By Gabriel Rom

The cultural and culinary diversity of Queens was on full display at the Viva La Comida! Festival in Jackson Heights last Saturday. The festival, now in its fifth year, is organized by the 82nd Street Partnership. This year’s edition featured a dizzying array of food trucks and live entertainment.

Street vendors flanked Roosevelt Avenue, hawking pupusas from El Salvador, grilled corn with queso and chili powder from Mexico, and of course, the buttery corn-and-cheese arepas from the city-famous Arepa Lady, who hails from Colombia. Her cart had a line halfway down the block, even though she has a storefront a few blocks away on 77th and Roosevelt Avenue.

Jeff Orlick, who was hired in prior years to recruit food vendors to the festival,, decided to take this year off. He could be found sitting near the performance stage, having rice and chicken and watching festivalgoers stream by him.

“I’m smiling this year,” he said. “I’m just eating and enjoying.”

Behind Orlick, Sofia Ribeiro, a fado singer, was on stage. Fado is the forlorn genre of music native to Portugal—that country’s version of the blues. As she sang, she also included tunes from other countries such as Brazil and Colombia. That diversity mirrored the festival’s range of food. Indian curry, Italian sausage and Palestinian falafel could all be found.

“There are a lot of good people in Jackson Heights,” said Rodrigo Salazar who was photographing the event. “I only wish Jeff would keep organizing this, I fear it may become too commercial. It’s a good thing for the neighborhood, I just hope they keep this nice, simple and local.”

A man who just gave his name as William from Jackson Heights had never been to the festival before even though he lived just a block away. This year, he said, his neighbor dragged him out of his apartment and brought him to the festival.

“I have to admit, I don’t love street food because I have a sensitive stomach,” William said. An older woman, presumably his neighbor, pinched him on the arm and rolled her eyes.

“Okay, okay, I had the corn and it was good, but to be perfectly honest it’s better in my country, Colombia,” he said with a chuckle. “Now I’m full.”

Correction: The titles of Jeff Orlick and Rodrigo Salazar have bene updated.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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