You Are What You Eat: Cinco de Mayo
Every year on May 5th, people across the world come together to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. While many mistakenly believe it is Mexico’s Independence Day, the holiday actually commemorates the Mexican army’s triumph over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. What began as a historical event has evolved into a vibrant celebration of Mexican culture, with food and beverages playing a central role.
This Newstalk episode explores the origins of Cinco de Mayo, the significance of Mexican cuisine, and highlights some iconic dishes and beverages that you can make to celebrate.
A Winning Battle and an American Celebration
Cinco de Mayo holds great historical importance for Mexico, but its fiesta-style celebration is largely an American creation. The largest festivities take place in Los Angeles, where the spirit of Mexican culture comes alive. The holiday gained popularity in the United States during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency under his “Good Neighbor” policy, which aimed to improve relations with Latin American countries. Over time, Chicano and Hispanic activists embraced Cinco de Mayo as a means to promote cultural understanding. In the 1980s, food companies and marketing organisations capitalised on the holiday’s popularity, integrating it into advertising campaigns.
Cinco de Mayo Fiesta Menu
To fully immerse oneself in the spirit of Cinco de Mayo, a menu inspired by Mexican cuisine is essential. The flavours and spices that define Mexican dishes have captivated taste buds worldwide.
Here is a Cinco de Mayo-inspired menu featuring bold and flavourful dishes perfect for celebrating this festive occasion:
Starters: Guacamole with homemade tortilla chips Queso Fundido with Chorizo served with flour tortillas Salsa Verde with fresh corn chips (boiled with tomatillos or fresh) Mexican Street Corn (Elote)
Entrees: Carne Asada Tacos with cilantro, onions, and a side of salsa Chicken Tinga Tostadas with refried beans and cotija cheese Shrimp Ceviche with avocado, lime, and cilantro Pork Carnitas with pickled red onions and lime wedges
Sides: Mexican Rice with peas and carrots Charro Beans with bacon and jalapeños Grilled Vegetables with Mexican seasoning
Desserts: Tres Leches Cake Churros with Mexican hot chocolate dipping sauce Mango Margarita Sorbet
Beverages: Classic Margaritas made with 100% agave tequila, fresh lime juice, and agave syrup Palomas made with grapefruit soda and tequila Micheladas made with Mexican beer, lime juice, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.
Mexican Cuisine: Bold and Iconic Flavours
Mexican cuisine is renowned for its bold and complex flavours that have captivated taste buds worldwide. Here are ten popular and iconic Mexican dishes that you won’t regret trying:
Tacos: Corn or wheat tortillas filled with a variety of meats, vegetables, and toppings.
Enchiladas: Rolled tortillas filled with cheese, meat, or beans, smothered in chilli pepper sauce.
Guacamole: A dip made with mashed avocado, lime juice, cilantro, and other seasonings.
Pozole: A traditional Mexican soup made with pork, hominy, and various seasonings.
Tamales: Masa dough filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables, wrapped in a corn husk and steamed.
Quesadillas: Tortillas filled with melted cheese and sometimes other ingredients such as meat, vegetables, or beans, then folded in half and toasted.
Chiles Rellenos: Roasted and peeled poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, meat, or other fillings, then battered and fried.
Mole: A rich and complex sauce made with a variety of ingredients, including chilli peppers, chocolate, nuts, spices, and more. It is often served over meats such as chicken or pork.
Ceviche: A dish of raw seafood (such as shrimp or fish) marinated in citrus juices, mixed with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and other seasonings.
Churros: Fried dough pastries coated in cinnamon and sugar, often served with a side of chocolate sauce for dipping.
These dishes represent just a small fraction of the diverse and vibrant Mexican culinary tradition. Mexican cuisine is characterised by its use of fresh ingredients, bold flavours, and a wide array of spices and herbs. It incorporates a mix of indigenous Mesoamerican ingredients, Spanish influences, and regional variations, resulting in a rich tapestry of flavours and textures.
Celebrating Mexican Culture and Heritage
Cinco de Mayo provides an opportunity to celebrate and appreciate Mexican culture and heritage. Beyond the food, the holiday is often marked by lively music, colourful decorations, traditional dances, and cultural events. It serves as a reminder of the resilience and courage of the Mexican people throughout history. As you celebrate Cinco de Mayo, take a moment to learn more about the rich history and traditions of Mexico. Explore the vibrant flavours of Mexican cuisine, try out traditional recipes, and share the experience with friends and family. Whether it’s through a festive gathering, a visit to a Mexican restaurant, or simply trying out a new recipe at home, Cinco de Mayo offers a chance to embrace and honour the beauty and diversity of Mexican culture.