Early on Sunday afternoon, Yolanda Rodrigues begins dropping bags of ice onto hard pavement — smack! — and emptying them into coolers packed with canned sodas.
At a folding table heaped with plastic tubs of cubed pork, chicken wings, and delicate quail, her cousin Maria Mendes slides pork chunks, marinated all morning in garlic and spices, onto sharp steel skewers.
After Mendes has assembled a pile of kebabs, called “pincho” in the women’s homeland of Cape Verde, their friend Francisca Aronson arranges the skewers in a circle on the grill.
The particulars vary, but this is a ritual observed in countless parks, backyards, and campgrounds each summer. Yet in Dorchester’s Ceylon Park, where members of the neighborhood’s Cape Verdean immigrant community gather each weekend to eat, watch soccer games, and socialize, it has a particular flavor.
Paulo Decarvalho, 40, knows that flavor well.
“It takes me back to when I was a kid, because my dad used to have a bar, and he would do this,” he said of the barbecue. “It takes you back to Cape Verde.”
Decarvalho came to the United States in 1991 and is president of a soccer club that plays at the park.
Rodrigues’s food has become a staple of the weekend gatherings, he says, and she has become a beloved figure.
“She’s like a mother to all of us here,” he said.
Rodrigues, 51, is a solid, no-nonsense figure in a patterned dress and an apron. She has lived in the United States for 19 years and has come to Ceylon Park every summer weekend for more than a decade to feed the crowds that gather to watch games between amateur, but highly skilled, soccer players from around the region.
No one in the park’s mostly Cape Verdean crowd can seem to remember a time when she was not here, feeding them the flavors of the island nation.
She describes her mission simply.
“I’m cooking for my country,” she said.
Her prices are modest; a generously portioned skewer of tender pork is just $2. Throughout the afternoon, people wander over singly, in pairs, and in family clusters to buy a skewer, a quail, or a pork sandwich that Rodrigues has simmered at home and serves on a sweet Portuguese roll.
On a recent Sunday, 10-year-old Elton Ramos delicately bit into a piece of lightly spiced pork off his skewer. “It’s tasty,” he said.
The boy’s mother, Drusela Gomes, 32, said she has come to the park on summer weekends for the 14 years she has lived in Dorchester.
“A lot of us get together here,” Gomes said. “Sometimes you see people that you don’t see every day during the week; you see them Sunday.”
Through the afternoon, Mario Bryce stood at the edge of the soccer field, watching the games. He says the best play he has seen today came in a one-on-one showdown between a goalie and a player for the opposing team, with lots of open space for the player to get the ball into the net. He failed.
“The other guy actually had the whole world to take on the goalie, and the goalie got the best of him,” he said.
Originally from Panama, Bryce is among the relatively few people here who are not Cape Verdean, but he says the crowd is always “warm and definitely welcoming.” The food, too, is much like what he grew up eating, he says, though Panamanians eat more seafood.
“They put on a lot of seasonings and spice that I actually enjoy eating,” Bryce said.
In addition to Rodrigues’s food, the soccer games are a big draw.
Carlos Fernandes, 39, grew up in Dorchester and was
a star soccer player at the University of Massachusetts Boston before playing on a semipro team. Now he is a referee, hoping to inspire some of the teenagers and young men on the teams playing here.
Fernandes says the soccer leagues that play in Ceylon Park keep young people off the streets and give them a constructive way to spend their time.
“It’s about teaching some values to the young kids,” he said. “It’s a working-class community in which you’re going to find a lot of parents working two or three jobs, so . . . they don’t have the time to teach them the values.”
Fernandes is proud of these young men. An all-star team of local players has traveled to Cape Verde to compete against champion teams from each of the nation’s nine inhabited islands off West Africa, he says, and is proving to be equal to the best players from their homeland.
His game finished, Fernandes is free to pick up a skewer of pincho, adding heat with a dash of Matouk’s Calypso Sauce.
“I just reffed a game, but I can’t leave here and go home until I come here and get some food,” Fernandes said. “It’s like being back home.”
Sandra Brandao, arrives with her 2-year-old son, Jovanni Tavares. She orders pork on a Portuguese roll.
“You do get homesick, especially when you see all this,” she said.