Dia de Portugal Festival (San Jose)

Dia de Portugal Festival is an event that occurs in many places throughout the world in honor of a Portuguese national holiday (June 10th 2006). The bay area festival occurred in Kelley Park in San Jose, a historical park I've been to a few times before because our company picnics have sometimes been held there. The location has a similar feel to that of the Celtic Festival in that both are settings from a bygone era, but Kelley Park is a town setting: main stream, small grove, old school ice cream parlor, old hotel, small church-like building, water tower, trolley, etc. Of course, none of these buildings (except for the ice cream parlor) are used for their original purpose anymore but the feeling of them is there.

However, I didn't originally know the festival was in the historic section of Kelley Park. On the way to Kelley Park, I parked in the first labeled park entrance I saw, not knowing there was others. I saw two large barbecue parties with many latinos or iberians and signs about those areas being reserved for private parties. I wondered where the public part of the festival could be. Seeing some open gates, I wandered through and found myself at many booths being taken down, all labeled with ice cream names and puns of animal names. It turns out I'd stumbled upon the aftermath of an event for kids, the Ice Cream Zoofari. Wandering around more, I found myself in a zoo (who knew San Jose had one?). After walking by a number of animals, it occurred me these animals were more exotic than those at the Alderwood Historic Farm and I should take pictures of them. I took one, but before I could set up and take another I was gently encouraged to leave the zoo. It seemed the zoo closed at the end of the Zoofari, quite a while ago, and the only reason I found myself in it is because I wandered through a back entrance they hadn't yet locked.

Driving around the parking lot, I didn't see anything that looked like the Dia de Portugal Festival. I parked and checked the internet, and Kelley Park is indeed where it was supposed to be. So I decided to drive the perimeter and attempt to find it. No further than two hundred yards down from this entrance, I started seeing signs for the festival and additional parking. Parking in a better and closer lot, I followed signs to where the festival actually was.

Once at the festival, after glancing briefly at the half a dozen retail booths, all selling Portuguese books and themed t-shirts and the like, I discovered the museum. Although I'd been at this park multiple times before, I never knew the museum was there.

The Portuguese Museum (photograph) was good. Filling up two sizable rooms, it covered Portuguese contributions to the world, from the exploration done by the Portuguese in the middle of the last millennium, to Portugal's later imperial expansion, to more recent and more local issues answering questions such as how did California end up with a Portuguese populace. Answer: many came in the nineteenth century when the Pacific whaling trade was large and California (particularly Monterey) served as an important base for it. I was impressed that the Portuguese had such expansive trade relations so early: by 1513, Portugal had trade relations with North and South America, Japan, and even India, all via ship.

The museum also had good coverage of religion and how it influenced Portugal's development and the average Portuguese person's life. Overall I found the whole museum a short but quality introduction to six hundred years of Portuguese history and, to some extent, culture.

There wasn't much to the festival besides the music stage, those retail booths, the food booths, and the co-located museum. But the food booths were cool! They had a wide variety of Portuguese food, with a wider selection of ethnic food than at any festivals I've previously attended (including all those Greek festivals I went to last year).

They had a nice sign/menu listing all the food all the booths offered. To start, I tried the sopas, a stew of bread and cabbage with brisket and pork on the side, both may have been meant to be mixed in. The starch (bread) and cabbage reminded me a little of eastern European cuisine. The stew flavor wasn't bad, but sogginess of the bread gave it the (unpleasant to me) texture of fat. The brisket was fine though a little dry, and mixing it with the rest of the stew didn't help or hurt. The pork (with skin?!) was about 75% fat (!); the meat in the pork was pretty good and mixing it with the stew added some nice richness. I wonder what cut of pig had so much fat! Overall, a decent enough item to try but not particularly good.

While eating it, I listened to a band warm up. In particular, a musician was practicing his electric guitar with very American sounds, and this seemed out of place to me. Soon after though they jumped into fairly energetic Portuguese pop/rock music and the dance floor (grass in front of the stage) rapidly filled up (with people doing, I believe, the two-step).

Heading back to the food court, I ordered a container of lacassa ("Macanese style noodles"). These were flavorful fried vermicelli noodles mixed with ground beef, chiles, tiny drops of pork, and miniature chunks of tofu (or what might have been hard boiled eggs, it's hard to tell because they were so small). I saved some leftovers for later.

Finally, I peaked at one of the dessert booths and the friendly person inside happily translated the names of the desserts into English for me. I chose a slice of the fig cake and took it home for later. Nice and moist and with a fruity though not particularly figgy flavor.

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