Cinco de mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla, which took place in 1861. The holiday marks Puebla’s underdog victory over the French army and translates to “May fifth” from Spanish. While Cinco de mayo is a celebration of national pride, it is different form the country’s independence day, which falls on September 16th. Puebla is just south of the capital, Mexico City, and shares many of its culinary traditions. Cinco de mayo is the perfect time to try new foods. Start with traditional Puebla fare and expand your palate by incorporating other Mexican dishes.
According to popular kitchen folklore, mole originated in Puebla when Catholic nuns made the sauce to impress a visiting bishop. The robust sauce is a blend of peppers, spices, and cacao. The sauce takes hours to prepare and tends to vary from one batch to the next. Luckily, there are many pre-made versions of mole that only need to heated prior to serving. Mole is fondly known as Mexico’s national dish. Mole, also called mole poblano, is typically served with chicken but makes a flavorful accompaniment to grilled vegetables. Try it with zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers.
Cemitas and Pelonas are traditional sandwiches served in Puebla. Much like American style subs and hoagies, these sandwiches brim with an assortment of fillings. Cemitas are typically served on a sesame seed bun and contain avocado, cheese, and meat, such as barbequed pork. Pelonas usually are made with fried bread, bean dip, lettuce, and shredded meat. These sandwiches have many variations and are called tortas in other parts of the country.
Although ceviche, citrus-marinated seafood salad, is most popular in costal regions of Mexico and Latin America, it is an excellent dish to try on Cinco de mayo. Traditional ceviche features a mixture of uncooked seafood—shrimp and octopus are common—with finely diced vegetables, such as avocados and tomatoes. The citrus marinade lend the dish a clean flavor and makes the seafood appear to be cooked. Since citrus marinades do not kill bacteria the same way cooking does, this dish is best left to experienced seafood chefs. Many people enjoy ceviche as an appetizer or light meal.
Another popular Mexican dish is a citrus salad. Similarly to the ceviche, it uses the region’s abundant citrus fruits to lend a refreshing flavor to meals. There are many variations on this appetizer but most versions include cucumbers, oranges, cilantro, jicama, and a light vinegar dressing. Also, try adding fennel, lemon, lime, or grapefruit. Citrus salads help balance the heavier flavors of a meal, such as the rich poblano mole, and also make a refreshing breakfast.
Instead of feasting on generic Mexican-style takeout food this Cinco de mayo, celebrate by adding traditional flavor to you day. Explore ethnic grocery stores and visit traditional restaurants. There are many regional cuisines to explore—start your culinary adventure with Puebla and then sample the food of the Yucatán and Oaxaca regions. ¡Buena suerte!