Let’s put it straight: the Día de los Muertos is officially the new halloween!
The Día de los Muertos (or the Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday rooted in indigenous celebrations for the Aztec Queen of the underworld Mictecacihuatl (just try to repeat this 5 times as quickly as you can). With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the original Aztec celebration was merged with the Catholic All Saints day to become the two-day celebration as observed today. Each year, on the 1 November is when you welcome the souls of departed and on the 2 November families would go to cemeteries to decorate the graves of relatives and remember their loved ones. It is mainly a celebration of joy and of life, and the intent is to attract the spirits of the loved ones with offerings of food and drinks put on an altar.
What we love the most is the omnipresence of the catrinas on masks, posters or figurines. Catrinas are the humurous skeletons that are so common in the Mexican culture and are particularly to be seen on the day of the dead where people will will usually make up, which is thought to symbolise the Aztec Lady of the Dead (Mictecacihuatl).
Being a celebration of joy and life, the day of the dead is also a celebration of food. We spent ours in Mestizo, an authentic family-run Mexican restaurant near Euston station, in London. Although they were sold out because of the Mezcal and Mole festival they organise they kindly squeezed us on a free table to have dinner.
The place is fun and lively, tasteful design and friendly atmosphere without bordering on the kitsch of Mexican stereotypes. Because we’re not into stereotypes, we started with a banderita, which is a trio of shots, with tequila, lime juice, and tomato juice, followed by a Pacifico.
The first thing you can tell by tasting the salsa that came with their tortilla chips: it’s authentic! We started with an excellent (but tiny) guacamole and a fresh shrimp ceviche. Technically, it wasn’t a ceviche but a shrimp cocktail (coctel de camarones) considering that the crustaceans were flying around in a tomato sauce (clamato) instead of lime juice, but it was delicious nevertheless.
Then we moved onto the main attraction – the moles! There are as many mole recipes as there are cooks in Mexico, but to make it short, Moles are terrific, complex, and delicious sauces made with loads of a spices, chocolate, and lots of patience. To make your own mole, we recommend this article which has a few links to great recipes.
MOLE COLORADITO MIXTO. Originally from Oaxaca, this was beef and lamb bits in a complex roast chile selection including chile ancho & chilhuacle, garlic, onion, parsley, sesame seeds, cinnamon & chocolate. Strong nutty flavour of almonds and chocolate.
PATO EN PIPIAN VERDE. Duck in a green mole made of chile verde, tomatillo, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, garlic, coriander, lettuce, onion, vinegar, cinnamon and chile ancho. Excellent with a nice sour hint from the vinegar.
CORDERO EN MOLE AMARILLO. Also originally from Oaxaca, the home of the 7 moles, this was a lamb shank in a ‘yellow mole’ made with over 20 ingredients, including chile guajillo, tomato, cumin, garlic & onion. The lamb was cooked to perfection – extremely soft and moist.
After all this goodness, we could not resists to the house selection of sweets, which included the classic flan, strawberry tamales, pan de muertos, and some fresh cheesecake. All very good!
We finished our gastric orgy with a well-deserved digestive: Mezcal, which was served the Mexican way (with crispy grasshoppers, as you can see the picture below). Mezcal is similar to tequila, the major difference being that it tastes fantastic also when you’re not drunk. We suggest you to get yourself a bottle of Del Maguey, which is arguably one of the best things you can drink: a super single village, smoky shot of goodness!
Mestizo is a great place with authentic food and a hard-working family making sure you have a great time! The food is excellent and definitely worth the visit and for sure we’ll be back soon. Especially, to hit a bit more on their stock of Del Maguey.
MESTIZO, 103 Hampstead Road, London NW1 (Facebook, Twitter)