According to chef Lucio Palazzo at Xochitl in Philadelphia, the Day of the Dead feast traditionally was offered to the spirit of the departed. An altar was built bearing favorite foods and refreshments of the departed "to quench the spirit's thirst and relieve the soul's hunger after the long journey from the afterworld," says Palazzo. This ancient holiday dates back to the earliest records of the Aztecs but over the years has evolved into a joyous time for celebrating the lives of lost loved ones.
"The challenge is to take something that's as personal as the remembrance of loved ones, and present it in a format that appeals to diners," Palazzo says. So the restaurant takes an unusual spin in their menu for the event: "Because, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, each course not only represents a body part, but actually is a body part ("piel" pork skin, "sangre" blood sausage) we hope to symbolically assemble a body, or a vessel, through which the souls of our loved ones can join us for the evening."
Other selections on the menu include chicharrones with salsa verde and apple (to represent skin), morcilla salad with beets, fennel and walnut-tequila (for the blood category) and beef heart tacos with foraged mushrooms (to represent the heart, of course).
Zac Campbell, chef/ founder of Eventful Moments Vallarta, based out of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, says the catering company has several recipes on hand to recommend for Day of the Dead celebrations for their clients, including his Asian/Mexican fusion of guacamole. Decorations for the event include candied sugar skulls, marigold flowers, and other colorful decorations such as paper skeletons, or ghosts. Palazzo also recommends setting out an extra plate and glass for the spirit of the dead to join your feast.
Here are three recipes to start your Day of the Dead Feast in spicy style. Do you celebrate Day of the Dead? What's a must-have on the menu?