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Cinco de Mayo isn’t exactly celebrated the same way in Mexico as it is in the U.S. In fact, it’s not celebrated the same way at all. It’s more akin to our Columbus or Presidents’ Day than the Fourth of July. You’ll likely find it recognized in only 1 of Mexico’s 32 states.
“In a way, Cinco de Mayo is mainly celebrated just in Puebla, and it’s not this big party where everyone drinks,” says Pati Jinich, Mexican-born chef, author, and award-winning host of Pati’s Mexican Table. “It’s mainly just a government holiday with a parade in the city.”
What is Cinco de Mayo?
People in the U.S. often confuse Cinco de Mayo with Mexican Independence Day, which is on September 16. Cinco de Mayo is also known as Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla Day and recognizes the Mexican Army’s victory over France on May 5, 1862, at the namesake battle during the Second French Intervention in Mexico. France was considered to have the most powerful army during this time, and this underdog victory was declared worthy of an annual celebration by the country’s president.
While there are many Mexicans and Mexican Americans who understandably have a distaste for the way the U.S. has turned Battle of Puebla Day into a tequila-fueled, sombrero-wearing spectacle, Jinich says she thinks it’s beautiful that Cinco de Mayo has become so incredibly popular here. She says it gives Mexicans living away from their home country an excuse to have a day to boast and be proud of their food, culture, and heritage.
“I always say to people who criticize that Cinco de Mayo isn’t even a festivity in Mexico or that genuine of a celebration that this holiday is a train we can all ride on, making the most of this celebration and its food,” says Jinich. “Why not take this opportunity to open the door to authenticity? Introduce your friends to a mezcal cocktail or an authentic recipe they may not have tried before. Everybody should celebrate Mexicans and let their homes and kitchens be enriched by the culture and flavors.”
Jinich has actually made this sentiment her life’s mission, not only through providing invaluable insight into Mexican history and cuisine through her award-winning television series. Prior to being the cookbook author, chef, and media personality we know today, Jinich was a public policy analyst, working to strengthen the democracy, prosperity, and social equity of Latin America.
However, her love for food and Mexican cuisine became stronger, and it led her to launch Mexican Table, a culinary program with an aim to introduce more and more Americans to the breadth and depth of Mexican cuisine. Jinich now gets to do this incredible work on Pati’s Mexican Table, where she reaches more than 65 million viewers, and showcases her authentic recipes on Food Network, The Today Show, and Good Morning America. She will be appearing live on the latter from her home on Tuesday to share a festive corn muffin recipe highlighting classic Mexican ingredients.
Pati Jinich’s Cinco de Mayo Menu
While Jinich grew up in Mexico City and didn’t spend her childhood celebrating Cinco de Mayo, she loves to help Americans find delicious, authentic recipes to make for the holiday. Chicken Tinga, for example, is a famous Mexican dish that originated in the city of Puebla where Cinco de Mayo began. It’s a simple, versatile dish, and its ingredients can all be found at a standard supermarket.
Discover Pati’s curated Cinco de Mayo menu, below, for a festive spread that looks more impressive than it actually takes to put together. These recipes are made mostly with pantry and other kitchen staples you likely have lying around and can be easily sourced from your local grocer.
Chicken Tinga (Tinga de Pollo)
Charro Beans (Frijoles Charros con Tocino y Chorizo)
Matador Guacamole (Guacamole con Chiles Toreados)
Classic Creamy Flan (Flan Napolitano)
Grilled Pineapple Margarita (Margarita de Piña Asada)
“Food is the center of everything in Mexico,” Jinich says. “What I would say about celebrating the Mexicanness of this holiday is that, in this country, there’s no starting time, no ending time, and there’s always a generous amount of food at any gathering. That’s the Mexican way and part of what connects us to Mexican food — the friendliness, the warmth, the customization.”
While celebrating Cinco de Mayo might still look different from a typical night out or large gathering, we can all embody Mexico’s positive, hospitable spirit by hosting a virtual or intimate celebration, making extra dishes for a lonely neighbor, or gathering everyone in the kitchen to put together a delicious meal. We’re taking advantage of every reason to celebrate in this strange season of life, and we encourage you to do the same. And who needs an excuse to enjoy a homemade margarita and nourishing Mexican comfort food?
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