El Día de los Muertos (Day of The Dead)

La muerte es un espejo que refleja las vanas gesticulaciones de la vida. Toda esa abigarrada confusión de actos, omisiones, arrepentimientos y tentativas —obras y sobras— que es cada vida, encuentran en la muerte, ya que no sentido o explicación, fin. Frente a ella nuestra vida se dibuja e inmoviliza. Antes de desmoronarse y hundirse en la nada, se esculpe y vuelve forma inmutable: ya no cambiaremos sino para desaparecer. Nuestra muerte ilumina nuestra vida. Octavio Paz

Flowers, lots of flowers here and there, people crying but laughing at the same time. Talking, lots of talking, voices that I recognise but I do not understand what they say, that is how I remember the day I buried my father. It was a commotion, a confusion and at the end we were alone, with no father.

In the evenings, after he was gone, we used to sit down around the living room at my mum’s house and talk about the way he was like when he was alive, we joked about it, we would repeat his typical expression “Ai la tenemos”, “Ay! Mamá”, “Que tanto es tantito”, we did this for days or maybe weeks, I don’t remember now, all I remember is that for me and my family the world stop spinning for a few days and with our father part of our souls were gone, but at the same time, as Mexicans, we knew that everything was going to be ok, because we would see him soon, in our dreams, in our thoughts and he would come and visit us during the special day, the day when all the dead come back to the world of the living, “The Day of the Dead”.

In Mexico every 1st and 2nd November is celebrated The Day of the Dead, it is a very special celebration full of traditions.

On those days we visit the cemeteries and bring flowers, food, music to our loved ones that have passed away to a better life, we remember everything about the person that we go and visit, sometimes in a funny way, because that is the way we, Mexicans, are, we joke about everything, even about death.

For Mexican people the cult to the Dead goes back to ancient times, for example, the Aztecs used to “Mictecacíhuatl”, La Señora de Mictlán, the lady of the dead.

 
Nowadays a lot of people relate the day of the dead with “La Catrina”, who was a character drew by “José Guadalupe Posada” and the name was given by “Diego Rivera”

If you want to know more about this click here for Spanish or click here for English 

TRADITIONS 

“El Altar de Muertos”

There are different traditions we all Mexicans do before and during The Day of The Dead, apart from visit our cemeteries, for me the most important one is “El Altar de Muertos”, the altar is usually placed at home and it has a very meaningful idea to remember the dead, because traditionally in the altar you place a picture of the person that has passed away and decorate the altar with flowers, candles and all those favourite things that person used to like when s/he was alive. If you would like to learn more about the meaning of the altar click here or in English

 

In my family my sister Cynthia sets an Altar for our father and grandparents in her house. I do the same in London, but in a small way and during that day I cook “Carne Asada” (bbq) which was my dad’s favourite food.

The picture of the altar I am showing here is not in my house or my sister’s house. Unfortunately I do not have a picture of mine, but this is the proper way an altar is set.

“Flor de Cempasúchil” or Mary Gold Flower

  

The Cempasúchil flower or Mary Gold flower is the traditional flower used during the festivities of the Day of the Dead, they are always present in the altars at home or on the graves in the cemetery, but everybody has its own traditions, for example, I always take sunflowers to my dad, as they remained me of the way he used to be, always shining!

“Pan de Muerto” or Bread of the Dead

Another wonderful tradition made during the Day of the Dead is an orangey flavour sweet bread. People in Mexico eat them and use them  as an “ofrenda” (offering) for the altar.

During the last weeks of October all the bakeries around Mexico start baking this bread and people take them home and eat them with some nice cozy hot chocolate.

The way this bread looks has a special meaning, the four long pieces mean the bones of the dead and the ball on top signifies the heart of the dead person and the orangey smell of “Azahar” remind us to the dead.

When I was younger, my mum used to work in a Mexican bakery, so we always used to have fresh sweet bread at home and during “el día de los muertos” we used to eat lots with a hot chocolate.

Now you can make “Pan de Muerto” at home, I share the recipe here

“Calaveras de Azúcar” Sugar Skulls

Just like pan de muerto, sugar skulls are very popular during this celebration. In Mexico all the markets have hundreds of them, nicely decorated. They are placed on the altar as part of the ofrendas (offerings) as well.

Other traditions during “The Day of The Dead”

Every family have their own way to celebrate the day of the dead, for example, in my family we tent to do a BBQ as that was my dad’s favourite thing. My whole family goes to visit his grave and have a little party until dawn.

Everybody brings flowers and something to eat and stay there talking about my dad. Then at night they turn candles to light my dad’s way  to the living world.

Other families tent to cook “Mole” (a chillie and chocolate sauce with chicken) which is consider a dish to have in special occasions. You can find a recipe for Mole Negro con Cuitlacoche here

 

Other traditional recipes for this festival are Tamales and Calabaza en Tacha.

 
 

Calaveras Escritas or Literary Calaveras

Literary Calaveras is a tradition that goes back to vice-royalty times. José Luis Posada a cartoonist and printmaker was the main person to influence this movement, as he used to draw satiric skeletons cartoons of politicians witting comments criticising  the government of those times. Literary Calaveras were banned for some time in Mexico by the government.

Nowadays, literary Calaveras are rhymes usually written in a funny, satiric and ironic tone, pointing to defects and criticizing the vices of a selected person.

Best places in Mexico to experience The Day of The Dead

  • San Andrés Mixquic, Mexico City
  • Xico, Veracruz
  • Páztcuaro and Janitzio, Michoacan
  • Huaquechula, Puebla
  • Xoxo, Oaxaca
  • La Huasteca Potosina, San Luis Potosí

 

Where to celebrate The Day of The Dead in London

I’m very lucky to live in a country where every year the Mexican community and the English people make a big effort to celebrate the Day of the Dead.

 

Wherever or however you are celebrating the Day of the Dead this year, I hope you enjoy it a lot and may the souls of those love ones that have left come back to life!

ENJOY THE DAY OF THE DEAD

 

 

In memory of my lovely father who loved food, family, traditions and life to the most!

 

 

Note: Some of the pictures I used here weren’t taken by me.

Nopales con Huevo (Cactus with Scrambled Eggs)

 
I have so many nice food memories of my childhood while living in Mexico. One of them is my dad bringing a big bag of cactus and he would sit outside to take the prickly bit off, then patiently he would chopped them one by one, then they were cooked and taraaaa! We would had cactus to eat for a week!!!

My dad would do different dishes with them, there would always be a cactus salad in the fridge for the whole week and for breakfast we would always eat cactus with eggs.

Serves 2

Prep 10 min

Cook 15 min approx

Ingredients

  • 200 gr fresh cooked cactus or cactus from a jar chopped
  • 1/2 small onion finely chopped
  • 4 medium beaten eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil

Method

Heat a skillet or a frying pan to medium heat and add the oil, once the oil is hot add the onion and cook for around 5 min or until the onion looks transparent.

Then add the cactus and cook for 3 more minutes.

After add the beaten eggs, cook for 5 minutes.

Serve them with some refried beans, warm corn tortillas and a fresh salsa, I was some of my Puya chilli salsa I did yesterday, find the recipe here

Tips

  • It is almost impossible to find fresh cactus here in the UK, it is more likely to find cactus in a jar, they do not taste the same as the fresh ones, but they taste good. If you get them in a jar, wash them very well to get rid of the taste of vinegar.
  • You can get “La Costeña” cactus jars at www.lacostena.co.uk

Listo!

Provecho!

Salsa de Chile Puya (Puya Chilli Salsa)

Puya is a chilli similar to guajillo, but a bit more spicy. I would say that is a combination of guajillo and arbol chilli, in fact, a lot people get confused between these two, as Puya looks very similar to arbol chilli, but Puya is a bit thicker than arbol. Puya or Pulla, as some people call it, has more fruity and intense flavour than guajillo.

It goes very well with chicken, pork or beef. It is a good chilli to make salsas.
This recipe was given to me by my sister Sonia, who kindly share it with me, she told me that is a salsa from Acapulco, Guerrero, it was given to her by her sister-in-law. My sister Sonia is an excellent cook just like my other siblings. The ingredients are very simple and similar to other salsas, but you use oil to fry it. The combination of the ingredients with the oil make a more silky salsa.

Makes around 150 ml Puya salsa

Prep 10 min

Cook 15 min

Ingredients 

  • 5 dried, clean and deseeded Puya chillis.
  • 2 medium tomatoes cut in chunks
  • 1/2 white onion cut in chunks
  • 1 medium garlic clove peeled
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste

Method

Put the chillies on a hot frying pan to toast for 3 min making sure to turn them around to avoid burning them.

Then put the chillies, onion, tomatoes and garlic in a blender and blend very well, in the meantime, heat the oil, with low heat, in the same frying pan where you toasted the chillies and add the salsa you just blended. Add salt to taste and cook for 15 min.

Have it with your breakfast, tacos or any other Mexican dish!

Tips

  • If you can’t find Puya chillies in the UK, you can use arbol chillies, which are widely available in the Mexican online shops.

Listo!

Provecho!

Dulce de Calabaza (Pumpkin in Syrup)

 
One of the dishes that I will always have in my heart is”dulce de calabaza” or “Calabaza en tacha” as some people call it. For me, this recipe totally takes me back to my childhood, I remember going to visit my grandma in Sinaloa and she and my aunties would cook this dish, sometimes specially for me, as I was and still am number one fan of “Calabaza en dulce”. They are the experts to make this recipe, specially my auntie Laura and Ana.

In Mexico this recipe is cook during the autumn and specially during “The Day of the Dead” as an offering to our loved ones that had past away. Whatever the occasion the truth is this recipe is cosy, delicious and once you try it, you will definitely love it and would, like me, eat the whole pot!

I made a medium pumpkin because it is only for my family and me, but you can make as much as you want, it is an easy recipe and I promise you will love it.

For a medium pumpkin

Prep 15 min

Cook 1 hr approx

Ingredients

  • Cheese or Queensland pumpkin washed and cut in chunks
  • 100 gr Dark Brown Mascovado Sugar or dark piloncillo.
  • 2 medium cinnamon sticks
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 100 ml water

Method

In a large casserole dish add some of the sugar on the bottom and place the pumpkin skin up, add the cloves and cinnamon sticks.

And put another layer of pumpkins and add more sugar, do this until all the pieces are in the casserole dish. Add the water and cook in low heat. Make sure when it is cooking all the pumpkin pieces are covered with the syrup. Cook until the pumpkin is cook and tender.

Enjoy it just by itself or with some milk.

Tips

  • This recipe traditionally is made with dark “Piloncillo” or “Panela” as some people call it.
  • For this recipe I used dark brown Mascovado sugar as I couldn’t find dark piloncillo. The results are very similar.

Listo!

Provecho!