by Mariana Hernández Basañez
To die we must live first, and to live, we need to enjoy the greatest and most delectable things that life has to offer, like food. Mexicans are known for their culinary art, colorful folklore, and for their capacity of showing joy and pleasure during adversity.
Think about your favorite food: mmmm… delicious, right? How would you feel about the idea of being able to eat it year after year, even after death? What about the possibility of enjoying those tasty flavors, allowing us to return to life as souls guided by a road made of cempasúchil flower petals?
On the other hand, how would you like the idea of being able to provide joy to your loved ones who have passed away, by cooking their favorite dishes? Or remembering them through savory tastes, aromas, textures and colors, all of which can transport you to moments of the past to be relived with your dear deceased?.
In Mexico, all of this and more is possible due to the fact that we celebrate life as well as death by our creation of unique altars, called Ofrendas, offering the dear departed their favorite dishes and beverages as a loving remembrance.
Ofrendas generally include different kinds of tamales (mole, verde, rajas, or even strawberry). Other offerings include zacahuiles, which are the same as tamales, though much bigger. Another Ofrenda favorite is Mole, is a typical sauce made with many ingredients, including various kinds of chiles or hot peppers, spices, day-old bread, nuts, and a little chocolate, and is generally served with chicken.
To continue with the traditional gastronomic decoration, the altar can also offer enchiladas or chiles rellenos stuffed with cheese, meat (picadillo), tuna fish, beans or whatever we can think of and want, and the not-so-famous but delicious mixiotes: bags stuffed with lamb meat very well- seasoned, as is the case with almost everything.
But wait, our loved ones’ feast does not end here. We must add a generous touch of sugar to this special celebration, starting with a basket filled with pan de muerto (Bread of the Dead), followed by one or two calabazas en tacha (a Mexican sweet way of eating pumpkin flavored with spices, cloves, cinnamon, guava, piloncillo, and sugar cane).
We must not forget to mention the famous calaveritas de azúcar (edible sugar skulls) that represent the duality between life and death, through its white and colorful mixtures. And finally, tlaxcales (a gastronomic product based on cornmeal and sugar) accompanied by different kinds of fruits and crystallized sweets, which may feel unusual, but that is typical in our country: the mixture of fruits and vegetables in water and sugar.
We have come to the end of the road, where the path of cempasúchil flower petals guides us today so that we can remember all we would be willing to do for the opportunity of once again, year after year, being able to love our dear deceased who have unfortunately passed away. We should not forget that although the traditional Ofrenda del Día de Muertos (Offering of the Day of the Dead) suggests a series of certain typical dishes, we can enjoy the freedom of customizing our gastronomic presentation according to personal and family preferences of our loved ones.
The Ofrenda del Día de Muertos, is essentially a traditional mode of communication between life and death, using the art of gastronomy as a unique way of saying that by celebrating death we can unite with our loved ones who have gone, over and over and over … again.