Archive for October, 2012

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Where to Celebrate Day of the Dead in Puebla

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

A Day of the Dead altar in Huaquechula, Puebla.Few traditions in Mexico rival Day of the Dead in their mixing of ancient and modern beliefs. The national holiday, which is celebrated in Puebla in late October and early November, honors lost loved ones by paying tribute to — and praying for — their spirits. Day of the Dead’s origins can be traced to pre-Hispanic times, when the Aztecs held a month-long ritual for the goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. These days, many families set up altars in their homes or businesses to remember people who’ve passed away, often during the preceding year. The notion is that, by doing so, they welcome, nourish, guide, and otherwise assist the souls in their journey after death.

“This holiday is a perfect example of the complex heritage of the Mexican people,” observes Judy King of MexicoConnect. “The beliefs today are based on the complicated blended cultures of his ancestors, the Aztec and Maya and Spanish invaders, layered with Catholicism.” (In Puebla, there’s been at least one ofrenda dedicated to Pope John Paul II in recent years.)

Day of the Dead altars range from modest displays of the deceased’s favorite foods and objects to costly and elaborate monuments of affection. In some places, such as the town of Huaquechula, families welcome visitors into their homes to appreciate their altars and to share a cup of hot chocolate or atole and a slice sweet bread or a homemade tamal. Note: It is customary to leave a few coins in the offering or add a votive candle to the altar if you do.

If you’re in Puebla for Day of the Dead in 2012, here’s where to see altars and participate in other holiday-related activities.

Puebla

Looking for places to see traditional altars in the city of Puebla? Head to the historic center. The IMACP plans to show off the semifinalists in its 42nd annual altar-building contest at the Galería del Palacio Municpal (Portal Hidalgo #12, Col. Centro) from Nov. 1 to 4, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Just across the zócalo, on the other side of the Cathedral, the Casa de Cultura (5 Oriente #5) hosts its own colorful competition, as well artists selling Day of the Dead jewelry, figurines, and snacks. Both events typically draw a spectacular array of altars, or ofrendas, in styles varying from indigenous to innovative.

Meanwhile, the Museo Amparo hosts a Fandango de Muertos on Nov. 1 and 2 at the museum (2 Sur #708). The family-oriented events feature a marionette show about Day of the Dead at 6 p.m., followed by the traditional musical stylings of Poblano folk group Reyes Son at 7:30 p.m. The Amparo is also participating in the city-sponsored Museum Nights on the same days. Admission to the Amparo, as well as eight other galleries, is free after 5 p.m. or so (hours vary at different locations). For complete details and participating sites, click here [PDF].

Other scheduled events in Puebla’s 2012 La Muerte Es Un Sueño festival include: “Living statues” in the Pasaje de Ayuntamiento (the enclosed walkway next to the Palacio Municipal), Nov. 1 through 4, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.; various performances of pre-Hispanic music and dance by Grupo Azteca Tonatiuh, Nov. 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the zócalo; a grand parade of traditional calaveras, from Paseo Bravo (corner of Reforma and 11 Norte) to the zócalo, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m.; and a concert by the Huapango trio Descendencia Huasteca, the “pre-Hispanic and electronic” band Rockercoátl, and cabaret singer Regina Orozco, Nov. 3, starting at 6 p.m.

Cholula

The Complejo Cultural de la BUAP (Vía Atlixcáyotl # 2499, San Andrés Cholula) brings Halloween and Day of the Dead together in a single celebration, Vive Muertos. Starting at noon on Oct. 31, the university campus will offer various musical, theatrical, and dance performances, including a re-enactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (6:30 p.m.). Visitors can also view altars, taste typical foods, make their own sugar skulls, and watch open-air movie screenings.

Cholula en Bici is also merging All Hallows’ Eve with All Saints’ Day on Oct. 31 with a bicycle tour of cemeteries around town that leaves the main square of San Pedro Cholula (Avenida Morelos at Miguel Alemán) at 8 p.m. Participants in the two-wheeled rodada panteonera are invited to decorate their bikes and bring food or drink to share.

Atlixco

The city of Atlixco has assembled a massive floral carpet for Day of the Dead, which is on public display in its zócalo through at least Nov. 10. It features a Catarina modeled after the post cards of cartoonist José Guadalupe Posadas — comprising some 150,000 marigolds, chrysanthemums, and amaranth and coleus plants. Meanwhile, a giant altar erected by city employees is on display inside El Palacio Municipal. Atlixco also plans to host a desfile de calaveras, or skull parade, downtown on Nov. 2.

Huaquechula

The trek to and around Huaquechula during its Feria de Todos los Santos is well worth it. Its unique altars, which can cost tens of thousands of pesos to assemble, are towering structures up to 10 feet tall. These ofrendas are often made of cardboard and covered with white or pastel-colored satin, and the shiny fabric gives the multilevel tributes a distinctive look. As noted above, the townspeople open their doors to the public, including curious tourists who’d like to pay their respects. Nearly 40 altars will be on display from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 this year. If you go, wear walking shoes and start your tour at 2 p.m. at the cultural center on the town square, which provides a map to homes with altars. You can also follow the trails of marigold petals leading to the ofrendas from the street.

Chignahuapan

A bit further afield, in the town of Chignahuapan, the Festival of Light and Life takes place on Nov. 1. It features a torchlight procession and an artistic representation of the nine levels of Mictlán, the Aztec underworld. The procession, expected to draw some 2,000 people, starts around 6 p.m. and travels from the zócalo to the lake.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated on October 25, 2012. The original version was published on Oct. 18, 2011.

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Savoring Mole de Caderas (and More) in Tehuacán

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Mole de caderas y espinazo is a seasonal, regional dish from Tehuacan, Puebla.It took me five years of living in Puebla to visit Tehuacán, but when I finally did this past weekend, I savored every moment of it. Literally. I spent most of my time there eating: Tacos de cabeza. Mole de caderas y espinazos. Candied fig, squash, and tejocotes (Mexican hawthorn fruit). Muéganos from El Águila Real. All of these culinary treats are local specialties, the first two of which are based on goat meat from the annual slaughter.

Yes, slaughter. Every autumn since the 17th century, when Spanish settlers introduced livestock to Mexico, shepherds have driven goats from the coasts of Oaxaca and Guerrero to the Tehuacán Valley of Puebla, where they’re sacrificed in a ritual ceremony and then eaten. During the migration, the animals feed only on wild grasses and salt (to retain liquids, because they don’t drink any water), notes Enrique Aquino in a column for SDNoticias.com, a national news site. As a result, their flesh—unlike that of farm-raised animals—is very lean and flavorful.

“For more than 300 years, landowners and ranchers paid the servants [and butchers] of the killings with the bones of the goats, the hips and the spines,” Aquino writes. “With these bones they made a broth with tomato and chile, to which they added other seasonal ingredients like ejotes ayocotes (runner beans) and huajes (wild tamarind seeds), resulting in el mole de caderas (goat hip stew).”

Goat brain and head meat tacos with green salsa at La Casona de Mi Lupita.An estimated 4,500 to 8,000 goats were sacrificed this year at Hacienda La Carlota, the owners of which have participated in El Ritual Cultural y Festival Étnico del Mole de Caderas, also known as “La Matanza,” for four generations. Much of their meat will be consumed in Tehuacán by residents and visitors between now and Nov. 15, which marks the end of the 2012 season. The annual celebration, which since 1784 has taken place on the third Thursday of October, includes prayers and folkloric dances and brings together people from across the Mixteca. It is recognized by both the state and federal governments as part of Puebla’s cultural heritage. Although previous festivals tended to be a bit gory, as one might imagine, the knife used to kill the first goat has been replaced with an air gun, to avoid what members of the Humane Society dubbed “a vicious and bloody spectacle.”

Food lovers should note that the wildly popular mole de caderas isn’t the only dish made with the organic carne de chivo. At least two dozen delicacies can be had, based on pretty much every edible part of the animal. These include ubre a la plancha (grilled utter with garlic and milk), riñones encebollados (kidney with onions), and other bits prepared in mojo de ajo (oil, garlic, and spices).

House-made candied fig, squash, and Mexican hawthorn fruit at La Casona de Mi Lupita.All of these dishes are offered at Mi Lupita (5 Sur #307), where Doña Lupita and her family have cooked up goaty goodness since 1956. In fact, her version of mole de caderas is so popular that the restaurant opened a second location last October on the city’s main square. It’s there, at La Casona de Mi Lupita, that my husband and I tucked into a plateful of tacos de cabeza (five head meat and brain tacos) and a piping-hot bowl of mole de caderas y espinazos with ejotes acoyotes.

“This was worth the drive from Puebla,” declares my Poblano other half, tucking a napkin into his white shirt and licking his fingers. “This is the best mole I’ve ever eaten.”

It is not, however, food for reluctant carnivores or the faint of heart: Enjoying this dish to its fullest requires using your hands and teeth to pick and suck the flesh off cracked goat vertebrae and broken leg bones. If that sounds appealing to you, it’s totally worth the trip and the 300 to 400 peso price per (very generous) serving.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Tehuacán is located 82 miles southeast of the Puebla capital. ADO operates regular bus service from CAPU to its station a few blocks from the main square in Tehuacán for about 100 pesos. By car, it’s about a 90-minute drive via toll roads (about 200 pesos round-trip) en route to Oaxaca.

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Read Our Bimonthly Tourism Column

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Certificate of recognition for All About Puebla's volunteer contributions to Negicios&Turismo magazine.All About Puebla founder Rebecca Smith Hurd on Sept. 27 received recognition for her contributions to Negocios y Turismo magazine, a joint project of the Grupo Milenio news organization and the city of Puebla. Hurd writes a regular column in English related to the magazine’s overall theme, which changes with each issue. Recent topics have included regional gastronomy (must-try foods), where to study Spanish, and holiday celebrations (Day of the Dead). The first five bimonthly issues of the magazine, which launched in fall 2011, are available for free download here. Print copies are distributed in select locations in Puebla and Mexico City. Hurd and other volunteers were honored at the magazine’s first anniversary celebration at Restaurante La Noria.

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