The Day of the Dead is a celebration which, like everything in Mexico, calls for lots of delicious food!
Follow my blog and fall in love with Mexico!
The Day of the Dead is a holiday which takes place on the 1st and 2nd November. It’s one of Mexico’s most important festivities.
The Day of the Dead is not about celebrating death, and it’s also not about being sad. This holiday is about remembering family and friends who have passed away so they’ll never be forgotten.
All over Mexico, families set up altars with offerings of food, sweets, and drink for their loved ones. The colorful altars also include candy skulls, cut paper decorations, marigolds, and incense.
And since the offerings should include anything the deceased liked to eat and drink, there’s a lot of cooking going on. Dishes prepared for this occasion vary depending on the province and family traditions, but there are several which are staples during the season.
I have rounded up a list of yummy Mexican Day of the Dead recipes from a bunch of lovely ladies with awesome cooking skills:
- Karla Sazueta at Mexican Food Memories
- Mely Martinez at Mexico in my Kitchen
- Leslie Limon at La Cocina de Leslie
- Sonia Mendez at La Piña en la Cocina
- Maura Hernandez at The Other Side of the Tortilla
- Ericka at Nibbles and Feasts
- Nancy at Mexican Made Meatless
- Maggie Unzueta at Mama Maggie’s Kitchen
- Nicole Presley at Presley’s Pantry
- Adriana Martin at Adriana’s Best Recipes
These dishes are all served during the Day of the Dead festivities and are true delicacies, so I’m sure you’ll love them too.
Let’s get cooking!
Mexican Recipes to Celebrate the Day of the Dead
Tamales are the go-to Mexican dish for any kind of celebration, so they’re also one of the most important food offerings in any altar.
Many families spend the day cooking a huge batch of tamales of several different flavors for their altar.
Although cooking dozens and dozens of tamales can be tiresome, it’s a also a great way for people to bond during kitchen duty. At least that’s what we do in my family.
Take your pick from any of these delicious tamale recipes and start cooking!
Mole is one of Mexico’s most iconic dishes. It’s spicy, it’s sweet, and it’s also a common festive dish all over Mexico, so it’s nearly always served in Day of the Dead offerings.
Mole sauce is made by roasting and grounding several seeds, spices, and chili peppers. There are many different recipes for mole, but all of them include adding chocolate to the mix. This is the ingredient which gives mole it’s special taste.
Chicken in mole sauce is probably the most common dish served in many Mexican celebrations, including the Day of the Dead. The smell of it brings back memories of countless family reunions in my great-grandmother’s house when I was little.
Pick one of these mole recipes and start making yummy memories.
Candied pumpkin is one of the most popular dishes to make during the Day of the Dead. Since pumpkins are native to Mexico, it’s likely the Mayans and the Aztecs also offered pumpkin dishes to their long-lost ancestors.
Although Mexican pumpkins are green instead of orange on the outside, they are also very meaty. With a little sweetness added, they become a delicious dessert.
Put a spin in your pumpkins with one of these recipes!
Sweet Potatoes in Syrup
Sweet potatoes are another ancient Mexican ingredient which is always present in the Day of the Dead offerings.
There are many Mexican sweet potato dishes (empanadas, soup, patties, pudding, stews) but Sweet potatoes in Syrup are a top Mexican favorite this time of year. Plus, it’s ridiculously easy to make.
Try your hand at this recipe. You can’t go wrong!
There’s a kind of purple sweet potato which is only found in Mexico during the fall. It’s mashed and cooked in syrup and makes for a fitting addition to altar offerings, because purple is considered the color of mourning in the Catholic tradition.
Day of the Dead Bread
Of course, the most popular and important food during the Day of the Dead is the bread. Since it’s only baked this time of year, most people don’t miss out on the opportunity to enjoy a piece (or many).
You could say this bread is a “modern” addition to the Day of the Dead offerings because Mexican baking began after the Europeans arrived in America, about 500 years ago. FYI, a 500-year-old tradition is considered modern in Mexico.
Traditional Day of the Dead bread is sprinkled with sugar or seeds and topped with a circle in the middle and four stems radiating from the center. Some say the stems represent bones. Other say the circle and the stems represent the five ancient Mesoamerican directions- north, south, east, west, and center.
Make some Day of the Dead bread for you to enjoy this season!
There’s another very traditional kind of bread which is shaped like a human body and it’s not usually sprinkled with anything. This is the only kind of Day of the Dead bread I knew of when I was little, and it’s also the way my grandmother used to bake it.
Even today, in small towns and villages in Mexico, families gather together (and may even miss work or school) to bake bread in stone ovens for their Day of the Dead offering.
It’s hard work, but just like making tamales, it’s also an opportunity for family bonding.
Atole is a hot, thick drink made of corn masa with milk or water. It comes in many different flavors and it’s also staple for the Day of the Dead.
Atole was the original Mexican energy drink because it’s a calorie bomb. The Aztecs fed it to babies to stimulate growth and to warriors headed for battle.
In those ancient times, the Aztecs believed that when a person died, he or she had to embark on a long, perilous journey to the Afterworld. During the Day of the Dead, the souls of the deceased could return briefly to Earth, but they had to journey back to their world afterwards.
That’s why Day of the Dead offering typically includes several cups of hot atole, so the Dead will have energy and nourishment for their long journey back.
In modern-day Mexico, atole is still widely consumed during the fall and winter months. There’s no better way to keep yourself warm on a cold evening.
Pick a recipe and pour yourself a cup of hot atole. Just remember a little goes a long way!
Sugar skulls are a lovely and sweet Mexican tradition, and it’s not surpising to see many people in other countries have included them in their Halloween celebrations.
Skulls are ubiquitous in ancient Mexican art as a symbol of death and the god of the Afterworld, Mictlantecuhtli.
But during the Day of the Dead celebration, skulls are not meant to be creepy because this isn’t a sad occasion. You’re welcoming your loved ones back home, remember?
Therefore, festive skulls are placed in altar offerings and may have the name of the deceased written on their sugared foreheads as a sign of remembrance.
Sugar skulls are meant to be only for decorating the altar because they’re too hard for you to sink your teeth into. However, there are other kinds of sweet skulls made of chocolate and amaranth that are definitely worth munching on.
Try your hand at making these lovely, sweet skulls at home!
Day of the Dead Traditions
All these traditional dishes are a mixture of indigenous and European ingredients, which is exactly the definition of Mexican cuisine.
Aside from these, families can make many other dishes depending on what their dearly departed liked to eat or drink.
In my family, the Day of the Dead offering usually includes bread, fruit, sweet potatoes, candied pumpkin, tamales, and sugar skulls. Sometimes we’ll cook mole, and sometimes another dish, depending on what Mom wants to make.
The tradition also includes remembering our loved ones who have passed away and other ancestors as well. This is an opportunity for my children to learn about their grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. Mexican families can have very deep roots!
Like us, I hope you find a way to remember your loved ones in a comforting and loving way through delicious food and family time. Happy Day of the Dead!