With performers from out of town, great food, interesting cultural vendors, and a large, comfortable venue, the 2016 Mexican Pavilion at Folklorama offers an all around enjoyable experience that will not leave you disappointed.
The entertainment is lively and engaging, with flashing vibrant colours and a touch of humour and romance. The professional dance group Ballet Folklórico El Mazatleco del CETIS 127 from Mazatlan Sinaloa, Mexico, puts on a visually stunning show.
They have multiple costume changes and incorporate real machetes and tequila bottles into their dances.
The Mariachi Continental band gives a passionate performance. Their quick-paced numbers accompany the dancers seamlessly.
During one of their final songs, I get a little emotional as they sang the refrain, Mexico, Mexico, Mexico with pride in their voices. It’s a beautiful moment.
A professional performance
The show is well received by the audience. Ben and Diane, who give only their first names, describe it as “fabulous.” They’re from Winnipeg and have been attending Folklorama for the past five years.
They say the festival gives them an opportunity to see great shows, while supporting their friends and community members who perform in different pavilions.
Diane notes that some Folklorama pavilions have great local entertainment, but it’s nice when they bring in acts from around the world.
“They’re all good…but when you get to see a professional show, like these guys [at the Mexican pavilion], it’s amazing,” Ben says. “These guys are very well choreographed, very synchronized, very professional.”
The food is nicely seasoned and not too spicy, with prices ranging from $5-12. I enjoy the $12 combo plate. It has a nice selection of meat, Mexican rice, salad, and taco shells. The Bistec Ranchero (beef) is sweet, almost like a salsa, the Pollo Chipotle (chicken) is juicy and full of flavour with a slight kick, and the Carnitas (pork) is tender and delicious.
There is also Arroz con Leche (sweet rice in cream) for dessert and a wide selection of drinks available, including sangria, Jarritos, Sidral, and seven different brands of tequila.
The theme of this year’s pavilion is “Mariachi and Tequila, The Heart of Mexico” with a focus on the state of Jalisco.
The cultural display highlights the process of producing tequila, from the harvesting of the blue agave plant, through to distillation and bottling. There is also an overview of the history of the Mariachi band and different musical instruments on display.
Compared to the high energy of the rest of the pavilion, the cultural display seems a little lacking, possibly because there is a lot of empty space in the room. A friendly volunteer quickly greets us, though, and offers additional information about the displays.
If you’re a fan of the heat, Mayra Dubon and her husband, of JC’s Tacos and More, sell locally produced hot sauces at the pavilion. Their sauces come in unique flavours, such as pineapple, blueberry, strawberry and mango.
The hottest sauce they sell has habanera and ghost peppers in it. The label says, “Be weary. XXX. Extreme. Keep away from children.”
Dubon says the sauce is no joke. “I’m Mexican and I’m very careful about [using] it. I like it, it’s got a real good flavour, but it’s ‘handle with care.'”
The Dubons got into the hot sauce business in a round-about way. They owned a convenience store, but faced an ethical dilemma about selling junk food to kids.
“We got tired of seeing the children coming for lunch or after school, buying chips, a drink, and a chocolate bar. We wouldn’t even feed our kids what we were selling,” says Dubon.
One day, they reached a breaking point. “We just couldn’t do it anymore.” They sold their store and opened a restaurant, where they cook everything from scratch with real ingredients.
All of the meat they use in JC’s Tacos and More comes from a farm in Carmen, MB and is organic and free range. According to Dubon, “We pay premium price, but it’s food that we would eat. We feel very comfortable serving it to others.”
Since they cook everything from scratch, it was a natural progression to make their own hot sauces.
Although they own a restaurant and have run the kitchen at the Mexican Pavilion before, they’re not involved with the food this year.
“We take turns, so that everybody gets a chance to participate…and appreciate. You don’t know how hard it is, until you are there [running the kitchen],” she says with a laugh.
Dubon highlights the vital role volunteers play in supporting a pavilion. “Otherwise, this doesn’t happen. You can want and want, but if you’re not willing to help, then nothing is going to happen.”
Authentic Mexican goods for sale
There are several other vendors selling handmade Mexican goods and authentic foods at the pavilion. Everything La Bodega sells is hand-crafted in Mexico from naturally sourced wood, clay, metal, wool, glass, copper, and leather.
Susan Smandych says they deal directly with the people who make the goods as much as possible. “Once you get to know the people who make [the goods], it becomes a labour of love,” she says.
Smandych also has lots of praise for The Mex Y Can Association of Manitoba, which organizes the pavilion. “It’s an awesome organization… they work so hard.”
Centrally located downtown, the RBC Convention Centre is a venue most people are familiar with. There is free street parking downtown after 5:30 p.m.
It is an extra large venue with lots of space. It is well planned out with distinct areas for food, alcohol, cultural displays, and vendors. It isn’t hot or stuffy, as some venues can be. There is good air circulation and temperature control. The pavilion is on the third floor, which is easily accessible by escalator and elevator.
The tables closest to the stage are reserved for VIP tours, as is common at most pavilions, but there are still lots of seats with a great view of the stage. If you stand at the back of the room, you can still see the performances clearly.
A professional and personal experience
The Mexican Pavilion does a great job managing the large groups of people who come through the pavilion, while still maintaining a personal feel. The staff and vendors are friendly and the performers are approachable and available for photo opportunities between the shows.
I highly recommend visiting the Mexican Pavilion. The show is not the same every night, so you can visit more than once and see different costumes, dances, and songs by the same performers. There will also be late night parties on Friday and Saturday.