Food and drink play a prominent role in Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Celebrations often center on food, from birthday parties to major religious holidays, because food brings people together. It is an essential aspect of hospitality and creates and reinforces relationships. Eating reminds us of places we have eaten before. We think of the people we shared food with, and how we felt at the time.
Food is a key component in cultural identity around the world. For Mexicans and Mexican Americans, food is such an important aspect of their culture that UNESCO includes it on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritages. Today we explore some of the most iconic foods and drinks that I have enjoyed during Cinco de Mayo.
Tacos and Tamales are two of the most popular foods served for Cinco de Mayo.
Tacos are an iconic Mexican food, and simple to make. When I was in Mexico, the tacos were typically simple–warm (not fried) corn tortillas. They were topped with seasoned shredded meat, onions, and sometimes cheese, lettuce, and a slice of avocado. Tacos are made with a wide variety of meats, including fish, pork, beef, chorizo (Mexican sausage), and chicken. Refried and pinto beans are good choices for vegetarians. The nice thing about tacos for a party is that you can put out bowls of the various toppings and people can build their own.
As I mentioned in History and Celebration of Cinco de Mayo, tamales are one of my very favorite Mexican dishes. Tamales are made by making a cornmeal dough and filling it with your choice of ingredients, often pork and chilis. These are then wrapped in banana leaves and either cooked in a pib, a traditional underground oven, or steamed in a pot. Once cooked, remove the banana leaves, top them with salsa, and enjoy! Tamales are very popular in the families I know, and freeze really well. People will often get together near major holidays like Christmas and make large numbers of them. Then they will freeze them in batches to enjoy throughout the year.
If you want to wow your guests at you Cinco de Mayo celebrations, mole poblano is the dish to serve.
To enjoy Cinco de Mayo Puebla-style, try mole poblano. The origin of the word “mole,” which is also found in the word guacamole, is debated. Some say it comes from the Aztec word mulli, or sauce. Others think it comes from the Spanish verb moler, or to grind. According to legend, mole poblano is a sauce that was first created in the late 17th century, blending European and indigenous cuisines. Mexico has a variety of ways of making mole poblano. In Puebla it is a rich, dark sauce that combines Mexican chocolate with chili peppers. The sauce is usually served over chicken.
For many Americans, Cinco de Mayo wouldn’t be complete without avocados.
In addition to being served as slices on top of tacos and other Mexican dishes, guacamole is popular both as a topping and as a dip for chips. Americans love avocados so much that they consume up to 81 million pounds of them for Cinco de Mayo every year! That’s a lot of avocados!
Drinks for Cinco de Mayo are a huge part of the celebration.
Drinking cerveza, or Mexican beer, is another popular addition to many Cinco de Mayo celebrations. In fact, more beer is sold for Cinco de Mayo than was sold for either St. Patrick’s Day or for the Superbowl! This is the result of very successful beer ad campaigns that began in the late 1980s. They encouraged people celebrating Cinco de Mayo to drink Corona, a brand of Mexican beer.
My favorite way to enjoy a Corona is with a wedge of lime in the neck of the bottle. Every sip of beer is then filtered through the lime. While some beer companies now have lime already added to the beer, I prefer the traditional real deal.
For a delicious, refreshing, and non-alcoholic beverage to enjoy on Cinco de Mayo, I recommend agua fresca. While the name literally means fresh water, it is generally used in Mexico to refer to water with sugar and infused flavors from fruits, seeds, or even flowers. I have enjoyed all of the varieties of aguas frescas I have tried, including tamarind; it’s quite tart. My personal favorite, however, is agua de Jamaica, which is made from hibiscus flowers. The result is a light, refreshing drink that is simultaneously tart and sweet.
Holidays like Cinco de Mayo are filled with memories and traditions.
Eating Mexican food reminds me of the many meals I had with the family I lived with while in Mexico and with the friends I made down there. Some of these meals were celebrations, such as Easter, birthdays, and my host sister’s First Communion.
Others were more everyday gatherings. We often gathered with my host family at the house for lunch, midday. Lunch was the big meal of the day. Sometimes it is late night conversations with university friends over tacos that I remember, or chatting with my host mom about my day as she cooked up some quesadillas for my dinner. These food orientated memories are ones that I will carry with me forever.
May you enjoy great food this Cinco de Mayo and make great new memories for years to come.
& The Researcher’s Gateway Team