Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner, and now’s the time to start thinking about what delicious Mexican recipes to serve up at your own fiesta.
But before you bust out your favorite sombrero and queue up your mariachi playlist, it’s important to understand the history behind the celebration. It’s a common misconception that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican independence day, but it’s not. Mexican independence day is actually September 16, in honor of the country’s separation from the Spanish Empire in 1810.
Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates Mexico’s victory over Napoleon’s French army in the Battle of Puebla in 1862 under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza.
General Zaragoza and the Mexican people’s victory at Puebla is celebrated around Mexico not because it lead to independence, but because it was won against all odds.
Going into the battle, the Mexican army was out-equipped and outnumbered nearly eleven to one. The victory at Puebla followed a string of demoralizing defeats, reawakening hope throughout the region that the Mexican people could defend and secure their homeland.
That pride and hope has been celebrated every year on Cinco de Mayo for 160 years with music, food, drinks, and community.
With so many delicious potential options, we’re turning to Mexican culinary explorer and Jellysmack Latin American creator partner La Ruta de la Garnacha for inspo plus demonstrations on how to bring these vibrant dishes to life.
Creator La Ruta de la Garnacha canvasses every corner of Mexico’s vibrant culinary scene, from the northern Baja California city of Tijuana to the southern states of Oaxaca and beyond.
This beloved dish has its roots in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca, Puebla, and Hidalgo.
Chalupas are generally deep fried corn taco tortillas that are hardened into either a bowl-like shape or as a flat crunchy discs.
Whatever the shape, these crunchy golden vessels are then topped with seasoned meats, vegetables, beans, sauces, and cheeses.
Highly customizable, a chalupa making station is sure to be a hit. Include bowls of all your favorite ingredients and you’ll be sure to suit nearly every dietary request—from the gluten-free meat lover to the plant-centric vegan—in one fell swoop.
To see how it’s done in the cities where these delicious, crispy golden vessels of flavor are from, check out La Ruta la la Garnacha’s video showcasing the pros at work in Puebla, Mexico.
2. Tijuana Street Tacos
Heading northbound from chalupa central to the Baja California city of Tijuana, street tacos are a crowd-pleasing dish that few could fail to appreciate.
Tijuana-style street tacos are unique in that they generally have a fairly specific composition. Generally served on a freshly made small, soft corn tortilla, they are most often layered with seasoned shredded or diced meats such as al pastor (pork marinated in adobe spice, chilis, and garlic), carne asada (steak rubbed in a seasoning blend composed of cumin, garlic, paprika, chili powder, and other robust, savory spices), or birria de res, which is generally meat cooked in a savory and spicy red marinade.
Tijuana style tacos are generally combined with chopped white onions, cilantro, and topped with a simple guacamole.
Serve with your favorite blended salsa and enjoy.
There’s some room for creativity here, but the star ingredient is generally the meat. Of course, the chefs in Tijuana like to add their own sabor to their creations, so it’s common to see some variance from vendor to vendor.
Though fish tacos are very popular in Tijuana, their composition is often a little different. Rather than chopped cilantro and onions, battered fish tacos are generally topped with shredded cabbage and a creamy white sauce (often based on sour cream or mayo).
No matter what way you take it, remember this: Always squeeze some lime on the tacos before serving.
Check out La Ruta de la Garnacha’s video tour of Tijuana where taco masters showcase their craft.
Popular in the Pacific coastal state of Sinaloa, aguachiles is a popular dish reminiscent of ceviche that’s sure to please all the seafood lovers out there.
A type of fresh, cold salad—perfect for a hot day—aguachiles is traditionally composed of fresh, raw shrimp mixed with chopped red onions, cucumbers, avocado, and is often served with tortilla chips.
Though there is significant overlap between traditional ceviche and aguachiles, they are not the same thing. The ingredients of ceviche are often mixed together with lime juice and allowed to marinate for hours before being served. But the ingredients of aguachiles are generally mixed together and tossed with a marinade of pulverized chilis blended with water—hence the name ‘aguachiles.’
Additionally, aguachiles is a faster-to-make dish compared to ceviche as it is often served immediately rather than requiring an hours-long flavor marrying period like ceviche.
To get some inspiration from the aguachile pros of Mexico, don’t miss La Ruta de la Garnacha’s video on this fresh and zesty dish.
Whatever you decide to serve up, happy Cinco de Mayo from everyone here at Jellysmack—and don’t forget the lime.