Hispanic culture has many flavors and influences, but usually the same few flavors appear every holiday: alcohol, chocolate, sugar, and bread. Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd every year, and Hispanics celebrate this traditional holiday by preparing ofrendas (altars) for their beloved family and friends that have passed on to the afterlife.
With every special holiday comes rare, once-a-year treats that are related to the celebration, so here they are:
Served warm, this thick, savory drink is mostly chocolate based with milk, corn masa for thickening, and spicy mole sauce for a kick. Atole is so popular that many Hispanic restaurants serve it well past Day of the Dead. For those of you old enough to drink alcohol, you better believe this drink can be spiked with native corn based alcohol.
2. Sugar Skulls
A combination of meringue powder and granulated sugar, sugar skulls are a treat traditionally meant for decoration only.The candy skulls have a wide variety of shapes and sizes; the molds for them include the skull wearing a hat or flower. Using icing and other edible decor, sugar skulls are a vibrant and fun way to celebrate the dead.
Literal translation: bread of the dead. Cute rhyme, isn’t it? Sweet and golden, Pan de Muerto will always be found on the altars of the dead. Some have raisins, frosting, or sugar on top, while others are plain golden brown. This bread is especially favorable because it can be a dessert-like treat or part of the dinner plate with your meats and veggies.
Tamales are a traditional Hispanic food, but are especially important for the altars of deceased loved ones. Being a favorite dish for many Spanish peoples, tamales are a common offering. The family will often make the tamales with the deceased person in mind by using their favorite meat, like beef, and adding other ingredients they loved into the tamales. The strong flavors of chile, chocolate, beef, and onions wrapped in a corn husk make this treat extra savory to enjoy.
What’s any fall holiday without some good old pumpkin (and not the spiced latte kind). A sweet chunk of candied pumpkin is not uncommon to see on the altar. Known in Spanish as Calabaza en tacha, these special sugar pumpkins are grown almost explicitly for this time of year and very simply cooked in raw sugar syrup. The pumpkin chunks absorb the tangy rawness of the cane sugar, then are allowed to cool, add some spices, and finally it’s ready for eating pleasure.
Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration centered around food and remembrance. These traditional dishes offer a piece of culture and history that blends to form the Hispanic holiday we have all come to know and look forward to every November 1st.