Growing up in the diverse cultural landscape of Atlanta, Georgia, I have become somewhat familiar with authentic Latin cuisine. I’m a fan of Latin staples such as street style tacos, empanadas and tamales, but I haven’t seen much of these foods since moving into Oxford this fall.
That changed last Friday when I went to the UniDiversity Festival Uptown and was treated with some truly amazing food and a glimpse into the vibrant culture from which it originated.
I started off the evening with a classic pair of street tacos as well as a quesadilla from El Cardenal. I was told to try the Tacos el Pastor and the chorizo quesadilla, which I ordered in addition to the carne asada taco, a go-to of mine. In addition to chorizo, an Iberian sausage, the quesadilla was also stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes and pickled jalapenos and of course, cheese.
The heat and smokiness of the chorizo paired well with the fresh and subtle sweetness of the lettuce and tomato, but I didn’t taste much cheese. Whether or not this was intentional, it also meant there wasn’t much holding the quesadilla together, so by the time I was finished, my hands and tray were covered in chorizo. Overall, it would’ve been a lot better with more cheese.
Next, I moved onto my tacos. El pastor is traditionally made with marinated pork shoulder and is commonly prepared with pineapple. El Cardenal’s iteration featured what tastes like grilled pork accompanied by a subtle pineapple flavor, which is different from most tacos el pastor that I’ve had, which have primarily featured smoked pork with grilled pineapple.
The taco had a smoky and slightly sweet flavor, and it paired well with the truck’s mild green salsa which added a subtle but satisfying herbal bitterness. The carne asada took on a familiar taste with its deep, beefy flavor and worked well with the hotter salsa option, which was much smokier than its mild green counterpart. From there however, things only got better.
I continued over to a stand selling street corn and tamales, where I tried a cob of authentic Mexican maize and a pork tamale, as was recommended. The street corn was a highlight of the night for sure. It was perfectly cooked, providing a satisfying balance of crunch and tenderness. The seasoning and cotija cheese on top made this a crunchy, smoky and tangy recipe for success that I couldn’t be pulled away from.
The tamale was wrapped in a tender and flavorful “masa” that reminded me of a cornbread casserole that contained tender and flavorful smoked pork. Topped off with hot sauce and sour cream, this tamale did not disappoint.
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Lastly, I enjoyed my favorites of the night, courtesy of the Arepa Place. I ordered one cheese Arepa, not fully sure what to expect, as well as a chicken empanada. As I waited for my empanada to cool, I dug into the starchy, cheese arepa.
As the night went on, the line for this place continued to grow. The flavor of this Colombian staple reminded me of a polish pierogi pastry containing potato and cheese. Arepa is typically made with cornmeal. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the one I had was made with potato due to its fluffy and starchy consistency that coexisted among gooey, melted cheese. The herbal green salsa paired very well, but these arepas are in a league of their own and can be easily enjoyed solo.
I then moved on to my chicken empanada. The shell was much crunchier than I’m used to, but it provided a lovely contrast to the soft, tender chicken.
Overall, I had a great evening of being immersed into Latin and Caribbean culture through its people, music and of course, food.