(girls) across the stage,gambling on the cock fights, it's now time for your favorite artist.Tonight, it was Marisela, a Mexican legend who was joined on stage by La Diva de la Banda herself, Jenni Rivera.Jenni is a fan of Marisela's and the two sang in mutual admiration much to the delight of the crowd.After, more drinking and eating,singing along to "Enamorada y Herida" to your girlriends on your cell phone who missed the show,dancing to some post concert ranchera music until you can't stand anymore, it's 4AM and time to go home.Let's do it again tomorrow!Como no?

The happy and the hungry at Super Huarache
huarache mixto, carne and al pastor
Marisela and Jenni Rivera

When in Mexico, try to include a Feria in your itinerary, a wonderful celebration of Mexican culture that will stay in your heart forever.

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  1. I´m in Comitan de Dominguez.

    I can´t agree more. I was just at the stupendous Ferias de Enero in Chiapa de Corzo where I ate marvellously well (more on this when I get back home). I was also hoping to catch a lidia de toros here in Comitan (where they are also celebrating the feast day of San Sebastian Martir) but the bullfight was yesterday and I got in today.


    1 Reply
    1. re: RST

      Awesome.Can't wait to hear about your time in the last outposts of Mexico.Chiapas and El Bajio are worlds away, but all are equal in their ferias.It's always interesting the internal immigrant presence that rears itself during these celebrations.There was a Tlaxcala stand,and around town there were several Monterrey style cabrito restaurants.Tijuana has many Sonorans and Sinaloans.What other states has a presence in Chiapas?Disfrutalo bien, carnal.

    2. Thanks for the report. There's a strong possibility I'll be at the Feria Leon the last weekend of January '09, until Candelaria on February 2nd - before moving on to Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro and back to the D.F. The Feria is the principal reason Leon is on my list - thought the city has enough other things to warrant a stopover. If I'm not in Leon, I may be at the Candelaria festivities in the small town of Atzacoaloya, Guerrero - where food, also, plays an important role. The October/November Feria in Tlaxcala is one of my favorites. Thanks for the information, and the photos.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gomexico

        I hope you make it out, it's amazing.And please report back.I definitely plan to know more ferias.I went to the Feria de Caña in Navolato, Sinaloa a short while ago.

      2. I know that ferias are very popular and that a lots of people enjoy them. But they are not for everyone. I went to San Marcos last year, besides from the cabalgata Domeq and the dance presentation of the 7 barrios at Teatro Aguscalientes, we didn´t like it very much. If you don´t like bullfighting or pelea de gallos, theres little for one to see. Spain was the country invited to participate with cultural exhibits....where? we couldn´t find anything.The food was overpriced, lots of greasy fried meat , we kept eating gorditas the nopal and chascas (boiled corn kernels)...There were so many people drinking in the street, even under aged. And the music, well, the Mexican music we like is Tonana, Susana Harp, Ariles, Grupo Tayer, Adriana Landeros, Mexicanto, Fernando Delgadillo but there was nothing like that at the feria...The peruvian singer, Tania Libertad had had a presentation but we had missed it and Alex Sintek was going to atend but 2 week later...

        2 Replies
        1. re: Evaristo

          You will not find artists such as those, true, plenty of banda, ranchera, corridos, and pop, though.But, the drinking(18+ is the legal age and16+ look the other way), street food, peleas, and pandemonium are what I like!! I don't actually watch many of the peleas, but I love the scene.It may not be for everyone, but it is worth a try for everyone interested in knowing Mexico more.Vale la pena!

          1. re: Evaristo

            I haven’t been to this particular fair before, but will be visiting this coming weekend. I have, however, been to similar fairs in Mexico and believe that my expectation will be realized, surpassed. If you’ve visited a state fair in the United States, say, in Iowa, Illinois or Indiana, that’s what these types of fairs are like. The San Marcos fair in Augascalientes is the largest such fair I the nation, and I don’t doubt it’s a mad house of activity. Leon should be smaller, less hectic.

            These fairs have the full range of ‘state fair’ activity. Agricultural exhibitions – animals, products, some cooking or contest displays. Local contests for a “Mr.” or “Ms.” of the fair. Regional and other dancing exhibitions. Fireworks. Folk dancing/singing, etc.

            Food offerings vary, jut like they vary at a state fair back home, or a local carnival – out of town vendors who sell popular fast foods, but there are typically also local restaurants that set-up shop. It’s not always easy to find the good stuff, but it’s usually there, too. And, yes, there’s the drinking – just like the street fairs and carnivals, and state fairs I visit in the Midwestern USA.

            Most of the entertainment I see at fairs – all such fairs (at “home” and in Mexico) isn’t to my liking – but the events sell-out and people who attend those events seem pleased. It’s an annual fair event and many attendees don’t get to more than one of these things each year so they enjoy whatever may be put in front of them. This particular fair in Leon, however, has booked some good talent.

            There’s a circus at Leon, the Papantla voladores – high flyers – and other entertainment, not to mention the other local talent events of the dancing and singing.

            When I get back I’ll post a report – trying to stay focused on the food events. ;-)

          2. Looks like I'm headin' to La Feria de Leon this Friday. Can't wait to get a few more tastes of Guanajuato!