Dia de Fiesta
Add some heat to Cinco de Mayo with a traditional Mexican spread
By Kelly Westhoff
Photo by Maki Strunc Photography
“You’ll often notice the colors of the Mexican flag in Mexican cuisine,” Chavez says. Bowls of vibrant salsa, platters of fried white queso, and stacks of lime wedges can turn any meal into a show of south-of-the-border solidarity, particularly in May, when St. Paul plays host to a raucous Cinco de Mayo block party.
Contrary to a common misperception, Cinco de Mayo—May 5—is not Mexican Independence Day; that day is observed in September. Cinco de Mayo commemorates an 1862 battle in which 4,500 Mexican soldiers trumped an invading French army of 6,000. Not only does the day mark a proud occasion, when Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans revel in their rich heritage, it also offers the perfect opportunity for learning more about Mexican-Hispanic culture.
Maki Strunc Photography
Maki Strunc Photography
All the noise is a bit much, Silva confesses. She’d rather pass the day in her backyard with her family, grilling marinated steak (see recipes) to pair with refried beans. She’s also partial to grilled nopales, made from prickly pear cactus leaves (see recipes). “I just throw them right on the grill,” she says. “When I’m ready to eat, I salt them and cut them in strips and squeeze lemon over them.” Her grandchildren’s favorite, a sweet and sticky mango sundae (see recipes), tops off outdoor family gathering.
Because Silva’s family includes young children, she cooks without that hot chili kick that many fans of Mexican cuisine love. “At home, I alter my cooking. I make salsa separate,” she explains. “Right now, I am trying to teach my grandchildren to appreciate hot sauce.” She mixes hot salsas with sour cream so the kids get just a lick of heat.
Alfredo Frias, on the other hand, is all about the heat. Frias’ family owns Boca Chica, another Mexican establishment in the District del Sol. For the past six years, his restaurant’s salsa has won the Cinco de Mayo salsa-tasting contest. The recipe for the prize-winning salsa, served since Boca Chica’s opening day in 1964, is a guarded family secret—unfortunately for us.
Just how hot is it? Frias offered this warning: “My dad used to eat his pancakes with hot sauce.” Now if that doesn’t make you sweat, we don’t know what will.
Click here to see the open house recipes that accompany this feature.
Kelly Westhoff is a Plymouth-based freelance writer.
For Cinco de Mayo recipes, please turn to page 178. More information on resources featured in this story can be found in our Buyer's Guide.