Mexico celebrated 200 years of independence in 2010 with a massive fiesta that cost millions of pesos. While this year's celebrations won't match the grandiosity of the bicentennial, there is no such thing as a small party in Mexico
Mexico's Día de la Independencia is one of the biggest celebrations of the year, said Miguel Angel Escobar Ramirez, Food and Beverage Manager of Camino Real Aeropuerto in Mexico City, who hails from Morelos. He said both El Díade los Muertos and Christmas Eve also involve massive party planning efforts.
It's logical that Día de la Independencia is celebrated most fervently in the country's capital, Mexico City. If you ever have the chance, experiencing “El Grito”-- “Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico!”-- in Mexico City's Zocalo is exciting and unforgettable.
But no matter where you are, says Escobar, you can plan a fun and festive Día de la Independencia party for your family and friends.
“The three ingredients that you can't do without for a Día de la Independencia party,” says Escobar, “are decorations, music, and food.”
While the specific kinds of food that are eaten and music that is played vary from one state in Mexico to another, Escobar offers some general advice for planning a Día de la Independencia party, and Chef Oscar del Rivero of Talavera Cocina Mexicana in Miami shares a few of his favorite recipes—some traditional, and some contemporary—for Mexico's independence day.
Decorating your home for a Día de la Independencia party is a must, says Escobar, as it sets the tone for the celebrations. Decorations don't need to cost a lot of money, but they should fulfill two requirements, if possible: (1) They should be green, white, and red (Mexico's colors) and (2) they should make a lot of noise. Straw sombreros, paper horns, and matracas (noisemakers) are typical decorations that can be found for a reasonable price at many party stores.
In Mexico, Escobar says most families hang flags and papel picado (shown here, on the balcony), on the outside of their homes. If you have children, making papel picado is a fun DIY project that gets the family in the spirit of celebration. Again, green, white, and red are the typical colors for the September 16 celebrations.
China la Poblana
For party hosts who have Mexican ties, decorations for a Díade la Independencia party might be a little more elaborate, says Escobar. China la Poblana dolls and hand-stitched manteles and tablecloths can set the scene with an authentic touch. These handmade pieces honor the many arts and crafts traditions of Mexico.
One way to liven up the party even more is to ask guests to come dressed up as a hero of the Revolution or a famous figure from Mexican history. Favorites in Mexico? Pancho Villa, Miguel Hidalgo, and Jose Morelos. If your guests don't know much about history, you can supply them with fake Pancho Villa mustaches.
Music of Mariachis
“Si no tienes mariachi, no es fiesta,” says Escobar about the importance of having mariachi music to provide the soundtrack for a Día de la Independencia party. If it's impossible for you to find a live mariachi band, Escobar grudgingly approves playing CDs of Mexican greats, Alejandro Fernandez and Vicente Fernandez.
Chiles en nogada
If there's a single signature dish of Mexico's Independence celebrations, chiles en nogada is it. Prepared and eaten only during the September celebrations, chiles en nogada takes an iconic Mexican ingredient- the chile poblano-and stuffs it with a variety of ingredients; the final product is a green, white, and red dish that embodies the taste and color of Mexico.
Talavera's cactus salad
Chef del Rivero serves this cactus salad, a riff on a traditional ingredient, the nopal, with portobello mushrooms at his restaurant, Talavera, in Miami. It's hard to get good, fresh cactus paddles in the US, so Chef Oscar del Rivero recommends using Dona Maria brand cactus, sold in the US at specialty Mexican food shops.
Escobar asserts there's no need for fancy cocktails to serve alongside traditional dishes like chiles en nogada (or other favorites, like pozole, elotes, y esquites); the classic margarita or shots of tequila and mezcal are just fine. Chef del Rivero prefers spicing up traditional favorites with a contemporary twist. At Talavera, he serves a Spicy Coconut Mezcal Margarita and Hisbiscus Margarita.
Julie Schwietert Collazo is a freelance writer living in Havana.