“There aren’t as many people this year,” said one merchant working the fairgrounds yesterday. “Last year, the parking lot was full.” He gestured to the grassy fields that served as a parking area, which were mostly empty.
No one could pinpoint exactly why the Chicharrón Fair in Puriscal was so quiet this year, but there were some convincing theories: Organizers had failed to procure the usual carnival rides, one of the big draws for families. Indeed, there was hardly a child to be found. Many of the vendors were not based in Santiago de Puriscal, a town nestled in the mountains west of San José, where the chicharrón is famously well-prepared. Also, the sky was overcast and passing rain showers kept even more people at bay. Even the shack reserved for handling a boa constrictor didn’t attract many customers.
However, for the 100 or so people wandering the fairgrounds on Saturday, the fair’s fare was still delicious. Throughout the Spanish-speaking world, chicharrón is generally defined as pork rinds, and it is eaten alone or in various platters, including and Costa Rican chifrijo and Nicaraguan vigorón. But at the Chicharrón Fair, the preparation is much meatier – entire blocks of pork are fried on the spot, mixed with vegetables, pico de gallo, and yucca, then voraciously devoured.
“This type is called chilopo,” said Arnoldo Zúñiga, owner of Cheese & Steak Bar in Cartago, as he cut the meat. “I serve it with a special blend of cheeses, Turrialba and some others. It’s delicious.”
Despite the absence of toro bullfights and rusty rides, participants managed to find things to do: A group of young men threw around a Frisbee, people browsed the gift stalls, and some people paid a modest ₡20,000 ($40) for a helicopter ride around Puriscal’s breathtaking alpine countryside. When the rain started to fall and patrons headed for cover beneath the chicharrón tents, people started ordering exponentially greater numbers of bottles of Imperial.
Maybe it will be better next year.