pre hispanic ofrenda

Day of the Dead: A Beginner’s Guide to Ofrendas

This is Ofrendas

Day of the dead, celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, has arrived! This is a holiday that means so much to Mexicans, and to experience it in person is really quite something. Day of the dead is pretty intricate, there are many layers to it that I am sure take years to fully understand. I am going to be writing a couple posts over the next days to try and give you an insight into this absolutely fantastic time of year. Puebla is a great place to visit during the week of day of the dead as they put on lots of interesting events in the historical center as well as in cemeteries around the city. The photos in this post were all taken from the ‘Corredor de ofrendas‘, and from ‘Casa de la Cultura‘ (located right next to the cathedral).

There are a lot of key words that come to mind when you are experiencing day of the dead such as ‘calaveras‘, ‘la catrina‘ and maybe most importantly: ofrendas. The point of day of the dead, or at least how I understand it anyway, is to honor the deceased and welcome them back into your home. Mexicans celebrate death and remember their loved ones, rather than shying away from a topic that I think in many cultures is uncomfortable to talk about.

The ofrenda is the offering to the dead, an altar in fact. It is used to welcome back loved ones from the dead, for example grandparents. An ofrenda traditionally has levels to it though it’s perfectly normal to just have a one level ofrenda. I’m not an ofrenda expert but I don’t think there is a wrong way of doing an ofrenda. Yes there are key elements put if you are missing something don’t worry. The point is to capture the personality of the person(s) your ofrenda is for whilst making sure it has plenty of Mexican character. You will never find two ofrendas the same, each one is unique.

This is what you will usually find on an ofrenda (and its significance):

  • Food and Drink: the ofrenda should have the favourite food and drink of the person(s) you are welcoming. That’s why you will often see candy, tequila and beer.
  • A Mirror: this is so the person(s) can see themselves when they visit your ofrenda.
  • Their Vices: it’s normal to find the thing that actually killed the person, for example, cigarettes.
  • A Picture or representation of the deceased person(s): this is normally a framed picture or a skeleton figure.
  • Flor de Cempasúchil (the orange flower): represents the eternal life of the dead and often is used as a trail to the ofrenda so the dead can find it.
  • Candles: represent fire and are a pathway for the spirits.
  • Water: represents life and also quenches the dead’s thirst.
  • Pan de Muerto/ Hojaldra: Day of the Dead bread that represents the bodies of the dead.
  • Skulls: Calaveras (in spanish) represent death and earth.
  • Papel Picado: the colour paper with different patterns on it represents wind (and add to the colourfulness of the ofrenda).

Now you know everything (or at least a lot more than you did before) about ofrendas! If you are feeling inspired make one and send us a picture (the youngest of the dead will visit you on the night of the 1st of November and the oldest on the 2nd). Or if you already have your ofrenda, send us a picture and we will share it on our facebook and twitter pages!

la malinche

Vamos a La Malinche

This is Malinche

La Malinche, a dormant volcano, looms over Puebla, just as Popocatépetl does, but from the neighbouring state of Tlaxcala. La Malinche isn’t exactly Poblana, but does have historical context for Poblanos and also makes for a great trip from Puebla. [This blog isn’t just about Puebla but also about destinations that you can get to easily from Puebla]. The volcano is part of a National Park, with the same name, established in 1938. It is a great weekend destination, where you can enjoy being the outdoors. There is a ‘vacation center’ called ‘Centro Vacacional Malintzi‘ where you can rent cabins (at very affordable prices especially if you are a big group), or camp. The website provides all the necessary information on how to get there by public transport/car, as well as the cost of the cabins.

The best thing to do is drive there the afternoon before you want to hike up La Malinche (I recommend taking your own food/drinks), and then the following morning, get up early and start the hike up the volcano at around 6.30/7am. The cabins provide you with plenty of blankets for the cold weather, and you can buy wood to make a fire (there is a fireplace in every cabin) in the center’s store. The ‘Centro Vacacional Malintzi’ is the last point at which you can drive your car to before starting the hike. To get to the top of the Malinche, not the highest peak, but where you are beyond the tree line is about a 3 hour hike up (it will take between 1 and 2 hours to get back down). The hike isn’t particular difficult in terms of steepness/distance but it can be challenging because of the altitude. The Malinche has an elevation of 4,461m, which is 2,299m above Puebla. Those of you who are in shape won’t struggle but I definitely did. Overall going up and coming down will take about 4/5 hours. It’s best to start early so that you can enjoy the view before the fog settles in – once it does you won’t have any kind of a view. Also I’d take some snacks and a warm coat for when you get higher up.

I would recommend this hike to everyone, but especially if you are the outdoorsy type. Completing the hike will give you a real sense of accomplishment as well as experiencing stunning views (if you make it high enough you can see Puebla). If you are a bit sceptical about it then I will leave you with this quote from one of my favourite films (Into the Wild): ‘the core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences’. 

bakery

Maestro

This is a photo series by Iraís Fernández, a local photographer (here are her facebook and flickr pages). She, just like us, is fascinated by and loves pan dulce. The photos give a real insight into an authentic Mexican bakery, where they make sweet breads as well as tortas. The photos were taken at ‘El Hornito de San Francisco’.

One of our aims at Soy Poblana is to support local artists and businesses, by writing about them or publishing their work. If you are interested in having your work published on this blog about Puebla, please contact us.

Pelona

Pelonas aka baldies

This is Pelonas

There’s lots of competition for awesome sandwiches in Mexico, and two of the best come from Puebla: cemitas and pelonas. Check out my previous post about cemitas here. You must be thinking: another dish that is unique to Puebla? Yes indeed! When I rave about Puebla, it’s rightly justified.

A pelona is a bread roll. When fried and stuffed with naughty ingredients, it is still called a pelona. Just like cemitas keep the same name whether they are filled or not. The pelona looks similar to a cemita but with no seeds on it, which I suppose is why it was given its name; pelona means bald/without hair, in spanish.

The bread roll is unique in that when fried it doesn’t absorb the grease and become soggy, it just creates a crusty delicious exterior. The pelona is then typically filled with beans, lettuce, shredded beef, cream and your choice of salsa. As always I go for salsa ‘bandera‘ as I like to taste both green and red sauces. This is a smaller sandwich in comparison to the cemita but not one to be dismissed lightly. The crunchiness and combination of the cream and salsa, which aren’t present in sandwiches like cemitas and tortas, make it truly heavenly!

If you want to try Pelonas and you are visiting Puebla then contact us to book your free street food tour!

¡Provecho!

Los Rudos Siempre Pierden

Recently I wrote about the Luchas and then happened to come across these photos (thank you Universe!), which perfectly capture the atmosphere of the luchas arena. The featured photographer is Iraís Fernández, a very talented local documentary specialist. One of our aims at Soy Poblana is to support local artists and businesses, by writing about them or publishing their work. Please check out Iraís’ facebook page and flickr!

The cover photo for this blog post is a photo taken of street artwork from local poblano artist Carlos Flores Rom. Check out his page here.

Vamos a las Luchas!

This is Luchas 

entrance to the luchas

Lucha Libre, which literally means ‘free wrestling’, is like WWE Wrestling but much more entertaining. Puebla has its very own lucha libre arena that hosts wrestling every Monday night. This is an experience you can’t pass up on. The wrestlers known as luchadores, bring their charisma, energy and unique costumes to create a fantastic night of entertainment. Most people will recognise luchadores by their distinctive colourful masks, though not all choose to use them. Throughout the night you will see different wrestlers fight each other, and not always 1 vs 1, but also 3 vs 3 for example.

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Taqueria La Esquina

This is Tacos de Alambre

I love tacos. And what you realise living here is that there are so many to tempt you. You’ve got Arabe, Pastor, Asada and a personal favourite – alambre. Taqueria La Esquina is my favourite taco place. Their specialities are tacos al pastor and tacos de alambre. Tacos de Alambre are made my combining certain meats, vegetables and cheese, from which you can make your own tacos. The dish below called ‘alambre’ has: Chuleta (Cutlet of pork), Tocino (Bacon), Cebolla (Onion), Pimiento (Pepper), Queso (Cheese). It is prepared by first cooking the chuleta on a large hot ‘comal‘ (flat griddle) followed by adding the bacon and veggies, then the taquero, mixes all the ingredients together, continuously chopping and mixing.  The last step involves adding cheese which melts on top. Then the plate is served, at which point you can make your taquitos (they are smaller corn tortillas) and add salsa (my favourite being the green one). The deliciousness is hard to explain, so just trust me on this one.

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Vamos a Cuetzalan, Pueblo Mágico

This is Cuetzalan

Welcome to Cuetzalan! A hill-top town which has a reputation that proceeds itself amongst most poblanos, but for us foreigners is [most likely] completely unknown. Cuetzalan is a small town set high in the hills of the sierra norte of the state of Puebla, which makes for a great weekend trip. It is only 183 km from the capital, Puebla, but takes around 3 to 4 hours to get there, due to the mountainous roads. Cuetzalan is not just any town but a ‘magical town’ or ‘Pueblo Mágico’. ‘Pueblo Mágico’ is an initiative run by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism to promote towns that have been specifically hand picked as they offer a magical experience due to to their natural beauty, rich culture or historical importance.

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Tacos al Pastor

This is Tacos al Pastor

Let the taco education continue. Previously I have written about tacos de asada which are one of my personal favourites, but now it is al pastor’s turn. Heavily influenced from shawarma, Tacos al Pastor are slightly different in that the meat is cooked on a standing spit (the same way in which kebab meet is cooked) however the meat is pork rather than lamb. If you are in downtown Puebla around 10am you will see the meat being prepared at every taqueria in sight. Layer by layer the meat is marinaded in spices and layered on the spit, where it then takes hours to reach the tasty meat, which is used in the tacos. Don’t be surprised to see gigantic spits of taco meat before lunch/dinner begins.

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El Flamingo – Tortas de Puebla

This is Tortas

Okay, you got me! Tortas are not specifically from Puebla, but good ones are. Too controversial? If you disagree, then please comment below, and pictures provide good evidence. So what’s so special about Poblana tortas? Well I am just basing this on DF and Puebla tortas, but first of all they are crunchier, and most definitely a different shape. For my tasting DF’s tortas are a little too soft. Yes I am a crunchy roll kind of a gal.

A torta in my opinion should be about the size in the picture (maybe a little bigger) and either an oval or circular shape. Inside the Torta, there should be frijoles (beans), avocado, onion, tomato, rajas (if you like spicy), quesillo, and a meat of your choice, if you should desire. Also a bit of mayonnaise can make quite the difference. Personally I also like my Torta toasted.

If that sounds good to you, and you like the look of the picture, then check out ‘El Flamingo’ which is in ‘El Centro’. I recommend these tortas, as they make them just as I mentioned before, and a bonus is that the ‘Milanesa’ isn’t greasy. ‘Milanesa’ is either pork or chicken covered in bread crumbs that is fried (similar to Escalope Vienes/ Wiener Schnitzel), so sometimes if not done correctly can be a little greasy. That is certainly not the case at ‘El Flamingo’. They also serve delicious juices, licuados, and aguas. More on types of drinks to follow in another post!

¡Provecho!

El Flamingo is located on Av. 2 Poniente between 3 Sur and 5 de Mayo.