Celebrate Mexico’s Christmas culture with traditional dishes

Celebrate Mexico’s Christmas culture with traditional dishes

Everyone knows about tamales, but if you haven’t grown up around these traditions, many of the other popular Mexican Christmas dishes might be less familiar. Whether you’re looking to reconnect with your heritage or expand your cultural horizons this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with these dishes that make up the heart and soul of Christmas celebrations throughout Mexico.  

Many are labors of love, taking hours to prepare with recipes that are passed down through generations. But even if you don’t have an abuela’s recipe, you can still perfect these authentic foods and add them to any holiday meal.

One of Mexico’s most-loved soups, pozole dates back to Aztec times and is now often at the heart of Christmas celebrations. The stew is typically made with pork and hominy, maize kernels that have undergone a special treatment to strip off the hulls and leaves the kernels plump and tender. Pozole can have a white, green, or red broth and is often garnished with cabbages, lime, cilantro, or radishes, making it both a flavorful and colorful addition to any festive feast.  

Even though this dish is often considered an Easter specialty, plenty of families pull out the recipe for Christmas as well. Sometimes called “Mexican bread pudding,” the recipe has evolved from a sweet and savory dish served in 15th century Spain. There are still plenty of variations, some embracing the savory roots of this dish and incorporating tomatoes and onions, but the most fundamental recipe will include cinnamon, piloncillo, raisins, bread, and cheese.

Bocalao is actually not a dish in and of itself, but an ingredient that can be used as the base of many different holiday dishes. The popularity of this salted, dried cod (which is rehydrated before cooking) can be traced back to when the Catholic Church forbade eating meat on holy days. Fish became a popular stand-in and today bocalao is a versatile ingredient used in stew, or simply poached or baked.

This dish is made by boiling sprigs of romerito (a plant that resembles rosemar, but has a flavor closer to spinach), which is served in a mole sauce along with potatoes and shrimp.

Warm up with a traditional champurrado, a hot drink made with corn flour and Mexican chocolate. Popular with children and adults alike, champurrado predates Spanish presence in Middle America. All you’ll need to whip up your own batch is water (or milk), piloncillo (a type of unrefined, whole cane sugar), cinnamon sticks, Mexican chocolate, and masa harina (fine corn flour).

Who doesn’t love trying new desserts? While some southern states still serve pastry bunuelos that resemble a donut, the recipe has changed a lot since it was first introduced by the Spanish. Now, if you ask for a bunuelo, you’re likely to get a thin fried fritter sprinkled with sugar and drizzled with a homemade guava syrup.

Put away the reindeer cookie cutters and find yourself a piggie instead. This pan dulce, or sweet bread, falls somewhere between a cake and a cookie and is flavored with molasses, honey, and cinnamon. Though the shape is a bit of a mystery, some say it appeared when pigs were first introduced to Central America by the Spanish.

Ponche Navideño
If you can’t get your hands on all the ingredients to make a traditional champurrado, this Mexican fruit punch is the way to go. Made by simmering fresh and dried fruits with hibiscus, sugar cane, cinnamon, and piloncillo, Ponche Navideño can be served with or without rum, based on your preference.