The Islenos are a group of Canary Islands descendents whose ancestors immigrated to various locations around South Louisiana as part of a military recruitment by the Spanish government in the late 18th century.
A group of descendants in St. Bernard formed a organization to help preserve the culture and heritage of their ancestors and hold an annual Fiesta to raise money for that cause. The Fiesta features your typical array of crafts, souvenirs, and activities, but the real treat are the traditional musicians and dancers who fly in from the Canary Islands. They dress in the period costumes of when they first arrived in Louisiana and perform songs and dances which help recreate the culture of that time.
And of course there is food! Sure, there are the standard items you find at any festival; hamburgers, hot dogs, funnel cakes, etc., but the real treats are the Spanish dishes.
Bacon Wrapped Plantains
Some of the appetizer type foods sold are shown above. The plantains are excellent. A small strip of bacon is wrapped around a chunk of plantain with a toothpick and deep fried. The slight sweetness of the plantain and the saltiness of the bacon taste excellent together.
One of the stars of the show is the paella. For those unfamiliar, paella is a rice based dish typically containing a variety of meats and/or seafood, and seasoned with saffron. Our beloved jambalaya is like the bastard son of paella, originating in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Spaniards who had come to the New World were attempting to make paella, but couldn't find saffron, due to the high cost of importing it. Tomatoes became the substitute and Creole jambalaya was born. To be honest, this wasn't one of the best versions I've had, but considering the large quantities that it is prepared in, it was pretty tasty.
New this year to the Fiesta was the welcome addition of a tapas and wine bar, sponsored by the St. Bernard Parish Tourist Commission. They had a nice selection of three Spanish wines. Sangre de Toro and Campo Viejo Crianza, are tasty red wines, well reviewed and economically priced. The Gran Feudo Rosado is a rose wine, a lighter version of the other two wines, with similar flavors but a crisper and fruitier taste.
The tapas selection consisted of two Spanish cheeses, Manchego and Mahón, some chorizo, and a very typical Spanish dish called tortilla de patatas. This dish is made from eggs, fried potatoes, and onions, serving as a base to which any number of things can be added. The variety of ingredients put into one of these typically depends on what region of Spain you are located in.
I have to admit though, that my favorite thing to chow down on at the Fiesta every year are the grilled oysters. I'm a huge fan of oysters and these are plump, salty, and freshly shucked then topped with a delicious mixture of melted butter, mashed garlic, parsley, and parmesan cheese. They are grilled just long enough to absorb all those flavors and not dry out.
Of course you gotta have dessert, and they have the traditional flan, a custard based dessert topped with creme caramel sauce. Bueno!
So keep your calendar open toward the end of March next year to attend the Fiesta. It's a great mix of history, culture, and a chance to sample some tradition non-Cajun foods of Louisiana.