Friday, May 05, 2006

Cinco de Mayo and Food Traditions

Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, is a big holiday in some parts of the U.S.--mostly bars and restaurants that serve Corona beer--but few seem to know what it is all about. Some have the mistaken impression that it is Mexican Independence Day (September 16, 1810). Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico's victory in the Battle of Puebla (1862) over the French forces of Napolean III. The history of this holiday in Mexico and the U.S. is complicated, and discussed in a fascinating episode of the Eat Feed podcast series called The French Flavors of Cinco de Mayo. In Anne Bramely's interview of Professor Jeffrey Pilcher, the basic history of Cinco de Mayo is in the first few minutes of the podcast, but since it is only about 20 minutes long, I recommend listening to it all. If you can't, two key food-related points that I remember:

  • At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, the favored food of the elite class was French. In fact, during lavish banquets celebrating Mexican Independence, the entire menu was often French, without a speck of chile, corn, beans or squash in sight. Foods based on indigenous traditions were considered the food of the lower classes, and therefore inappropriate for the elite.

  • Because the holiday wasn't celebrated among normal people (i.e., non-elites), there are no traditional Mexican dishes associated with the holiday.

I started reading Pilcher's book Que Vivan Los Tamales (University of New Mexico Press) last week, and it is fascinating. As I noted in two previous posts, Mexico's culinary history is one of fusion and tension between ancient indigenous traditions and colonial imports (from Europe and Asia).

Indexed under Miscellaneous, Mexico
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