AS THE white smoke from the smoldering charcoals curled toward the sky, Hispanic men, women and children hauled pots, pans, bags of napkins, paper, plates, plastic forks, and platters of food to the kiosks.
It was 100 degrees in the sun and 110 in the shade at the 10th annual Hispanic American Festival last weekend. The grills from the Big Barbeque were contributing not only wonderful fragrances but a lot of extra heat for the more than 70,000 visitors who attended the affair at Kalorama Park in Adams Morgan.
According to Arturo Rodriquez, one of the festival's coordinators, the event is an annual celebration of Spanish heritage for the growing Hispanic American population in the Washington area. "It is a way to share [our] food and customs and cultural heritage with the rest of the citizens in the District. It's also a way to stop and celebrate the cultural roots for Hispanic Americans," he said.
And celebrate they did. There were boxing matches, salsa bands, a parade, dancing and rides for the children.
By 2 p.m. balloons of all colors filled the air, men, arm-in-arm, sipped cold beer that some of the teen-age boys were selling from behind the bushes for $1 a can. Portable radios and tape decks blared Latin music.
Only the women dressed for the event -- in pastel pinks, blues and greens, with a ruffle or two along their shoulders or the bottom of their skirts. Children clung to their mothers crying or laughing; the rest chased one another around the park.
The kiosks were draped in crepe paper and signs hung from each pointed roof announcing the country they represented.
The women did most of the cooking; the men sat behind the kiosks collecting the money. Prices ranged from 50 cents for single items to $3 for a complete dinner.
To the unenlightened American eye, Latin food is not pretty to look at. There are no parsley sprigs, lemon wedges or mint leaves to garnish. What was for sale was inexpensive, delicious Latin cuisine in its purest and simplest form. Even the hungriest customers could stuff themselves for under $5.
There was the usual supply of tamales and empanades and the weekend chefs could not produce them quickly enough to satisfy the hungry crowds.
Food, however, was not limited to this standard fare and those who stopped at the first kiosk they came upon to fill up must have been chagrined to discover the many wonderful remaining varities of food for sale.
Almosts all of the Salvadorean booths had some variation of the pancake-like papusas stuffed with cheese, beef or chicken, in addition to a variety of other treats including a sada de carne (grilled steak), arroz con pato ensalada (chicken and rice with salad), shish kebab, chiles rellenos (meat, vegetables and chiles rolled in raw egg and deep fried), and chorizos (pork sausages on a tortilla).
Several kiosks representing local groups from Argentina sold breaded steaks, Spanish sausage s andwiches and quince pie (South American fruits cooked in a pastry crust). Others sold black sausages grilled on a stick, beef shish kebab, pastries, pork sandwiches topped with finely chopped lettuce and tomato doused with a vinaigrette dressing, and eofula (a combination of olives, raisins, chick peas, and plantains steamed in a specially prepared cooking paper).
From Bolivia there were tropical fruit drinks. The Mexican kiosks offered patatas de carne (platters of beef and potatoes) and enchiladas. Dominican Republic cuisine was fried plantains (a South American fruit similar to bananas), fried chicken, a different variety of de carne asado (beef sauteed in lemon juice, garlic salt and onion), spaghetti and kipe (deep-fried beef rolled in wheat).
An Ecuadorean booth sold steamed yuca, enchiladas and fruit drinks. From Panama there was ceviche, tamales and a dinner platter of yuca and bucalhau (codfish) with salad.
Paraguay offered beef and cornbread sandwiches. Nicaragua sold vigoron (beef and corn tortillas) with salad. From Peru there was churros and pineapple upside-down cake.
A group of Ecuadorean women sold tacos, meat and rice with black beans, anticuchos (grilled cow's heart marinated in hot peppers and oil), patatas a la huacaina (potatoes covered with a melted white chese and milk sauce), pollo en escabeche (chicken marinated in lime juice with onions and carrots), and tostadas covered with avocado and black beans doused with homemade hot sauce.
Guatemala offered chiles rellenos and a platter of potatoes, meat and hot peppers.
One trip around the 40 kiosks brought on a thirst that was difficult to quench. The best quencher was from the Andromeda booth, a community mental health group, who prepared on the spot a fruit drink made of fresh watermelon, pineapple, oranges and plantains which, when blended with ice water, became a thick fresh, fruit milkshake.
While the festival mood was cheerful, politics filtered its way to some of the tables of free literature, and spirit for the struggles of the Chileans and Salvadoreans ran especially high. Most of the people, however, were more interested in the food, music and the "behind-the-bushes" beer.