Traditional Foods For the Day of the Dead
Traditional Foods For the Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is a time when families come together to celebrate the loved ones that have passed on. It begins with a special place designated in one’s home to set up an altar. This altar can be small or quite large and elaborate at times. It is decorated with flowers–typically marigolds–, sugar skulls, candles, incense, pictures of loved ones and confetti in some of the most beautiful bright colors.

The celebration, for most, begins on October 30 and 31st. On those days, it is said that the souls of the children that have passed, return to the world of the living. The offerings (or ofrendas) include toys, candies and small dishes, not of savory or spicy foods.

The most common foods prepared for the ofrendas are tamales, mole and candies made from fresh pumpkin. Along with these foods, we also prepare some of our loved ones’ favorite foods, or the recipes that remind us of them. For my altar, I always include freshly-made corn tortillas, rice, frijoles de olla and always a spicy salsa.

Besides all of the savory dishes for the ofrendas, there are also sweet breads, chocolates and atoles. Pan de muerto is a lightly sweetened bread flavored with anise and cinnamon. It is round in shape and decorated with more bread on top, which is meant to resemble skull and bones. It can be drizzled with a sugar glaze and sprinkled with sugar in all sorts of colors. Special drinks such as tequila, aguas frescas or café con leche are also offered.

The family gathers on November 1st and celebrates by enjoying the foods and music of the loved ones that have passed. It is not a day of sadness, but a celebration of their lives. The foods are left on the altar, the candles are lit and the music is played in the background through midnight when it is said that the souls of the loved ones return. This is a tradition passed down for generations, a tradition filled with pride and honor. How will you celebrate the Day of the Dead this year?

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