First-Ever Empanada Fest Celebrates Hispanic Food and Culture | Whiting News

WHITING — The sounds and smells of Hispanic culture filled the air at Whiting Lakefront Park on Saturday as large crowds drove and walked for the first Empanada Fest, a brainchild of the new Hispanic Heritage organization from the city.

Whiting councilor Rebeca Uñate Michko, D-2nd, is president of the group and said she couldn’t believe the day had finally arrived for the festival he started planning last fall.

“I’m totally excited to bring culture here,” said Uñate Michko.

She said she was unaware the city had already held an event to celebrate Hispanic heritage, and if this year’s festival is a success, the plan is to make it an annual event.

The timing was perfect as National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15.

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A full day of musical entertainment with a Hispanic flavor that included dancers, an all-female mariachi band, a salsa band, and free salsa lessons served to create a lively atmosphere, and food was also a major focus.

There were not only empanadas but also tacos, quesadillas, burritos, elotes and even barbecue and pierogi for those with different tastes.

Ricardo Muñoz is also a member of the Whiting Hispanic Heritage Organization and said it was nice to see the smiles on people’s faces as they enjoyed the party.

“It’s really gratifying to see it come to fruition,” Muñoz said.

Muñoz said the festival can serve as a way to preserve Hispanic traditions.

“I think the general excitement we’ve received throughout the planning process, especially over the past week, just shows, I think, the need in the community, especially in northwest Indiana, to festivals like this,” Muñoz said.

There was something for everyone at the festival: bouncy houses in the family section, or ‘familia’, a beer garden, 18 craft vendors and 13 food vendors and food trucks.

Noah Watkins of Whiting had fun playing the popular character Mr. Pierogi from the Whiting Pierogi Fest.

The 12-year-old boy wore a taco suit and sombrero and called himself Señor Taco.

The concept of an empanada is similar to a pierogi in that it is a pastry filled with an endless combination of savory or sweet fillings.

Esmeralda Velasco of Chicago and Bernice Calderon of Park Ridge came from Illinois after learning about the festival through Facebook.

They waited in a long empanada line, and Calderon said she wished she’d seen more vendors selling the treat.

“But this is their first year,” Calderon said.

Kristin Swallow, from Highland, tried the tacos while her son, Austin, had a tamale.

“We’ve been to Pierogi Fest before and enjoyed it,” Swallow said. “Everyone likes tacos, so we thought we’d give it a try. And it looks like a good start for the first one.”

Swallow enjoyed the lakeside location.

“This beach looks quite pretty,” she said. “We will have to come back here one day.”

Heather Van Dommelen, from Sauk Village, Illinois, was more than happy with her food selection.

“These are the best tacos I’ve ever had,” she said after sampling the offerings from Flako’s Tacos food truck.

Van Dommelen liked that the festival was held in the park rather than downtown Whiting.

“It seems to be a little more open,” she said.

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