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Arroz con gandules (top) with pernil (below).
Arroz con gandules (top) with pernil (below).

By Tom Hanchett

When Charlotte’s ninth annual Puerto Rican Festival cranks up this Saturday in Marshall Park, don’t miss the roast pork.

There’ll be music, to be sure. Nine ensembles will share a range of Latin sounds — from brassy big-band salsa by Charlotte’s popular Orquesta Mayor, to young vocal duo NG2 coming direct from Puerto Rico.

“I’m most excited about Odilio González,” says Alba Colon-Nieves, who organizes the festival with Charlotte’s Puerto Rican Cultural Society. “He tours throughout Latin America, a singer of the traditional Puerto Rican music.” González’s jíbaro style records, dating back to the 1960s, influenced pop star José Feliciano among others.

While you listen, don’t miss a rare chance to sample down-home Puerto Rican cuisine. Nearly a dozen vendors will be on hand. Most cook for catering clients but seldom get to show off their traditions in public.

Tara Quinones’s parents came from Puerto Rico to New York City.
Tara Quinones’s parents came from Puerto Rico to New York City.

One will be Tara Quinones, whose busy Monroe-based Catering by Tara serves Olde Providence Racquet Club among others. She grew up outside of New York City in the Catskills where her Puerto Rican family ran a popular resort, a destination for Latinos.

For the festival she’ll make pernil with arroz con gandules — roast pork with rice-and-pigeon-peas. “My family, we were raised on this meal,” she says with pride.

She rubs the pork with a homemade spice mix called sofrito, then slow-roasts it for hours. The skin becomes leathery and crunchy, locking in juices. Grab a bit of the skin, called cuero, for a taste treat. At her family table, “if you’re dumb enough to get up from your seat, we’ll steal your cuero,” she laughs.

The festival opens that family table to all Charlotteans. “As Puerto Ricans we are U.S. citizens, of course. But it’s like being from another country with our special food, our music,” says Colon-Nieves. “For me it’s about our culture. Showing what we are.”

A sofrito rub gives the roast pork a leathery, crunchy exterior called cuero.
A sofrito rub gives the roast pork a leathery, crunchy exterior called cuero.

Puerto Rican Festival
(free admission, pay by the item for food)
Saturday July 23, 2016 Noon – 8 p.m.

In Marshall Park, 800 E. 3rd St., corner of S. McDowell St. uptown
Charlotte, NC 28202
(704) 777 – 0670

Center City & nearby
Carolina apple cider
Indian street food
Greens from South Carolina
Upstate NY Italian sausage
Swiss-German bakery
Blackberry memories of Brooklyn
Puerto Rican kabobs
South Boulevard, South Tryon & southward
Mexico + Greece = holiday treats
Cuban box pig
Snack foods from India
SC meets Vietnam
Little corner of El Salvador
Arepas from Venezuela
Indian sweets for Diwali
Colombian soup
Korean at China Wing
Indian food in south Charlotte
Mexican take-out
Mexican Tamaleria
Fort Mill — real Chinese
Ready for Laotian food in Charlotte?
Psst! There’s a European Market hidden just south of Ballantyne
Independence Boulevard, Monroe Road & environs
Nigeria in east Charlotte
Korean BBQ
Brazilian bakery
Secret Greek grocery
Colombian BBQ & snacks
Detroit hot dogs
New York bagels
Halal Latino
Russian-Turkish Grocery
Iran Kabobs in Matthews
Ramen in Matthews
Russian picnic fare
Armenia in Matthews
Katayef – holiday dessert at Pita Kabab in Matthews
Crispy NJ pizza comes to east Charlotte
Central Av, Albemarle Road & vicinity
Family-style Ethiopian
Dominican street food
Jamaican black cake
Somali stew and sides
Schawarma from Jerusalem
Oriental buns
Greek pastries
Bosnian sausages
‘Tis the Season for Champurrado
Latino bakery feeds a region
Taste Monterrey, Mexico
Tamales in Plaza Midwood
One restaurant, three Latino traditions
Guatamala in east Charlotte
Mexican Seafood
You buy – We fry
Dominican Deli
French/Vietnamese pastry arrives in east Charlotte

North Tryon, UNCC area & northward
Asian Moon Cakes
Mexican carnitas
Beef on Weck from Buffalo
Dominican fruit shakes, pressed subs
Mexican ice cream
Louisiana Viet crawfish
Salvadoran comfort food
NYC pastries – Lake Norman
Vegetarian eats from south India
Indian Dosa Night
Middle East via Lynx
Bahn Mi Brothers
Ethiopian sandwiches
Turkish near UNCC
BBQ from Pakistan
Find a taste of Hyderabad at Nawabs Kebabs
The Patio at Our Lady of Guadalupe
NC fish camps
Fried baloney
Grits & cornmeal
El Tamarindo
Laos in Kings Mountain
Lawrence Caribbean
Multiple Places & Food Trucks
5 eateries for Black History Month
Charlotte’s International food scene
South’s Love Affair with Soft Drinks
5 Places to “Eat Northern”
Northern Favorites: Six More Eateries
Curry journey: Vietnam, Trinidad, India
Spiedies – Food Truck
5 best bites on Albemarle Road
Lao Sausages – Food Truck
Western Indian – Food Truck
Himalayan flavors – Food Truck
Shaved ice goes global in Charlotte