Mexico’s Independence Day, food, vendors and a little history
If you’re here during mid-September it is hard to miss seeing the changeover of public city decorations and cart vendors. City workers begin preparing city hall or Palacio Municipal a week before, while local street vendors begin selling colorful red, white and green flags and other national symbols two weeks ahead of time.
What’s all the fuss about? This week marks Mexico’s independence from Spain. The official holiday is September 16, however, at 11:00 p.m. on the eve of September 15, Mexico’s president rings the bell of the National Palace. It is after this he shouts Grito de Delores or the cries of Dolores with ¡Viva México!” “¡Viva la independencia! before waiving the national flag.
The next day, September 16, marks the historical date of the start of a War of Independence.
It is a common misconception, especially in the U.S., that Cinco de Mayo, which is May 5, is actually Mexican Independence Day. Mexico’s Independence Day marks the start of the long war for independence while Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s 1862 victory over French forces.
It was in the late hours of September 15, 1810 when Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest in the town of Dolores, Guanajuato, led the rebellion against the Spanish. He rang the church bells, calling his people to mass and exhorted them to rebel against the Spaniards with cries of “¡Viva México!” “¡Viva la independencia! (“Long live Mexico! Long live our independence!”), which became the famous Grito de Dolores. It is for this reason the bell at the National Palace in Mexico City is rung at the 11th hour the night before.
Aside from endless street vendors, colorful clothes, national music and live entertainment, there are two very authentic dishes that you can try — if you haven’t already — that are closely associated with Mexico’s Independence Day.
The first is tamales de Puerco or pork tamales. This traditional Mesoamerican dish is made of masa, a corn-based dough that is steamed in corn husks or banana leaves. While the wrapping is discarded before being eaten, the leaves add a lot of flavor to the tamale. These leaves are also used to protect the inside ingredients since traditional tamales are slow-baked in the ground.
So, what does the tamale have to do with Mexico’s independence day? Tamales were once used as portable food, often made ahead of time to support hunters, travelers and armies.
A dish with one of the most intense ingredients lists, Chiles en Nogada is also a highly regarded local food staple during the weeks leading up to Mexico’s independence day. While served year round, this amazingly colorful dish is a Mexican cuisine who’s name comes from nogal, the Spanish word for walnut.
Made of poblano chilis that are filled with a delightful assortment of shredded meat, fruits and spices, it is covered in a walnut-based cream sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds. Together, the combination provides the nation’s green, white and red colors of Mexico.
¡Viva México! ¡Viva la independencia!