Top 5 Dishes to Celebrate Mexican Independence Month
Article and photos by Scott Koenig - www.AGringoInMexico.com
Many outside Mexico mistakenly believe Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico’s independence from Spain. It’s a good excuse to drink a copious number of margaritas every year on May 5th, but Mexican Independence Day is actually observed on September 16th. The day after insurgent Miguel Hidalgo made his grito (cry) for patriotism in 1810 in the city of Dolores — igniting a rebellion that would last a decade before Mexican forces declared victory and the country its sovereignty.
Cinco de Mayo is an observance of the Mexican army’s defeat of the French during the Battle of Puebla, which took place on that date in 1862. But while the two conflicts couldn’t be more different, or separated by time, they have the city of Puebla in common. Both as a battleground site and as the birthplace of some of Mexico’s most beloved culinary traditions — including its most popular during independence season, the chile en nogada.
Families celebrate Mexican independence with fiestas, civil ceremonies, parades, fireworks and plenty of great food. In addition to chiles en nogada, a variety of other dishes are also enjoyed during the holiday season. These include tacos de bistek (steak tacos), tres leches cake, guacamole and the following list of five favorites — certain to make you cry out for independence from anything less delectable!
1 - Chiles en Nogada
When military commander Augustin de Iturbide visited Puebla in 1821 – just after Mexican independence – he was greeted with a feast fit for a war hero. Nuns from the city’s Santa Monica convent created a special dish just for the future emperor of Mexico, the chile en nogada. A Poblano chili is stuffed with picadillo – a mixture of ground pork and/or beef, apples, pears, peaches and aromatics – bathed in a sweet, creamy walnut-based sauce and then topped with pomegranates and parsley. The green parsley and chili, the white sauce and the red pomegranates represent the colors of Mexico’s flag.
You can find chiles en nogada at Mi Casa @MiCasaRestaurantLosCabos, La Guadalupana @LaGuadalupanaDeLosCabos and Los Deseos @LosDeseosRestaurante.
2 - Pozole
Pozole has an even longer heritage than chiles en nogada. This rich soup of hominy, pork, shredded cabbage, chilis, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado and salsa or limes dates back to the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples. The comingling of pork and hominy – made from dried maíz (corn) – had significance in these cultures as they believed that the gods created humans from masa (cornmeal). Pozole is a go-to tradition for Mexican Independence Day and ubiquitous throughout a number of other national holidays.
For the most authentic pozole in Baja California Sur, check out Maria Jimenez, Brody’s (located in the Delegación food court in Cabo San Lucas) and Cenaduria Mary Chuy @CenaduriaMariChuy.
3 - Birria de Borrego
Birria is a spicy stew of slow-cooked meat with chilies, onion, garlic and spices in a broth of tomatoes and vinegar from the Mexican state of Jalisco. Though it was first made with chivo (goat meat), as birria began a migration across the country, other proteins such as beef and borrego (mutton) were substituted, depending on regional availability and preference. One reason for its popularity during Mexican holidays is birria de borrego’s reputation as a hangover cure — it’s the perfect remedy the morning after late-night Independence Day revelry.
After a night out in the clubs of Los Cabos, cure your hangover with a bowl of birria at Birriería Los Montaño @BirriaLosMontano, Birriearía Mary Chuy and Tacos Jimmy’s @BirriaYTacosJimmys.
4 - Queso Fundido
Unlike chilis en nogada, with its origins in central Mexico, queso fundido was first melted in the north. Ironically, this Mexican Independence Day favorite – a sort of cheese fondue – was made possible by the Spanish, who introduced dairy cattle to Mexico after the 16th century invasion. Cheesemaking began in earnest in the country in the 1800s and queso fundido was born shortly thereafter. A semi-soft cheese known as queso asadero is typically used for this communal dish, often eaten as a late supper. It’s served flambéed in a cast iron cazuela with chorizo (spicy sausage), tomato, onion, chilis and spices.
You can dip your tortilla in melty queso at Los Tres Gallos @lostresgallos, Maria Corona @MariaCoronaCabo, Metate @MetateCabo.
5 - Pork Tamales
The tamal appears in recorded history as early as 5000 BCE. As Aztec, Mayan and Incan cultures grew and began traveling to fight distant battles, the need arose for a ready-to-eat meal that wouldn’t perish during long journeys. Thus, the tamal was born — a thick portion of nixtamalized masa eaten plain or with chilis, meat, vegetables or a variety of other fillings. Tamales are wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and commonly steamed or heated on a comal (pre-Hispanic griddle). Tamales can take several days to prepare, so they’re usually made and devoured only on special occasions, including Mexican Independence Day.
In Los Cabos, you can unwrap a tamal at Pedregal Organic Market (Wednesday’s and Saturday’s) @CaboOrganicMarket, El Rincón de Cabo @ElRincónDeCabo, Flora Farms @Flora.Farm.Cabo