If there were such a thing as a sexy cuisine, Latin American food would win hands down. Smokey meats, fruity cocktails and eating with your fingers in the warm balmy weather; Latin food just celebrates good times. Mexican food is taking Auckland by storm, and the rest of Latin American cuisine cannot be far behind.
The Rice and Beans Festival was held at Silo Park by the waterfront on 23rd February and tagged as an afternoon of Caribbean and Latin American food and music ‘extravaganza’. I am a total pleb when it comes to music, but being a slave to new flavours, I was excited to come down and partake of the edible offerings.
Well, there were mostly disappointments and a few delights. I don’t know what your interpretation of extravaganza is; but there were about a dozen stalls selling food and drinks. I get it that most of us haven’t been to the motherland of Latin American cuisine, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t tell a pretty average taco from a great one. And there were quite a few average tacos.
The Mexi-kai truck is a delight, – the Mexican Festival of the Dead caricatures and bright colours is sure to bring a smile to your face. That’s where the fun stops. The tacos are expensive ($5 each, or $12 for 3 small tacos), cold (I was expecting a warm taco, but these was obviously removed from a cool store earlier that day), and the flavours were underwhelming. I was expecting punchy fresh flavours but the meats were dry and fillings were underflavoured. Not a good start.
There was a Brazillian stall selling feijoada (a stew of beans and sausages served on rice, $10), but I stayed away after a South American girl commented that they were pretty average.
The Jamaican Me Hungry stall had jerk chicken and pork ribs cooking in a drum grill. The barbeque meats were sizzling and there was a option of festivals, – which turned out to be deep-fried sweet cornmeal breads. I was sold, – the jerk pork with festivals ($10) was delicious (even if less spicy than I expected), with the crispy charred crust and piquant sauce. My portion of pork was very fatty, which downgraded the dish, but overall, the flavours were excellent.
I ended my lunch with a paleta ($4 each or $10 for 3), a Kiwi version of the Latin American fruit ice block. I have had the raspberry and cream version previously (highly recommended) and tried the passionfruit mango block. This wasn’t as successful, the mango pieces were underripe and too chewy and tasteless to be in an ice block.
There were several other stalls selling fried breads, enchiladas and tapas. These all look like Kiwi-fied versions of the real things. The churros truck arrived late, and I was too full by the time they got set up. Most of these food trucks can be found at the Saturday Pakuranga or Sunday Glenfied Night Markets.
There was also a Capoeira game demonstration. It started off very lethargic, but gradually built tempo as they showcased the more senior members of the club. The acrobatics of the experts was fascinating to watch. It was supposed to be a Brazilian martial art, but it seemed very much like play dancing.
I apologise for being negative in my review; I was looking forward to a real taste experience, but received a dumbed down version of Latin American food. It’s disappointing when food sellers don’t showcase authentic cuisine. I would hope that most of us are intrepid enough to have travelled, have friends and family that span several continents and have learnt to appreciate different flavours and textures.
The biggest plus is that the Auckland Council has done an amazing transformation of the space. Silo Park is a great outdoor space, and these events are ideal in getting people out and about to enjoy it.