TAMPA — Latin food, live music and dance performances gave Ybor City some extra Spanish flare this weekend.
Centro Tampa hosted its annual Festival del Sabor on Saturday afternoon, marking the kick-off of the 34th Hispanic Heritage Month in Tampa. The festival, which celebrates Tampa’s Hispanic culture, food, art and music, also marked the Spanish-language newspaper’s eight-year anniversary.
More than 8,000 festival-goers spent their afternoon in Ybor City Centennial Park, perusing vendors’ booths and watching the dance and musical performances.
Orlando Nieves, general manager of Centro, said the festival helps Hispanic residents of Tampa preserve the culture, traditions and language of the countries from which they and their families came.
“It’s a good crash course,” he said of the celebration.
Centro, a Spanish language newspaper, is owned by Tampa Media Group, which also owns The Tampa Tribune and TBO.com.
Thirty-one vendors, selling everything from paintings to handmade jewelry to shaved Italian ice, put up booths and displays. Five of Tampa’s popular, Latin-inspired food trucks set up at the edge of the park, including Taco Bus, Nico’s Arepas Grill and Sabor del Caribe.
Diana Molina, who moved to Tampa six months ago from Venezuela, brought her young son to the festival and sampled some of the menu items from Nico’s Arepas Grill, which serves Argentinian dishes.
“The food, the music is all really good,” Molina said.
Fabian Pesci, who lives in Orlando but is from Argentina, set up a booth to sell his pottery. It was the first time he had shown his work at the festival, he said, but he hopes to come back and participate in other Hispanic Heritage festivals in the area.
“It’s fun,” Pesci said. “I’ve been meeting new people and making new friends.”
The festival hosted a recipe contest early in the day, and the winners were a spicy arroz con pollo and jerk chicken dish, Nieves said. The festival judges also selected a “cultural ambassador” who will represent the non-profit group Tampa Hispanic Heritage at its events.
Carole Holway, managed to find a seat near the main stage for the performances and speeches. She has been the to festival before and is drawn to it by the music and her love of Ybor City.
She said the festival is a good way to promote and preserve the area’s Hispanic culture.
“What made Ybor City is our Hispanic heritage,” Holway said. “We have to keep that alive.”