What the Dead Eat: A Día de los Muertos Party Menu
Halloween is so passé. It's nothing more than Christmas, a commercial boon for cheap decorations, terrible eats and overdone getup far removed from its cultural and religious foundations. What people, especially those with an unending love for Mexican food, should celebrate is Día de los Muertos, or the Mexican Day of the Dead. The holiday is actually two days: November 1 and November 2.
Don't let the name fool you, though. The Day of the Dead is a festive occasion, not one for which we disguise ourselves from the demons parading on earth. From its pre-Columbian roots, the holiday, which is actually two days (November 1 and November 2), is a celebration of the lives, which death is just another part, of our ancestors. And another excuse to party.
So, City of Ate would like to entreat its readers to hold Day of the Dead get-togethers, not silly little costume parties, with the following dishes.
Mole Mole is the Mexican dish," Iliana de la Vega, instructor at the Culinary Institute of America's San Antonio campus once told me while we were eating lunch from El Naranjo, a food truck she co-owns in Austin. It's a region-specific dish, with countless variations not restricted to what are called the seven moles of Oaxaca, the Mexican state from where the sauce originated. Mole can contain upward of 30 ingredients. It's labor intensive, for sure, and best made with the assistance of family or and close friends. The process represents what the Day of the Dead is all about: family and friends. The love shared honors everyone, especially the dead, who have made the love possible by bringing us into the world. A finished mole, an amalgam of bountiful ingredients, further represents the significance of the Day of the Dead.
A simple version of mole can be made from a Rick Bayless recipe, or by going to your local Fiesta supermarket for a jar of Doña Maria or any of the other commercially available mole preparations. If you want to kill two birds with one stone, serve Oaxacan tamales with mole, which can be purchased at the
Dallas Tortilla and Tamale Factory.
Mesoamerican people first consumed these steamed treats between 5,000 and 8,000 B.C. They usually contain pork or chicken and are meant to resemble an Aztec burial. The husks are supposed to represent the Aztec sleeping mat, the petate, which individuals were wrapped in after death.
The masa and filling represent the individual's body, and the sauce, if there is any, signifies the individual's blood. Recipes are myriad, but this one, is as simple as it gets. Of course, if you're not into getting covered in nixtamalized corn, several businesses around town sell them, among them Dallas Tortilla and Tamale Factory and Luna's Tortilla Factory.
Calaveras de Azucar (Sugar Skulls)
Get your sweet fix with these. A favorite of children, these whimsical and colorful snacks lighten the mood of anyone verging on sadness.
This is where it gets creative. Altars are erected in homes to pay homage to ancestors long since passed. Placed on the altars are usually yellow and orange marigolds, comedic skeletons called "calacas" and candles.
A bar of soap, a towel and a bowl of water are present to refresh the dead after their journey from the afterlife. But this is a party, so we recommend placing any fun items, like a gaudy Christmas tie or toys, that belonged to your love ones on a table alongside the food listed above and seasonal fruit and vegetables. And beer, lots and lots of beer.
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