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What to Really Eat on Cinco de Mayo

Many American know Cinco de Mayo (May 5) as a celebration of Mexico. The date is not Mexico's independence day, but rather a commemoration of the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. As such, it is more of a regional holiday in the state of Puebla. In the US, Cinco de Mayo is often an excuse to dip into stereotypes and chow down on tacos.   

But what America’s Cinco de Mayo misses is the traditional food of Mexico, named to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a recognition given to only one other cuisine (French). And, nachos with refried beans, cheese wiz and jalapenos is nowhere on the list or in the country. Taco Bell has even tried opening up in Mexico but each time has failed, simply because no one will eat there.

What makes traditional Mexican fare worthy of such a distinction? You won’t find cumin soaked ground beef hard shell tacos topped with iceberg and cheddar. But, you will find lamb barbacoa that has been smoked underground in banana leaves or carnitas topped with queso fresco, pickled onions and homemade salsa verde wrapped in a warm homemade corn tortilla that has been ever so lightly heated on a comal. And Puebla, just so happens to be considered by many, including Rick Bayless and Mark Bittman, as the gastronomic capital of Mexico.

Therefore, learning about the authentic foods of the region would be an appropriate way to honor the region of Puebla. Smithsonian looks at the origins of three dishes from Puebla: Mole Poblano, Chalupas, and Chiles en Nogada, with links to recipes you can try yourself. Besides, tacos are for any day.

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