Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos in Spanish, is a Mexican holiday that takes part every 31st of October and it stretches until the 2nd of November. Family and friends gather to celebrate and commemorate passed loved ones’ memories and bring support to their spiritual journey. These festivities used to take place at the beginning of summer; however, following the Spanish colonization in the 16th century they were moved to these dates to coincide with the Roman Catholic festival All Saints’ Eve.
We speak to a number of Mexican restaurants about what Day of the Dead means to them.
For Jimena, from London's Mestizo Restaurant in Hampstead, Day of the Dead is one of the most important Mexican fiestas. She says “It is the annual opportunity to celebrate the life of our beloved departed. This may sound a bit strange to other people but it is a happy occasion. This is the reason why there is music, flowers and food in any Day of the Dead celebration.”
Day of the Dead is one of the most important Mexican fiestas.
It is customary to “visit them at the cemetery or altar, bring them flowers and their favourite food, drink and music” says Chef-Patron Fernando de la Cruz, owner of Santo Restaurant in London's Portobello Road. Aoife of Brighton's Mexican street-food restaurant La Choza adds that drink offering is usually tequila!
In London’s Café Pacífico in Covent Garden, Día de los Muertos is one of their favourite holidays. During the festival season the restaurant has the “great opportunity to show a very unique part of Mexican culture” as well as having a joyful day with the staff and customers, says head chef Fernando.
Everyone fondly talks about Pan de Muerto, Spanish for bread of the dead. Pan de Muerto is a sweet roll traditionally baked across Mexico during the week of the holiday, decorated with bone-shaped pieces. Jimena serves this “delicious type of bread” with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate. Or enjoy with café de olla, coffee spiced with cinnamon, clove and orange peel, served by chef de la Cruz.
Everyone fondly talks about Pan de Muerto, 'bread of the dead'
“Normally you cook the favourite dish of the passed person” says de la Cruz, and a couple of dishes he likes serving are pozole – pork stew and hominy – and tostadas de pollo – chicken tostadas. Aiofe emphasises the importance of pan de muerto and pozole, but at La Choza they are also creating new celebratory dishes, including shredded duck homemade mole enchiladas.
Like at Hallowe'en, pumpkin is popular in Mexico for Day of the Dead. And another traditional Day of the Dead dessert is calabaza en tacha, where “pumpkin is cooked in sugar until caramelized,” shares Jimena.