Fiesta des cultures de Saint-Remi (Mexican and Guatemalan Festival)
The post about the Festival de la Poutine just reminded me that I wanted to post about this:
The Fiesta des Cultures is a cultural festival held in Saint-Remi in the Montérégie on 29/30 August 2009. This year will be the second edition. It was organized the bring together the locals and the Mexican and Guatemalan farm workers and celebrate their culture. There will be music, dancing and art, but most importantly for us chowhounds there will be food. Last year(I didn't go) there was a stand for each state in Mexico serving local specialities. One can only hope they will do the same this year.
I've been looking forward to this all summer. So come on out and make sure to wear your special chow mafia pin.
The wife and I have been talking about this for quite awhile. We're looking forward to it as well, plus we're basically just down the road.
I often travel the backroads of St. Remi, St. Isidore, St. Edouard, St. Chrysotome, etc etc (never realized how many saints are out there...) and have seen the growth of the migrant (and increasingly full-time immigrant) worker population.
There are a smattering of nationalities, but by far Latinos in general and Mexicans in particular make up most of the workers.
These small burgs have adapted somewhat accordingly; the small IGAs/Provigos/Metros stock plenty of Mexican products from can goods like La Costena and Embasa to Maseca to fresh habaneros.
Nice to see a rural municipality embracing such a cultural event.
Thank you so much for this post, I work with two Guatemalans on my farm in Vermont. One of them has two brothers working in the St. Remi area, we will be attending the festival on Sunday. It will be nice to celbrate the culture as opposed to forcing it underground like we do in this country.
Three of us hounds went this afternoon, somehow managing to avoid the rain. Good thing, too, as there's not much in the way of cover. We ran into porker soon after arriving, who got us started chowing with a comped plate of tacos al pastor. I was expecting more people, especially more Latinos, but the weather may have kept visitors away.
The booths are arranged on either side of a paved street running east and west. The entrance is at the east end; at the west end is a cul-de-sac of booths clustered around a beer stand. About a third of the booths serve food (the organizers appear to have dropped last year's "booth from every Mexican state" theme, and more's the pity). The other booths house vendors of clothing, wire-transfer services, Mexican wrestling masks, toys and the like, as well as representatives of Mexican/Guatemalan-Quebec friendship association, the local UDA chapter, etcetera. Since we didn't note the names of the food vendors we tried, I'll list the booths not in the order we visited them but geographically in counter-clockwise order, working from the entrance down the north side, around the cul-de-sac and back up the south side. Would guess we sampled the wares of about two-thirds of the food booths.
You'll spot the tacos al pastor stand on your right as soon as you enter the fiesta grounds. The pork's on a gyro-like vertical spit. The meat was a little dry but tasted fine, with depth being added by a lightly applied red sauce and spark being supplied by fresh pineapple chunks, smaller than usual and all the better for it. The soft corn tortillas were OK, probably from a manufacturer like Maya. (One of the fiesta's few outright disappointments was that no one appeared to be making tortillas.) I didn't pay for these (TYVM, porker!) but would guess they ran about $4-5 for three tacos.
A few booths down is St-Hubert Street's Churros Montréal. The warm fritters filled with dulce de leche and dusted with cinnamon sugar are a fine way to cap off an afternoon of snacking. $2.50 each.
Wander a little further and you're at a booth selling menudo, though the servers had to be convinced I really, truly knew what it was before they'd sell me a bowl. While the broth would have benefited from a little more chile and salt and a little less grease, it was complex and beefy. The tripe was nicely done, both tender and crunchy. Unlike nearly every other version I've eaten, this was posole-free. The quesadilla here is a large flour tortilla (President's Choice!) folded over shredded chicken, jack cheese, avocado slices and two green salsas (one herby, one hot). Not bad. The bowl of soup and the quesadilla ran $9.
The booth next door serves bags of what the vendors called chicharonnes, though all of us thought they were made from batter, not the traditional pork rind. Shaped like a thin slice of lotus root, the fritters were neither sweet nor particularly flavourful, which isn't to say they didn't make for some strangely compulsive snacking. A bigger-than-enough bag was $2 or so, IIRC.
A few booths down was the star of the event, a booth with an open-air steel griddle that a cook would film with lard and then fry sauced corn tortillas on. The tortillas were folded over three fillings (refried beans, chicken and potato), topped with a little more sauce, lettuce, sliced radishes and cheese: 3 enchiladas for $7. All the fillings were good but the beans were out of this world. A refreshing and not at all sweet agua de jamaica (water flavoured with hibiscus flowers) ran $1 a glass. We returned to this booth on our way out and ordered tamales to take home. Will report on how they turned out.
In a booth or two farther down the row were a couple of guys selling tamales and tacos. The tamales were big and wrapped in corn husks (several vendors were using banana leaves for their tamale wrappers). The masa dough was looser than usual but fresh, moist and tender. We enjoyed both fillings -- the spicier green chicken and the mellower, slightly sweet mole beef. The taco fillings were also tasty: cochinita pibil (pork marinated in sour orange juice and achiote, then roasted and shredded) and a stir-fry of chicken, onions and peppers. Several serve-yourself salsas and relishes were arrayed at the front of the booth; the ones we tried were excellent. The taco plate also came with a small serving of Spanish rice. I didn't pay here but suspect it came to a little under $10.
All the way around the cul-de-sac was a booth selling empanadas and various mango concoctions. We tried the vegetarian turnover, a tasty number filled with greens and cheese ($3). I also had a small mango stuck on a stick, peeled and cut like a flower ($2.50). I asked for it to be sprinkled with lime juice and chile powder but the vendor said she'd forgotten to bring them.
On the south side of the street, about halfway toward the entrance, is a small stand serving posole and chicken soup. We ordered it with trimmings (herbs, chile sauce, chopped onion, green onion). The salty broth tasted like it could have come from a mix but that didn't interfere with our enjoyment of the dish, a homey blend of mellow and bright with perfectly al dente posole and chicken cubed to the same size as the corn. Comfort foodissimo. About $3 a medium-small bowl.
Most of the booths had other options, but our stomachs had only so much room. The flautas, gorditas and company will have to wait till next year.
A report on the tamales that we bought at the booth selling the Michoacan-style enchiladas (the ones with sauced tortilla pan-fried with lard and filled with potato, bean and chicken, then served with lettuce and radish). We brought home the bean tamale, and the meat tamale. Sadly, the bean tamale was disappointingly bland, so much so that my normally spice-averse hubbie trotted over to the fridge get some tom ot toi, Vietnamese chile and garlic sauce (we didn't have any salsa), to add some flavour. The masa was dry. The meat tamale was better, but I think I preferred the tamales at the other booth (the one selling the cochinita pilbil).
My favorites were the Michoacan-style enchilada filled with bean, and the cochinita pibil. The booth selling the cochinita pilbil had a really excellent spicy salad/relish made with jalapeno slices, green bean and baby corn. Definitely get some of that salad to add to your cochinita pilbil! It is really yummy.
It was a real pleasure to get so many different types of Mexican/Guatemalan food in one site. Boy I miss the taco trucks down in the States!
Hey, if anyone goes tomorrow, can you try to find out if we can get those Michoacan enchiladas from a restaurant somewhere? Same for the cochinita pilbil? I would love to know if we can get these year round...
Wow. Those tamales were disappointing. Way too much masa, especially when it's so heavy. Boring fillings. And the at-odds odour/taste of the banana leaf wrapper. Fortunately, I had a bottle of salsa sitting in the fridge.
Next year I'm going to ask for all three Michoacan enchiladas to be filled with beans. Or maybe two bean and one potato for contrast. Insanely good.
Would also be interested in knowing if the empanada people had a storefront in the Montreal area. The dough may not have been exceptional but the filling certainly was.
I had a good time at the Fiesta on Sunday; friendly atmosphere and authentic food it seems. We got there at about 11h30, and almost all booths were ready to serve food. I've never been to Mexico so not too familiar with that food, outside of North Americanized classics... I really enjoyed the tamales and cochinita pibil (tortillas filled with shredded chicken in a tomatoey sauce and rice), especially with the salsa verde. The Michoacan-style enchiladas were so-so for me in terms of filling; I wasn't won over by the bland potato nor bean ones, and the chicken was a bit dry. Still tasty, mostly from the red sauce over it and garnish, but not worth a second plate. In terms of portions, 2 filling tamales and 1 conchita pibil tortilla was 6$, compared to 7$ for 3 small enchiladas.
Here's what I was able to find out: neither the Michoacan enchiladas place nor the tamales / pibil place have a restaurant. The folks doing the tamales have a traiteur business called Casa Vieja, 450-692-2778, in Chateauguay. The nice lady at the enchilada stand told me that they would be present at the Mexican Independance day fiesta on Sept 19. It's usually in Jean-Drapeau park but will be moved somewhere near the Olympic stadium this year (Maisonneuve park perhaps?).
For me, the churros were THE hit! Much better than what I tasted in Costa Rica. Crispy on the outside, not too greasy, with a good caramel filling. The people making them run Churros Montreal at 7497 St-Hubert (corner Faillon), where they also serve empanadas, etc.
The SalsaFolie lady was just hilarious. She kept repeating "1,2,3, en arrière, on se touche (... les mains), en arrière " and trying to get solo people to get in the circle.. "madame, trouvez-vous un homme...". I don't remember the name of the dance, but it's kind of a latino set carré.
Didn't try anything else to eat, we were full!! We bought a few pastries on the way out from the Suro stand (sureau = elderberry), http://www.suro.ca/. Tastes like blueberries, with much higher antioxydant content. They were featured recently in the L'Épicerie show.
We coupled this with a stop at the goat cheese shop in Mercier on the way back. I'll post more details about this under the Cheese post.
"I was expecting more people, especially more Latinos, but the weather may have kept visitors away."
When we were there on Sunday, one of the farm workers told Girlfriend that they only showed up at 6pm on Saturday. They work six days a week. On Sunday they were out in droves. So much so that our car got walled-in by the farm buses double parked on Rang St-Paul. The crowd on the site was about half farm workers, half locals.
Thank you for the in depth report. I made it there on Sunday around 5 pm and the place was full but I unfortunately didn't come across many of the foods that you tried.
I had the tacos el pastor. It was 4 for $10 and the pork was a bit dry. I tried the enchiladas from the Michoacan-style enchilada booth. I didn't realize that there were different options. They automatically gave me and the person ordering after me the chicken enchiladas, which were served with the lettuce and radish but which I found to be very sparse on the chicken. I didn't see any other booth selling tamales, expect for this booth nor did I see any booths selling soup.
I also couldn't find the booth with the serve-yourself salsas and relishes.
I tried the beef tacos from the last booth before the big tent (almost across from the Michoacan-style enchilada booth). This place had the longest line and the wait was about 15 min. This was the booth that had a cash register and pictures of each of their dishes posted at the front. I found these to be the best tacos that I tried because they were very moist and flavorful and served with onions and yellow peppers.
I also tried the spicy beef empanadas, which I also enjoyed.
The other tamale place with the pickles and salsa ran out of tamales during the afternoon. We didn't get to sample them either. The sign said Casa Vieja Traiteur, but I've found no traces of them on the internet or in the yellow pages.
There was no menudo to be had on Sunday, either. They were replaced by a guy selling popcorn and cotton candy.
Weather was ominous, but held for a short while yesterday. Today looks much better, but alas, we might head to St. Laurent st.
I knew moh and company were going and did bump into them; moh, mr. moh, and carswell.
I still had an aftertaste of Friday evening's bonfire wine in my mouth, so I opted to start with a menudo (first pic). The order-barking lady (she was bossing around the younger girls at the stand :-) ) opened a hotel pan displaying plenty of cooked tripe and pigs feet. Only the tripe ended up in the bowl (sigh). Broth was added from another pot and then microwaved.
Quite good and with a squirt of lime, just what the doctor ordered.
The wife had a torta (sandwich) of pork. The braised pork was good enough, but they also microwaved the whole thing, making the bread very tough as it cooled.
Across the way was a stand offering posole (picture 2). I'm not sure of carswell's guess of packaged broth as I got PLENTY of chicken inedibles (spine, bone, cartelidge, skin, etc). I'm not complaining, just that they definitely used chicken carcass in the brewing, although not necessarily ruling out a mix.
The only alcohol offered was Labatt Blue and Brahma (no wine or spirits or perhaps more appropriate beer). Labatt distributes Brahma (Brazil),and so probably the monopoly here.
One stand did offer agua fresca ($3.50) in various fruit flavors or pina colada ($7.00) using a whole pineapple (non-alcoholic), picture 3. Very tasty.
Our favorite was the Michoacan style enchiladas as well, pretty much as moh and carswell describe. We all kidded on the liberal use of pure unadultered lard!
If you do head out today, just beware of the blaring 'dance lessons', where the instructor repeats "un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept" ad naseum.
I saw mariachi guys sipping from brown paper bags, getting ready to play in the tent, but the rain drove us off before they started.
Also a regular band set-up on the stage for more music later on.
Just thought I'd post a few picts