Traditional Foods of Cinco de Mayo (with Recipes!)
What is Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the anniversary of the Mexican victory against the French army at Puebla, during France’s occupation of Mexico on May 5, 1862. Although this victory did not end the French occupation (that happened later), it is significant because the smaller and less equipped Mexican army was able to defeat the much larger French army, which at that time was considered to be the best in the world. Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not the same as the Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16. Mexico had already declared its independence before the French occupation took place. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday; however in the U.S. it is a major celebration amongst the Mexican-American population. This is primarily due to the fact that the first Cinco de Mayo was celebrated in California, and as such is basically an American holiday. Interestingly, the Mexican victory at Puebla had a pretty significant effect in the U.S., which is not commonly known amongst U.S. citizens. The battle at Puebla took place during the American Civil War, and it is believed that the French army had intended to aid the Confederate army, however their defeat at Puebla prevented this from happening. Had the Mexican army not defeated the French, the Civil War might have ended very differently than it did!
Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican heritage. It is commemorated through celebration of various aspects of Mexican culture, such as traditional foods, music and dancing. It is important to note that Cinco de Mayo is a strictly Mexican celebration. It is not a Hispanic celebration, so do not assume that any Spanish-speaking person will celebrate it. This is pretty much as offensive as assuming that all Spanish-speaking people are Mexican, so be careful to avoid this faux-pas!
Cinco de Mayo Party Ideas
Planning an awesome Cinco de Mayo party can be a lot of fun, and as simple or complex as you would like to make it. Liven up your party space with lots of bright colors: you can use streamers, balloons, paper lanterns and/or make your own papel picado banners, which are intricately cut flags made of tissue paper and attached to string, then hung like streamers. Give your party a more authentic feel with traditional Mexican items such as maracas, sombreros and cacti. You may also want to do some or all of your décor in red, white and green, as these are the colors of the Mexican flag.
Set the mood by playing Latin music, especially mariachi or other types of Mexican folk music. Consider hiring a DJ or Mariachi band, and teach guests how to do the Mexican Hat Dance! Other activities might include hosting a hot pepper eating contest, with prizes for whoever can eat the hottest pepper (do exercise some caution with this though! Don’t let your guests unknowingly eat a habanero if you know they can’t handle jalapeno slices on their nachos!). You may also consider hosting a costume party: ask everyone to dress in traditional Mexican-inspired attire, and give out prizes for best costume. To entertain the kids at the party, invest in some tissue paper and pipe cleaners, so they can make their own Mexican paper flowers, and be sure to get a piñata. Finally, impress your guests with delicious authentic Mexican food for the perfect Cinco de Mayo experience!
Traditional Foods of Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with a variety of delicious Mexican foods. You could celebrate the holiday with easy favorites like chips and salsa, a taco bar and pitchers of margaritas, or you could really impress your friends (and your tastebuds) with more authentic Mexican fare. To stay even truer to Cinco de Mayo tradition, (and win you super brownie points!!), I suggest you select a few recipes that originate in Puebla, which besides being the location of the origin of Cinco de Mayo, is also known for its culinary creations!
4 ears corn, husks and silk removed
4 Tbs butter
¼ - ½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup cotija cheese, crumbled (if you can’t find cotija, you may use parmesan)
Chili powder, to taste
Salt, to taste
1 lime, quartered (optional)
Grill the corn until fully cooked. Alternately, you may boil the corn (both ways of cooking the corn are authentic to Mexico). Once cooked through, rub each cob with butter, then slather with mayonnaise. Next, roll each cob in the cotija. Sprinkle with chili powder and salt, as desired. You may also serve with wedges of lime to squeeze over the corn.
To make esquites, use the same ingredients, but first cut the corn from the cob (or use canned or frozen corn…I won’t tell!), then mix all the ingredients together. Easy!
Traditional Mexican Foods for Cinco de Mayo
Tacos: Authentic Mexican tacos are much different than one would find in a Taco Bell, or by following the directions on a packet of Old El Paso! A traditional taco is comprised of 2 corn tortillas (always 2!!) that have been warmed briefly in hot oil (not fried) and are generally filled with some type of meat. Some common fillings might include marinated grilled steak, fried fish, barbecued pork, or my personal favorite, lengua (cow tongue—it’s better than it sounds!). The meat is generally garnished with finely chopped onion and cilantro. Various salsas are usually available to top the tacos with, as desired.
Tamales: Dough made of cornmeal (masa) is stuffed with a variety of fillings, then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. They may be served as is, or smothered in a red or green sauce (depending on what the filling is).
Elotes or Esquites: A snack or side dish made of grilled or boiled corn that is slathered in mayonnaise, then sprinkled with cotija cheese and chili powder, or lime and salt. Elotes refer to corn that is on the cob, while esquites are off the cob. See recipe below.
Micheladas: A cocktail combining beer with various spices, sauces, lime juice and often tomato or clamato juice, then served in a chilled glass rimmed with salt. See recipe below.
Horchata: A refreshing drink made with rice, sweetened and spiced with cinnamon.
Tres Leches Cake: A delicious sponge cake that is soaked in a combination of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk (hence the name “tres leches” or “three milks”), then frosted with whipped cream. It is then garnished with fruit, or simply with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Pan Dulce: This can refer to a variety of different types of sweet baked goods. These breads are based on French styles of baking (introduced during the French occupation, no doubt), but with a Mexican flare.
Traditional Cinco de Mayo Foods Originating from Puebla
Mole Poblano: This dish is so popular, it is considered to be the national dish of Mexico, and is a big favorite at Cinco de Mayo celebrations. The preparation of the sauce, unfortunately is quite complex. It contains a plethora of different ingredients including various types of peppers, chocolate, nuts, bread…pretty much everything but the kitchen sink! It is commonly eaten over chicken in the U.S., but is traditionally served with turkey. If you would like to serve mole without having to spend all day in the kitchen, there are several companies that sell prepared mole, which can be found in the Hispanic section of most well-stocked grocery stores.
Chile Rellenos: Poblano peppers are roasted then stuffed with cheese, or a combination of cheese and potatoes. In some instances they may be stuffed with meats. Once stuffed, the peppers are dipped in batter and fried. The chiles are then topped with some type of salsa—generally a cooked tomato-based sauce.
Chiles en Nogada: Similar to chile rellenos, chiles en nogada are roasted poblano peppers that have been stuffed with meat and smothered in a creamy walnut sauce. The dish is then garnished with chopped cilantro and pomegranate seeds. With its colors of red, white and green, reminiscent of the Mexican flag, this is a really festive dish that, though quite labor-intensive, is an excellent meal for Cinco de Mayo!
- 1 beer mug or glass, chilled
- Coarse salt
- 1/2 lime
- 1 bottle Mexican beer, such as Tecate or Corona
- Clamato juice
- Worcestershire sauce
- Hot sauce
- Chili powder, optional
- Hot pepper slices, optional
- Rub the rim of your chilled glass with lime, then dip in coarse salt.
- Squeeze the lime into the glass, then throw in the remainder of the lime as well.
- Fill the glass the rest of the way up with ice.
- Pour beer into the glass, to about the halfway point.
- Add in a few dashes of Worcestershire and hot sauce, to taste, then top with Clamato juice.
- Garnish with an additional wedge of lime. If desired, you may also spice things up with some chili powder and/or hot pepper slices.