Yesterday, November 1st, was All Soul's Day, a day when Mexicans, and many other Catholic countries around the world, celebrate Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos. Spilling over into today, the two-day celebrations give people a chance to remember the lives of their ancestors, their deceased relatives and, typically Mexican, a reason to prepare elaborate feasts to share with friends and family.
I first experienced the real force of Day of the Dead in my late twenties in Mexico City where I was mesmerised by how a people can collectively reach out to those they have lost but clearly still love. I have always believed in an afterlife of sorts. Although my grandfather died when I was two, I felt his presence very consciously in my life. My maternal grandmother was South African and apt to communing with ghosts so I have been open to spirits all my life. The theatrical, passionately embracing and energetic celebrations of Dia de Los Muertos is something not to be missed, nor the comforting absolute acceptance that one's relatives will come back to visit.
The idea is that, when confronted with these mouth-watering dishes, the lost relatives will be tempted back to earth to party together once more
These feasts are held either at the graveyards of the relatives or at home, in front of home-made altars or ofrendas, decorated with sugar skulls and marigolds. At these magnificent banquets only the most prized food is prepared: moles [moll-ays], complex sauces of toasted nuts, seeds, dried chillies and fruit, are cooked over several days, along with much loved tamales, steamed hand-wrapped savoury corn dumplings, and other Mexican delicacies. The idea is that, when confronted with the smells and sights of these mouth-watering dishes, along with glasses of tequila and mezcal, the lost relatives will find them so alluring that their souls will be tempted back to earth to hang out with their families and party together once more (for partying is one thing the Mexicans excel at more than any other nation that I know).
This Saturday we at Wahaca are putting on our own celebrations at Tobacco Docks, in East London. A festival of art, music and food, big Mexican bands like Zoe and Mexrissey will be playing alongside The Savages, The Horrors and the Crystal Fighters (who were a sensation at this year’s Somersault Festival). Enrique Olvera, Mexico’s most celebrated chef, whose restaurant Pujol was number 16 in this year’s San Pellegrino 50 Best awards, will be flying over to cook supper clubs and tacos at an informal taqueria. In amongst Mexican art curated by a gallerist from the Saatchi gallery, famous tattoo artists, British and Mexican, will be setting up shop with Mexican wrestlers, DJ’s and performance artists.
Most importantly street food will be everywhere. I'm fascinated by the way food is completely woven into Mexican culture; a culture that has survived hundreds of years of conquests by other peoples with different religions and beliefs. Dia de los Muertos is one of Mexico’s most important celebrations and I love that this examination of life and death makes it impossible to ignore the importance that eating and drinking with family and friends has in this country’s tradition.
Food, life, love and death are all intrinsically inter-related. Come and join the celebrations.
For more info visit wahaca.co.uk