Calle Ocho is coined as being the largest Hispanic festival in the nation (although I would guess there are few Puerto Ricans in New York that would take issue with that statement). Calle Ocho is a one day festival spanning 23 blocks in Little Havana and is a way for Cubans to celebrate and share their culture. A culture, which includes great music, Cuba Libre (rum and coke), beautiful women showing a lot of skin, and some of the most flavor packed food in the world. The festival has been going strong since 1978 and in 1998 was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Record for having the largest conga line.
Walking down a side street making our way to the festival you can feel the energy and hear the pulsating Latin beats and drums. Stepping on to 8th street there were throngs of people, young and old, all shapes and all sizes. Dredging through the sea of people, some dancing and, waving flags while singing. I found the smell of food intoxicating (or maybe it was the Cuba Libre).
I have to say I really appreciate Cubans and their love for pork. Everywhere I turned; there was pork, pork being grilled, pork being fried, someone basting pork with mojo (a sour orange based marinade with garlic and spices) or someone devouring pork. There was pork on a stick, pork on a pit, pork on a spit, I thought I had died and went to pork heaven. I stepped up to one of the vendors who was frying pork chunks putting them on a stick, basting it with mojo then grilling it….excellent.
We navigated our way down an alley behind one of the many stages. Ian (my ambassador to Miami and unofficial Mayor of Miami) got us into a private party catered by Key Bites Catering. At Calle Ocho my eyes were treated to some of the most gorgeous Latin women Miami had to offer but what I saw at the table was such a beautiful sight that it almost brought a tear to my eye…A whole pig filled with rice and beans which had taken the flavor of the pig. The rice and beans were awesome and had taken the flavor of the pig. The skin of the pig was crunchy and the meat tender and full of flavor. The owner of Key Bites, a jolly Cuban man, Jorge Luzarrago who came from Cuba in the 1960s as a child and food has always held food as a major part of his life. I thanked him for making my day and presenting a pig in a way I had never seen.
We began heading back towards the stage where Cuban-American, reggeaton star Pitbull would be performing. Anyone who knows me understands that I am not a fan of reggeaton and I dislike Pitbull with a passion. Every time one of his songs comes on I look at the radio with discontent and change the channel then wonder how this guy could be famous. Putting my hate aside I figured it would be nice to see this crowd go nuts over the Miami born star. When Pitbull hit the stage wearing a white Don Johnson style suit and a powder blue button down, the place went insane. Cuban flags took to the air, people danced and jumped up and down. I looked up to see people dancing on rooftops to the back drop of a blue Miami sky. I don’t know if it was the bottle of rum that was attached to my mouth all day, or just the atmosphere of the day but I quickly found myself becoming a Pitbull fan. The songs I was never able to finish because I thought they sucked now had me bouncing up and down and trying to sing the words (which was tough because I didn’t know them and most were in Spanish).I gained a lot of respect for him because he put on one hell of a show. The background music was recorded but it had a live feel because there was a live drummer and congo player.
As the sun set the festival shutdown and vendors packed up. The streets were still buzzing with people and we made our way to the car happy and full (still trying to figure out how I ended up in a Red Lobster then almost got kicked out for putting my hand in the lobster tank, grabbing a lobster and kissing it…I will save that story for another post). I have been in Florida for over three years and don’t understand why this was my first time at Calle Ocho. The people were warm and friendly, the food was amazing as were sounds of Latin music that danced up and down 8th Street. I enjoy festivals like this that transport you to another place for a few hours. I may never get to go to Havana but through the food and music, I get a feeling of what it might be like. I look forward to next March when this party rolls around again and just maybe I will learn the words to a Pitbull song so I can sing along……well not sure about that one.
P.S. I just found out that while I was watching Pitbull on 26th street, my favorite rapper Rick Ross was on stage on 17th street……I officially don’t like Pitbull anymore!