I am a big fan of salsa: My father would make large batches regularly when I was a child, and when I visited my uncles, I was able to taste each of their own unique takes. I was pretty excited then when I heard that down at Steele Indian School Park there would be a salsa competition.
The event itself was sprawling: A large majority of the back end of the park was fenced off for the event. Booths lined the sides, with a small island of booths in the center. There was a VIP tent, drink tents, and a space where a margarita mixing competition and auction took place. The auctioneer was playful and bawdy. At one point, I overheard him shout into the microphone “Why is your tongue blue? Were you making out with a Smurf?”
The salsa selection itself was immense; I only ended up tasting about 18 of the salsas available for Saturday’s event. Some were mild, some smoky, and many were touted as very, very hot. Some I tasted suffered from blandness: They tasted like canned tomatoes with some cilantro sprinkled in. Others were so hot that they caused pain on contact, completely masking any other flavor in the salsa. Out of the 18 I was able to taste, I’ve picked three I think are worthy of celebrating.
Best Overall Salsa: Boots N Hose Salsa Verde
Firefighters are known to make good chili, so it may stand to reason that they could easily apply these skills to making salsa. Boots N Hose proved this marvelously with their smoky salsa verde. The smokiness was reminiscent of hickory smoke, giving it an almost barbeque-like quality. It had a slight kick, making it enjoyable for seasoned salsa pros while not alienating those with weaker spicy tolerance. Amazingly well done!
Best Surprise Salsa: Vicious Violet’s Habañero Salsa
The man behind the machine, Kris Velasco, entered this year without much of a social media presence or a business: He just wanted to give the competition a go and see how it went. It went astonishingly well. His vegetable-based habañero salsa looked very much like a horseradish sauce, or even a cheese sauce, but it had a wonderful lime-infused flavor with a light creamy texture. The heat was brought, so this salsa is not for the weak of tongue or stomach. I wasn’t sure what to make of this odd entry (they also had a refreshing watermelon salsa), but it grew on me with every bite. Keep an eye out for more salsa from Vicious Violet’s in the Future.
Honorable Mention: Los Muertos Salsa’s Pichuberry Salsa
A pichuberry (aguaymanto or Incan Berry)–close relative to the perennial salsa-favorite, the tomatillo–is a small and colorful fruit the size of a cherry tomato. It has a delightful light sweetness to it that isn’t too overpowering like most fruits can be. The pichuberry salsa uses the pichuberry with a mix of other ingredients to create a light, refreshing salsa. Definitely worth the taste! You can check out their official website here at Los Muertos Salsa.
Overall, it’s a great festival that celebrates part-time salsa makers and big-name local salsa businesses and their love of salsa. More information about the festival can be found at My Nana’s Best Tasting Salsa Challenge’s official website.