Fiesta! San Antonio 2010

It's Fiesta time in San Antonio . . .   think of it as our peculiar version of Mardi Gras. Another friend described it as a city-wide, week-long block party, but it has grown to become all things to all San Antonians. It began as a parade in the 1890s to commemorate the victory of the Battle of San Jacinto, where people rode around in carriages and threw flowers at each other. But everybody wanted to get into the act; now Fiesta covers ten days and takes in just about every part of town and every socio-economic element.

There is a grand debutante coronation, where the two-dozen daughters of local elite wear gowns and trains crusted with about fifty pounds of rhinestones, sequins and metal-thread-embroidery (I am not making this up!), a raunchy variety show that sends up the whole concept (not making up that part, either!), half a dozen elaborate parades; one of which is an evening torch-light parade, and another is on flat-boats along the San Antonio River - an open-air oyster-bake, and exhibitions, parties, open houses, athletic contests, pageants, shows and concerts all over the city. It's an excuse for people to dress up in strange costumes, eat, drink, party hearty and bash total strangers over the head with confetti-filled eggs. Like New Orleans Mardi Gras - but perhaps a bit more couth. The crowds along the parade routes don't yell at the girls on the floats to show their tits; they ask them to show their shoes. Under their ornate and gorgeous gowns, they are usually wearing running shoes or crocs. One year, when rain threatened, one of the debutants was wearing swim fins, which earned her quite a lot of laugher and applause.

The culinary crown-jewel just might be NIOSA, or Night in Old San Antonio, a sprawling four night long food-fest in La Villita, sponsored by the San Antonio Conservation Society.  The extraordinary thing is that just about all of it is good and not terribly expensive, either. It's organized roughly by ethnic neighborhoods; Mexican foods all clustered together, regular American (mostly barbeque of various animal parts) a hugely popular booth with egg rolls and other orientalia, a French-Cajun section offering jambalaya and delicacies like  . . . umm, snails, and the German neighborhood, featuring sausages, pretzels and cream-horns. Many of the food booths have been run by the same set of volunteers for years, and they have done a lot of tinkering with the TexMex recipes, besides cooking it all from scratch. (One variant of meat-onna-stick is famous locally - this is one recipe for it, but apparently the original was done with beef hearts. It's a Peruvian specialty; one of the volunteers adapted the recipe for American palates years ago.)

The last time we did NIOSA, we even dared to try escargot; snails to you. Having had a couple of cups of beer first helped. Three dark little wads of gelatinacous phlegm drenched in melted butter and garlic and served on a slice of baguette; which proves that if you throw enough melted butter and fresh garlic on anything, you have a chance of rendering it edible. Not appetizing, but at least edible.

It is entirely possible to do a whole fifteen-course dinner, just walking from booth to booth, grazing; appetizers, fish course, vegetable, entree, salad, dessert- eating out of hand as you walked. NIOSA kicks in next Tuesday and runs to Friday night. Bring your appetite and try the snails. At least once.