You could smell the Festival Hispano de Pascagoula before laying eyes on the Saturday street fair.
It was the recognizable smell of masa and corn tortillas cooking on hot griddles at one of the many food booths as the sounds of Santana filled River Park during Saturday’s celebration of Latin culture.
The one-day festival also featured art, information booths and activities for kids. But the food was the main draw — and there was plenty of authentic Mexican street food to be found.
There were the traditional Mexican sandwiches known as tortas, as well as empanadas, sopas and traditional tacos, which have meat and cilantro inside warm corn tortillas. And there were tamales.
While many people in South Mississippi were getting ready to watch the Alabama-Ole Miss and Mississippi State-LSU football games, many of the vendors at the street fair were there to take home the bragging rights of having the best tamales in Jackson County.
Estephany Cedeno, a graduate of Pascagoula High School, was there selling food with her mother and grandmother, including their tamales, which just happened to be the winner of last year’s tamale competition.
“We’re selling tamales, gorditas and sopas,” Cedeno said.
When pressed about why her family’s tamales are the best, Cedeno would not give away any secrets.
“They are good because they are my grandmother’s recipe and this is how she has made them for years,” she said. “They are stuffed with pork — we had some chicken tamales but we sold out of them in less than an hour.”
However, savory treats were not the only items available for purchase at the festival.
Monica Martinez, a senior at Vancleave High School, was there selling aguas frescas, or fresh fruit juices.
“We have a cantaloupe and pineapple,” she said.
She said her family members, including her mother, Maria Martinez, are immigrants from Mexico.
“She and my aunt have been in Mississippi for several years,” the teen said. “Fresh fruit slices and fresh fruit juices are very popular at food stands in Mexico.”