It’s once again time for one of the most delicious holidays to celebrate, Cinco de Mayo. While many choose to celebrate with store-bought chips and salsa — or even a sacrilegious trip to Taco Bell — the holiday really is about a lot more than just the food.

What does Cinco de Mayo celebrate?

Though many hold the belief that Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s independence from Spain, the country’s independence day is actually on September 16. Rather, Cinco de Mayo is meant to commemorate the Battle of Puebla that occurred in 1862 during the Franco-Mexican War. This battle was an all-day affair in which 2,000 Mexican troops fought off French troops with three times the numbers, which ended with the French retreating.

Why do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo in America?

The battle was a significant morale booster for Mexican troops, and while it is not a national holiday in Mexico, it is celebrated as a state holiday in Puebla and Veracruz. Celebrations spread to America when Mexican miners in California learned of the victory the following year. During the Mexican-American civil rights movement and Chicano movement in the mid-twentieth century, the holiday took on a much larger significance.

However, since then, the holiday has seemed to take on a different meaning in American culture. Irene Vasquez, the University of New Mexico’s department chair of Chicano and Chicana studies, told USA Today that the idea of Cinco de Mayo being a day for drinking, eating, and partying can “overshadow, in a way, people’s memory of what Cinco de Mayo represents.”

“It’s important for people to understand that this is a day when Mexican people can celebrate with peoples of all different ethnicities the importance of history, of heritage, of culture, and that we all have a place in the society,” she continued.

Recipes to cook on Cinco de Mayo

Despite the current American narrative surrounding the holiday, there are many ways to celebrate authentically and honor the memory of the Battle of Puebla and Cinco de Mayo. Here are five Mexican recipes to help you celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

1. Chilaquiles
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Hailed as the “Mexican hangover cure,” Chilaquiles are a far cry from the traditional chips and salsa dishes seen on many Cinco de Mayo menus. The corn-tortilla based dish originated in 1898, and its components can vary greatly between families and regions. For this delicious dish, tortillas are cut, fried, and drenched in hot sauce; they then get slathered with a choice of salsas, as well as cheese, cream, onion slices, and avocado. Served with a side of refried beans and an occasional meat addition, this dish is a perfect way to honor Cinco de Mayo — and any alcohol-related side effects that may come along with it.

2. Elote
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Whether you find it on a stick or on a cup, this corn dish appears to be an interesting combination, but its uniqueness is exactly what makes it so appetizing. Traditionally, elote is fresh corn slathered with mayonnaise, cotija cheese, chile, and lime. A popular Mexican street food, “elote” directly translates to “corn,” and has become a fine dining option with many variations and flavors, making it a delectable addition to the holiday’s eats.

3. Ceviche
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For the more adventurous, there’s the classic ceviche. Diced raw seafood gets cured in lime juice — the juice’s acidity cooks the fish, so it can be tossed with flavor-enhancers like tomatoes, cilantro, cucumbers, and jalapenos. The mixture is best eaten atop a crispy tortilla, whether it be in chip form or a traditional tostada. Hailing from the coasts of Peru nearly 2,000 years ago, ceviche has proven to be a refreshing addition to many cultures who have adopted the dish, and is the perfect way to brighten up a Cinco de Mayo meal.

4. Camarones al mojo de ajo

Another option for the fish lovers is camarones al mojo de ajo, or Mexican garlic shrimp. Often paired with fluffy white rice, the shrimp are tossed in oil and butter as they are grilled or sauteed, along with a dredge of chile. While it may be a less widely known Mexican meal, its flavorful yet not overly spicy profile makes it an incredible option for exploring traditional Mexican foods on Cinco de Mayo, and will help you expand not only your tastebuds, but your cultural food knowledge.

5. Paletas
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To end off this list on a sweet note, it would be a disservice not to mention the star of summertime Mexican desserts, paletas. These traditional Mexican popsicles tend to be less sweet and healthier than their American counterparts, and can come in two different variations; creamier, milky flavors like arroz con leche and avocado, or fruity flavors like pineapple and mango-chile. Another street vendor classic, paletas are the perfect way to end an evening or afternoon of savory traditional eats.

Whether you choose to dine in or eat out, we hope you explore some of these traditional Mexican foods as a part of your celebration, and choose to honor the Battle of Puebla and Cinco de Mayo in a way that is both delicious and respectful.