Contrary to popular belief, most Mexican food does not consist of ground beef, plastic cheese and packet tortillas. Few countries on earth can boast a culinary culture as rich or diverse as Mexico, so it’s pretty unfair that Cinco de Mayo celebrations beyond its borders usually culminate in a bowl of dull green guac. For anyone who wishes to delve a little deeper into the patchwork of foods and flavours that make up Mexican heritage, here are a few dishes that can make Cinco de Mayo extra special.
1. Lamb Barbacoa
If one dish proves that there’s more to meat than cow, chicken and pig, lamb barbacoa is it. A traditional slow cooked recipe, this dish usually calls for a whole lamb to be smothered in spices and seasoning, before being wrapped in banana leaves and smoked underground for several hours. The result is tender, pull-apart dish that can stand up against any barbecue in the world.
2. Mole Poblano
Mole is probably Mexico’s most beloved dish, and with good reason. This staple sauce is usually made with a blend of peppers, spices, tomatoes and garlic and is served with everything from rice to meat. Mole Poblano is perhaps the most famous example, with its dark red colour and deep smoky flavour the envy of the culinary world.
3. Carnitas con Queso Fresco
When it comes to street food snacking, carnitas are the king. Slow roasted pork shoulder can be pulled and prepared with any number of accompaniments, but is perhaps at its best when alongside tortillas and Mexican cheese - also known as queso fresco. Together with avocado and coriander, these meaty tacos will take your breath away.
Unlike the Taco Bell staple that has gone a long way towards ruining this dish’s international reputation, proper chalupas are a thing of beauty. Featuring a shallow cup of fried corn dough filled with everything from shredded chicken to salsa to cheese, these bundles will make sure you never darken the door of Taco Bell again.
These flattened disks of tortilla dough might look like little pizzas, but they have their own distinct identity. Made by flattening corn masa, cooking it on a comal and topping the result with ingredients as diverse as French fries or chicharron, memelas are fondly referred to by some as the world’s greatest hangover cure.
6. Rajas Poblanas
Despite an array of readily available spices and seasonings on hand, some of Mexico’s best food is deceptively simple. One such example is raja poblana. Featuring strips of grilled poblano chili peppers served with corn and cream, this is a dish for anyone who fancies a break from the rest of Mexico’s meat heavy offerings.
7. Chiles en Nogada
There’s no better way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than with one of Mexico’s most iconic dishes. Featuring stuffed and fried green peppers, a rich white walnut sauce and bright red pomegranate seeds, Chiles en Nogada is supposed to represent the nation’s flag as well as taste delicious. Though traditionally reserved for Mexican independence day, there’s no reason not to serve it on May 5th.
With so many straightforward Tex Mex staples readily available on menus across the world, it’s easy to settle for what’s familiar. However, as these dishes prove, there’s so much more to Mexican food than burritos and nachos. With so many different dishes to try, there’s no reason to not push the boat out this year and be a little braver with your party food.