Guess what? Cinco de Mayo is not Independence Day, Mexico’s most important patriotic holiday. That happens to be on September 16th. But Cinco de Mayo is the date when Mexican heritage and pride is particularly celebrated in the United States, and in Mexico’s state of Puebla. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the improbable David & Goliath victory of the smaller, weaker Mexican army over the larger, more powerful French occupation forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, a time when a series of wars had crippled the Mexican economy, leaving it almost bankrupt. This unlikely victory is a source of pride for the people of Mexico, and that’s what is celebrated today.
And this year, May 5, 2012 is the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo. There’s no better time to celebrate the regional cuisines of Mexico, with its splendid assortment of flavors and foods.
Mexican cuisine evolved through centuries, mixing the foods of its indigenous cultures in the Americas, with colonial European influences starting in the 16th century. So great are the qualities of Mexican cuisine that the UN dubbed it a “human treasure” and added it to UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage” list.
Indigenous corn and beans are its staples, along with rice, which traveled from North Africa to Spain in the 4th century and subsequently to Mexico with the Conquistadores. Corn is eaten fresh from the cob, as well as ground to make masa harina, a corn flour used to make several kinds of foods, including specialties like tamales and tortillas.
Mexican food is filled with indigenous vegetables such as squash, which originally grew all over the Americas for as long as 10,000 years, and chili peppers which the Spanish confused with peppercorns, mistakenly giving them the same name. The Mexican flavor profile often includes garlic and onions and embraces the flavors of a wide variety of chilies, herbs like oregano and cilantro, plus cinnamon and cocoa. Mexican cuisine commonly uses chipotle, an intensely hot smoked and dried ground jalapeño powder.
Consider the following foods, all of which are native to Mexico: tomatoes, corn, avocadoes, chili peppers, guava, papaya and bell peppers. Put that together with Mexico’s indigenous dessert duo – vanilla and chocolate – and think about what our diets would be like without this marvelous assortment of ingredients.
We have much to be thankful for when it comes to the foods of Mexico. It’s enough to make us get up and shout “Viva Mexico!”
Try one of these favorite Mexican-American recipes and add some zip to your next meal:
Avocado, Shrimp & Caramelized Onion Quesadillas
Pork Fajitas with Mango, Peppers, & Onions
Ceviche in Endive Cups