January 25, 2012

by Ann Walker

Yuma is a great place to get a taste of Mexico whether or not you cross the border. Sharing borders and centuries of history with both Sonora and Baja California, this area abounds with authentic sabor (flavor) – and bountiful fields growing the ingredients for a truly local cuisine.

Like much of Arizona, Yuma was part of Mexico long before it was part of the United States. Spanish explorers first arrived in 1540 and padres and pioneers from New Spain traveled to California via the Anza Trail and the Yuma Crossing in the late 1700s. Yuma and the lands south of the Gila River only became U.S. territory in 1854.

Because the border crossed us before we crossed the border, Yuma remains more diverse than the rest of the state, with about 60 percent of county residents proudly claiming Hispanic heritage. But Yumans of all backgrounds join in bidding visitors bienvenida y comer bien (welcome and eat well)!

While sampling Mexican food here is as easy as picking up a Yuma Visitors Guide (download or request printed copy at www.visityuma.com), here are a few ways to make it even simpler.

Plan your visit around a festival

The little farming town of Somerton will host its 5th Annual Tamale Festival December 17 (2011), with scores of vendors competing for “best” honors in a dizzying array of categories (Did you know tamales come in sweet “dessert” varieties? Now you do!) Sponsored by El Diabilito ASU Alumni Club, this event also helps fund local scholarships, so come hungry and eat for a cause! Live music and entertainment, too. More info at www.somertontamalefestival.com or 928-388-4837.

To celebrate Arizona’s centennial, Yuma, San Luis and San Luis Rio Colorado (Son.) will host a “Barrier 2 Bridge” arts festival Feb. 10-19 (2012). Along with symposia, panels and forums, this multi-faceted border celebration will include a “Taste of San Luis” tasting event and outdoor concert, and a guided tour of San Luis Rio Colorado with lunch, shopping and entertainment. More info at www.sanluisarts.com or 928-341-8584.

For tacos in every flavor, make a date to attend the 2nd annual Yuma Taco Festival April 14 (2012), sponsored by the City of Yuma. Good thing it’s held at Desert Sun Stadium – you’ll need to take a few laps around the bases to work off all the tasty treats. Live music, entertainment and other vendors add to the fun. More info, 928-373-5040.

Take a cooking class

“Cooking with Sabor” classes at Main Street Café in Somerton use local produce in healthy versions of border cuisine – think tamales, nopales (cactus paddles), desserts and more, but minus the lard and deep-fat frying. An offshoot of the nonprofit Regional Center for Border Health, the café’s larger mission is to promote healthy eating and empower women by providing job training in the food service industry, so your fun afternoon helps to support a worthy program. Classes are held twice weekly from January through March, more info at www.somertonmainstreetcafe.com or 928-627-4744.

Join a Taco Trail Tour

For a south-of-the-border adventure that doesn’t require a passport, many locals enjoy a “taco truck tour,” cruising likely neighborhoods and stopping wherever smiling crowds are gathered around a food truck or grill. Fresh, made-to-order fare doesn’t get more authentic – or delicioso. But both venues and menus change often, and you may need to order by pointing if you don’t habla Español, which can be a little intimidating to gringo principiantes (beginners).

That’s why the Yuma Visitors Bureau is creating a series of “Taco Trail” culinary tours this year. Though the itineraries will vary, all will highlight authentic border fare in venues ranging from low-rent to high-falutin’ … perhaps starting with a salsa and margarita-making session at Tina’s Cocina, a wine and tapas stop at Yuma’s Main Squeeze winery, entrées at a “taco truck food court” (i.e. an open area where many trucks and vendors congregate) and ending with café con leche and flan for dessert at the elegant Julieanna’s Patio Café. Exact schedules and pricing are still in development, check back for more info at www.visityuma.com or 800-293-0071.

No matter how you go about it, Yuma’s a great place to discover the elemental truth of the motto emblazoned over the counter at local landmark Mr. G’s: Panza llena, el corazon contento -- Full belly, happy heart!

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January 25, 2012

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