We are delighted to have David Julseth, professor at Belmont University, as a guest writer for the Mesa Komal Blog! Not only does he have a well-defined palate, but a passionate curiosity for culture and traditions as he looks through the lenses of food.
It’s not Mexican Independence Day – that is September 16th! Contrary to the commercials that are ever-present this time of year, “Cinco de Mayo” or May 5th is really not such a big deal in Mexico. Mexico had gained its independence from Spain back in 1821 but was later invaded and endured a short-lived occupation by France. On this day in 1862 in the region of Puebla, Mexico won a battle against the French but ended up losing the war. Since then there has been a yearly commemoration of this event that is even re-created in the state of Puebla but much less is done for this occasion in other parts of the country.
In the United States, however, “Cinco de Mayo” has been heavily promoted by the Mexican beer companies and restaurants and seems to be taking on a life of its own as a day to celebrate Mexican heritage with food, folkloric dancing, Mariachi concerts and parades. Weatherwise, “Cinco de Mayo” comes at a time when Spring is arriving in all its glory and people are attracted to the outdoor terraces and in the mood to celebrate something festive.
Not only this Mexican holiday is transformed in the US, but also the food. Many dishes that we commonly assume to be Mexican are actually inventions of the border areas between the two countries. Chips and Salsa, Fajitas, Nachos, Burritos, and anything smothered in yellow cheese – all delicious but none are traditional in Mexico! If you want to eat authentic “Cinco de mayo” food, you could have a dish that is typical from Puebla called “mole poblano”. The very complicated “mole” sauce can have 17 or more ingredients, one of which is unsweetened chocolate, giving it a dark brown color and a very unique flavor for chicken or turkey.
Another famous dish from Puebla is also the most patriotic food for celebrating Mexican Independence day (September 16th, that is!) – “Chiles en nogada” – the dish that represents the three colors of the Mexican flag with its stuffed green poblano chile, white nut sauce, and red pomegranate seeds.
So, make your plans to head to your favorite Mexican restaurant for May 5th but, if you truly want to celebrate Mexican independence, you must be ready on the night of September 15th going into the 16th to cheer with a boisterous “¡Viva México!”
¡Buen Provecho! -David
Dr. David Julseth, a volunteer at Conexión Américas’ Mesa Komal kitchen, is a professor of Spanish and the Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages at Belmont University.