Gasparilla International Food Festival explores global tastes

At the Gasparilla International Food Festival, patrons can try different cuisine from around the world. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE.

While the official Gasparilla Parade has come and gone, make no mistake, the season is far from over. To quote a recently overheard Tampa resident, “Gasparilla lasts about four months.” And he’s right. 

After the parade, other events under the Gasparilla umbrella include the Gasparilla Distance Classic later this month, the music festival in March and, now, the food festival.

The inaugural Gasparilla International Food Festival will be held March 26 at Ybor City Centennial Park. It’s being put on by City Festivals, a group of organizers who put together local events in Orlando, St. Petersburg and Tampa. 

Tashima Johnson, a co-organizer at City Festivals, described the organization’s goals as wanting to give people the opportunity to explore and learn more about their local communities.

“This event being in Tampa, we wanted to embrace the culture of Tampa Bay, the international cultures that have emerged and developed here to create what is now a unique melting pot in our city,” Johnson said. “The purpose of the food festival is to facilitate the opportunity for persons to be able to enjoy and explore and experience what makes Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay.”

While the food festival isn’t related to the Gasparilla theme directly by way of pirates, its commonality is more about what the buccaneers signify. 

Johnson explained that bringing food and vendors from different cultural backgrounds is similar to the invasion idea that Gasparilla boasts. They wanted to celebrate the numerous cultures that made Tampa their home and, by extension, allowed the surrounding community to experience their cuisine.

“The focus is more on travel. It’s an exploration,” Johnson said. “We want people to see it as a discovery, like Gasparilla.”

Even the location it’s being held at holds some significance to the event. While one of the reasons to hold the festival in Ybor was because the organizers at City Festival wanted to support the community, their main reason had more to do with its background.

“Ybor itself is a very historic city, and it’s one that has embraced culture perhaps more than any other city in the local Bay area,” Johnson said. “We thought it would have been symbolic, especially for it being the first Gasparilla International Food Festival that we’re having. 

“It’s also one of only two national historic landmark districts in Florida, so we thought that was very important, and it definitely serves a great purpose in preserving international culture.”

Apart from having foods from American, Caribbean, Hispanic, Mediterranean, French, Italian, African, and Asian cultures, the event will also provide a variety of live entertainment, including a top chef competition, an art showcase and surprise gate prizes.

Admission is free, but if people register online beforehand, they get entered into a competition to win a free meal from one of the food vendors at the festival.

There will also be live music and a dance floor, so Johnson has one final tip to attendees.

“We’re encouraging everyone to come out with their dancing shoes,” she said.