Five Mexican Dishes to Celebrate Cinco De Mayo

Tacos al Pastor for a festive Cinco de Mayo 

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Tacos al Pastor

Tacos al Pastor for a festive Cinco de Mayo 

© Shutterstock

Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) holiday celebrates a David and Goliath-style victory in the Battle of Puebla. On that date in 1862, outnumbered, poorly equipped Mexican troops defeated French forces who, under the command of Napoleon III, were aiming to establish a lasting foothold in Mexico. The surprise victory has become symbolic of the country’s desire to overcome foreign aggression. 

In the town of Puebla, 66 miles southeast of Mexico City, the date is marked with street parades and re-enactments of the famous battle. Outside Mexico, the country’s colourful food lies at the heart of any party. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with these five symbolic dishes. 

Molé Poblano

One of Mexico’s national dishes and a must for Cinco de Mayo. Why? ‘Poblano’ means ‘from Puebla’ in Spanish. Writing in her book Chocolate, Chantal Coady contends that this dish was invented by the nuns of Puebla to serve to their bishop.

Making Molé Poblano – a dark, rich, thick and richly spiced sauce – is a labour of love. You need at least three types of chilli, a larderful of spices (cumin, cinnamon and allspice are vital), handfuls of nuts (almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds) plus the all-important dark chocolate or cocoa. You’ll also need lots of time to toast and grind the spices and slowly coax the maximum flavour from them. The result is worth every minute. Serve it with roast turkey (the turkey is native to Mexico) and you have Molé Poblano de Guajalote, the perfect party dish. 


Tacos al Pastor

These trendy tacos have a fascinating history. Al pastor translates as ‘shepherd-style’. Although tacos al pastor are now made with pork and pineapple, they originally contained lamb – and were first made by Christian Lebanese emigrants who came to Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Chef and author Ivy Stark in Dos Caminos Mexican Street Food writes, “Shepherd-style cooking is said to have originated with Lebanese immigrants to the city of Puebla, many of whom tended flocks. Lamb, a favourite Mediterranean meat, was originally cooked on the spit, but eventually other meat, including pork, was used.” These spicy, sweet packages of porky goodness wrapped up in a corn tortilla are sure-fire party pleasers. 

Tacos al Pastor

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Stuffed Poblano Chillies

Mild green Poblano chillies are just made for stuffing, and they hail from – you guessed it – Puebla. Chiles Poblanos en Nogado, chillies stuffed with minced pork, served in a walnut and cream sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds, are a signature dish of Pueblan cooking. It is closely associated with Mexican Independence Day (September 16), which marks the date in 1810 that Mexico began the decade-long struggle for independence from Spain. This dish may have been invented to represent the nation’s sovereignty. 

As food historian Raymond Sokolov observes, “The Chile Poblano en Nogada represents the Mexican revolt from the Spanish yoke…The already routine fusion dish, Chiles Rellenos [stuffed chillies], was dressed up with fresh walnuts and a fancy sauce made to show the colours of the new Mexican flag: green (chillies), red (pomegranate), and white (cream).” One taste of this dish and no one will really mind that it’s being celebrated on the ‘wrong’ day… 

Stuffed Poblano chillies

Stuffed Poblano chillies

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Elotes (grilled corn) 

Maize was first cultivated in the Puebla region some 9,000 years ago, so it seems only fitting to make Elotes, the grilled corn sold by street vendors, part of your Cinco de Mayo festivities. 

Banish any thoughts you may have of plain fare: for this dish, the corn cobs are barbecued or grilled then basted with a sauce made of Cotija cheese (or feta), sour cream, mayonnaise, fresh coriander, garlic and chilli powder, then finished with a squeeze of fresh lime.

Elotes - grilled corn

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Margaritas

For tipples, you can’t go wrong with a Margarita. Historians can’t agree on who margarita was (or if she was a real person at all – origin stories for this cocktail abound) but it doesn’t really matter. 

The success of this cocktail, which was invented in the 1930s or 1940s, is its simplicity. It’s made with just three ingredients: tequila, Triple Sec and fresh lime juice. Add a few ice cubes and a salted rim to give that sweet-and-savoury taste. Click here for our favourite Margarita recipes, perfect for toasting Cinco de Mayo.

Margarita

Margarita

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