For this Cinco de Mayo, revelers may want to forgo the typical Tex-Mex and try some traditional foods for a more authentic taste of the way Mexico remembers and celebrates the Battle of Puebla.
While not celebrated as widely as Mexico’s Independence Day on Sept. 16, Cinco de Mayo sees a lot of celebratory activity in some of the southern states in Mexico, especially Puebla, which was the site of the Mexican army’s miraculous victory over the French on May 5, 1862, as well as many places in the United States.
Alfonso Mendoza at La Rumba Mexican Restaurant in Sulphur says he’s seen his share of partying throughout his years working in restaurants.
"In college towns it’s crazy,” Alfonso said. "I’ve been working in the Mexican restaurant industry since I was 14, 15 years old, so my first Cinco de Mayo when I turned 18 working in the restaurant was a day I couldn’t wait to end so I could sit down and join them.”
Foods often seen at Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexico usually include dishes reserved for parties and special occasions like weddings, birthdays, or the like.
"The tamales, the mole poblano, the pozole, it’s all traditional food, all things you have to have for a party,” Alfonso said.
One of the most prominent of these dishes is the mole poblano. Sometimes termed the National dish of Mexico, the sauce of mole poblano, the best known of a variety of mole sauces, will use around 20 different ingredients and spices, in particular one or more types of chili pepper and, especially, a bit of chocolate, ground up into a fine powder that is mixed with water or broth that is cooked down into a very thick sauce. Because the grinding down of the ingredients can be labor-intensive, mole poblano is usually prepared in large batches. It is traditionally served over turkey, but can also be served over chicken, pork or other meats with rice or beans.
What makes mole sauces unique is the choice and large variety of ingredients used, which can produce sauces of many flavors.
"A lot of people like it sweet, a lot of people like it not sweet, some like it spicy. Myself, I don’t like it sweet. I like it a little bit spicy,” Alonso said.
There are many stories on the origin of mole poblano. One legend tells of nuns of a convent in Puebla who were desperate to prepare a meal appropriate for the visit of an archbishop and, in their haste, threw together what ingredients and spices they had, including a bit of chocolate, into a sauce they cooked down and served over turkey. The archbishop was delighted with the meal and Puebla has since been known for its mole poblano, and serve it in celebration of the May 5, 1862, Battle of Puebla every Cinco de Mayo. The city even holds festivals for cooking mole poblano.
According to Alonso tamales usually make an appearance at Cinco de Mayo as well. He remembers once having special cheese tamales stuffed with a half of a pickled jalapeño. Tamales, which are made from steamed corn dough wrapped in corn husks, can be filled with pork, chicken and even fruits for sweeter tamales.
The hominy soup pozole, which is also usually a dish served for special occasions, can often be found during Cinco de Mayo, Hominy, which is dried corn cooked in an alkali treatment, can also be ground up and produce dough which is then used to make tortillas and tamales.
For dessert, revers might enjoy pastries like sopapillas and flan or try some arroz con leche, or rice pudding. Alfonso is fond of Buñuelos, a fried dough treat that is popular in many countries. In Mexico, a Buñuelos would be a tortilla deep fried and then covered in sugar or caramel and wrapped in plastic. Buñuelos can be found usually at fairs or carnivals.
At the end of the day, no Cinco de Mayo is complete without guacamole.
"It’s Cinco de Mayo, you have to have guacamole!” Alonso said. "Every Cinco de Mayo celebration you have to have your guacamole.”
And since, according to Alonso, most people celebrate simply by having a good time, it wouldn’t be a party without margaritas.
Be sure to heat over some menudo the next morning. This soup of red chili pepper and beef tripe is commonly believed to be a great cure for hangovers.
Alfonso says that any number of restaurants in both Mexico and the United States will go out of their way to make Cinco de Mayo the party to attend. It’s no Mexican Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean a good time can’t be had, north or south.
"We over here in America, we like to have fun. We’ll think of any day to have fun and party.”
(Chicken with Chocolate Sauce)
4 tb Olive oil
1/4 c Raisins
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1/2 ts Cumin
1/4 ts Nutmeg
1/4 ts Ground cloves
1 Onion, chopped
1/4 ts Cinnamon
1 Green pepper, chopped
1/2 ts Salt
3 Slices canned pimento, chopped
1/4 ts Pepper
1 ts Sugar
2 Large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Grated rind of 1 orange
2 Squares bitter chocolate, chopped
2 tb Chili powder (or to taste)
2 1/2 c Chicken broth
1/4 c Light rum
1/4 c Slivered almonds
In casserole, heat oil and cook garlic for a few moments to flavor oil; add chicken and brown. Remove chicken. In remaining fat, cook onion, green pepper, pimento, and tomato over gentle heat for 10 minutes. To onion mixture, add chili powder, blending well. Add broth, almonds, raisins, seasonings, and rind; simmer, covered, 30 minutes longer. Add chocolate, stirring until melted.
Replace chicken, spooning sauce over. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until chicken is tender. Warm rum, ignite it, and pour over contents of casserole; allow to stand for a few minutes.