Mexico is well known universally for its amazing food and distinctive culinary specialties. It’s a lot of tacos, guacamole, chili peppers, and hot salsas that will set your tongue on fire.
But that’s definitely not all it is!
Mexico is chicken covered in chocolate sauce (mole), sweet bread (pan dulce), puffed corn kernel soup (pozole), breakfast nachos (chilaquiles), extra hot ceviche (aguachile), and many more traditional and delectable dishes.
How can you not fall in love with Mexican cuisine?!
Many events like Day of the Dead and cultural festivities in the country carry their own sets of customary foods and recipes for each occasion. The country is also culinary diverse depending on its regions.
The state of Oaxaca, for example, is well known for its delicacy that is roasted grasshoppers (chapulines), large meat-filled grilled tortillas (tlayudas), and mezcal (the “other” tequila). The north of Mexico has been a little “Americanised” while the Yucatan Peninsula area has slight Cuban and Caribbean influences.
Day of the Dead is celebrated over several days and is a spiritual time for Mexican families. It’s a time where they unite to reflect upon and celebrate their lost loved ones.
Everybody knows that when Mexican families get together, there will be a lot of eating and drinking!
Actually, part of the Day of the Dead traditions is about offering your lost loved ones some of their favorite foods and drinks that they enjoyed while they were alive. An altar is set up and family members make offerings (ofrendas).
If uncle Jorge enjoyed his Mazapan candy (peanut flavored sweet treat) when he was alive, then he would have the opportunity of coming back during Day of the Dead to enjoy it again.
Day of the Dead and its traditions are deep-rooted in Mexican culture and is celebrated every year throughout the country. The regions claim slight differences in the way celebrations are prepared, carried-out, and also the food that is customary for the event.
Some Day of the Dead foods are popular across all regions. Let’s take a look at a few of these foods and beverages.
Day of The Dead bread is a core item all across the country at this time. We can find them in the bakeries and markets several weeks leading up to the Day of the Dead. It’s like a soft sweet roll sprinkled with sugar and topped with small bone-shaped bread decorations. It simply is not Day of the Dead without Pan de Muertos!
As the name implies, these are skull-shaped hard sugar ornaments. They are generally not intended to be eaten, but rather placed as an ofrenda for the deceased loved one. They are intricately painted with colorful icing and some can even have glitter and feathers. They come in different sizes, the smaller ones representing the children who have passed.
The sugar skulls are not meant to be gloomy, on the contrary, you will notice that they are often are donning smiles! They are a staple item during Day of the Dead throughout Mexico.
Mole is a complex and rich sauce made of peppers and chocolate (and many more ingredients) that is poured over food. Mole comes from the state of Oaxaca, where it is traditionally known as the “Land of the Seven Moles”.
Mole Negro is the one that is symbolically prepared during Day of the Dead. This is an intricate sauce to make and often the recipes are passed down through family generations. There are numerous ingredients required to make mole and it usually takes several days to prepare. We’ll leave this one to the pros!
Sopa Azteca is a staple during Day of the Dead all across Mexico. It’s a spicy tortilla soup that usually comes with ingredients on-the-side that you put in yourself. Ingredients like avocado, onions, cheese, limes, and chicharrón (pork rinds). A great comfort food during the long November days leading up to the Day of the Dead festivities.
Chalupas are a type of corn-based taco topped with meats, cheeses, or vegetables. They are sometimes called sopes in some parts of the country. They are often eaten as appetizers (antojitos) and are popular in most traditional Mexican restaurants.
Caramel flan is a popular dessert enjoyed during the festivities of Día de Los Muertos and also throughout the year. Merchants typically carry trays and sell them on the streets leading to the cemeteries during this time.
Tamales are a very traditional Mexican food that are popular year round but are made even more popular during Day of the Dead festivities. They are like small steamed packages made of cornhusks or banana leaves filled with a tasty corn paste (masa).
There are countless varieties of tamales and they are definitely to put on your list if you want a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine.
Tamales and atole (we’ll cover that drink later) are staple items while staying awake during Día de Los Muertos.
Pozole is a type of stew which usually includes corn, meat, and other ingredients. There are numerous varieties of Pozole and the one that we see the most around the Day of the Dead period is the red one where chilies are added for that extra Mexican kick!
Favor some candied pumpkin? Calabaza (pumpkin) is a widely used fruit throughout Mexico. The seeds are roasted and salted and eaten as snacks and the pumpkin flower (flor de calabaza) is also a delicious addition to some dishes.
Calabaza en Tacha are pumpkin slices that are placed in a sugar-based boiling mixture that is spiced with cinnamon and orange juice. When tenderized, the slices are served topped with the syrup.
Mexico also knows how to drink! It’s a lot more than just cervezas, margaritas, and tequila.
During Día de Los Muertos, many traditional drinks are enjoyed and offered. Some of these are alcoholic beverages and others are family friendly.
Atole is a traditional non-alcoholic thick beverage made of corn, cinnamon, and vanilla. It is served hot and considered a comfort drink during Day of the Dead.
Champurrado is Atole with added chocolate. Same drink with the added sweet touch of chocolate. Yummy!
Nothing to do with the country. Jamaica is Spanish for the Hibiscus flower. Ever try Hibiscus flower infused water? This is a common family drink in Mexico and is especially enjoyed during the festivities.
Horchata is a milky type drink made of rice, nuts, and cinnamon. It’s a very popular drink for warm days and is common to find it sold on the streets in big colorful bowls.
Pulque, also known as The Nectar of the Gods, is a traditional Mexican alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant. It’s considered to be part of the tequila family but has a very particular look and taste. This drink has a long history in the alcohol production industry in Mexico and is now becoming trendy with the younger crowds. It’s a very popular drink to warm your soul during the celebrations of Día de Los Muertos.
All of these foods and drinks are enjoyed throughout the year in Mexico except for the Pan de Muertos and the Candy Skulls which are exclusive to Día de Los Muertos celebrations.
Remembering our dearly departed loved ones is an important part of Mexican culture. We like to remember grandma and grandpa in happiness and gratefulness instead of in a gloomy and mournful way. If grandma liked her daily cup of hot chocolate and if grandpa enjoyed his occasional mezcal, then why not leave it out for them to come back from the Land of the Dead for one night to enjoy it once again.