For most of the year, residents of New Hampshire can struggle to find good, authentic Latin cuisine. But one summer day every year, St. Aloysius of Gonzaga parish in Nashua’s ‘Tree Street’ neighborhood makes things a little easier.
That’s when they hold their annual fundraiser – the Latino-American festival. The fest features foodie favorites from Mexico, Colombia, and El Salvador. The event celebrated its thirteenth year this past Sunday, and NHPR’s Jimmy Gutierrez went to grab a bite for Foodstuffs.
Eva Molina flips corn tortillas on a gas griddle. She’s wearing a red apron over a floral blouse dashed in greens. It matches the decorations of the tent she’s serving from. It’s also a sign that if you’re looking for Mexican food, Eva’s got you.
"This is Adobada, that’s pork and then we have carnitas here. So what’s all in this dish it looks like there’s a lot going on. This is a special pork with grandma’s recipe for the adobada. So it’s secret ingredients? Yes!"
Originally from Colima, Mexico, Eva’s been in Nashua for the past 17 years. She looks forward to sharing family recipes every year at the festival.
"We started from Wednesday to do the preparations. We buy fresh vegetables, everything is fresh."
Today, she’s been up since five for final prep work. She calls this a labor of love and points to family all around.
"My sister over there, Lucila, and I have Lupita here, she’s a friend and then my sister Berta over there and this is my brother-in-law, Marcel Antonio he’s cutting the meat."
Separating Eva’s family from the crowd are two six-foot folding tables. One’s filled with pork, carnitas and chicken, the other with all the necessary taco fixings. Behind the tables, there’s an assembly line passing cooked meat from the fryer to Marcel who’s waiting with machete in hand.
"We trying to share our culture because this is the only time that people get to try our food."
From the people I talk to, there’s not enough good, authentic Mexican, Ecuadorian, or Salvadorian food in New Hampshire. And events like this prove there could be.
"You have to have this! This is a must-have - cilantro and onions."
Holly from Nashua has been coming to the fest for the last four years. She’s here with her friend Angie, who says that Nashua’s ‘Tree Street’ neighborhood gets a bad rap and food is one way to counter that.
Food also brings people together and people that normally wouldn’t come into these restaurants can come here so now they’re more apt to go to the restaurants so that’s bringing more money into our community now.
Actually, none of the vendors at the festival have brick-and-mortar restaurants, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in sharing their food.
Jhoanny Marte is one of the day’s organizers and she tells me about an underground food scene where some of the same folks here today sell their favorite’s straight out of their kitchens. But to have access, you’ve got to be in the know about exactly when and where you can pick up.
Marte’s sister sells homemade tamales.
"They don’t see a need for a restaurant, it's food. You just need to eat. So for them, they’re educating themselves right now and this is the United States mentality and we really need to go this way. And they’re doing it, they’re trying very hard and they’re doing it."
She says food in these cultures is more connected with family than business. And events like this help the community connect more comfortably with the marketplace.
I tell her I wish I had access to all the food I had today: Eva’s tacos, Colombian empanadas, and a quesadilla from a family hand-rolling their tortillas on the spot.
Marte says that eating Mexican, Colombian, and Dominican food in New Hampshire is a reminder that food has no borders. And where there’s still some tension around immigration, it might be a key in opening doors.
When you feel that people are taking things from you it’s hard. But after you learn and you make the effort to learn then those things go away. And food helps. And food helps, who doesn’t like food?