day of the dead
Matt Taylor-Gross

Day of the Dead, also known as Dia de Muertos, celebrates the lives of beloved family and friends through offerings of food and drink at private altars or gravesites. Originating from an ancient Aztec tradition celebrating the Lady of the Dead goddess, this festival was initially held during all of August. However, once Mexico was colonized by Spain in the 16th century, the holiday gradually coincided with Spain’s intensely Catholic-dominated agenda. The dates eventually shifted to be closer to All Saints and All Souls Day, landing on November 1st and 2nd. Recognized as a public holiday throughout Mexico, it’s also widely celebrated throughout the U.S. and South America.

The offerings, or ofrendas, given to a loved one can vary, but food is an integral part of the Day of the Dead celebration. It’s said that the smells and scents of a loved one’s favorite foods can bring them the energy to continue on in the afterlife. Sugar skulls decorated with the names of those who have passed are placed on graves and in-home altars, and golden yellow marigold flowers become ubiquitous, luring souls in with their strong scent. Foods such as the sweet, soft pan de muerto (bread of the dead) vary widely from region to region, sometimes dotted with licorice-laden anise seeds or fragrant orange blossom water, and are baked in droves before the two day celebration begins.

Take a peek down below at some snacks and sips that will help you celebrate this holiday from your own home. Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

Day Of The Dead Appetizers


Classic Guacamole

Grind your cilantro, onion, and chiles into a paste before folding in mashed avocado for the deepest flavor. Get the recipe for Classic Guacamole »

Real Deal Ignacio-Style Nachos

The man’s name was Ignacio Anaya. His nickname was Nacho. When asked what he called the dish he’d just wiped up, Ignacio replied, “Nacho’s especiales.” A balance of pickly, salty, cheesy, and crisp, this recipe—inspired by the Anaya’s—shows that simple can be preferable when it comes to nachos. Get the recipe for Real Deal Ignacio-Style Nachos »

Chalupas Poblanas (Thick Tortillas Fried with Salsa)

These thick tortillas, bathed in two types of salsa and garnished with shredded chicken, are a popular street snack in Mexico. See the recipe for Chalupas Poblanas »

Day Of The Dead Main Dish


Fried Shredded Beef Empanadas

These crunchy empanadas, featuring shells made with masa, lard, and salt, are filled with tender shredded beef tossed in a spicy salsa. You can prepare the masa and filling in advance, but don’t fill or fry the empanadas until just before eating. Get the recipe for Fried Shredded Beef Empanadas >>

Corn Tamales with Tomatillo Salsa

Get the recipe for Corn Tamales with Tomatillo Salsa »

Chicken Enchiladas in Tomatillo-Cream Sauce (Enchiladas Suizas)

This cheesy, creamy dish originated at a Sanborns cafe in Mexico City in 1950. Its name, “Swiss enchiladas,” alludes to its copious use of dairy. Get the recipe for Chicken Enchiladas in Tomatillo-Cream Sauce (Enchiladas Suizas) »

Barbacoa Goat Soup

People come from hours away just for this meal. Get the recipe for Barbacoa »

Watch: How to Fill and Roll Tamales

Day Of The Dead Desserts


Flan de Caramelo (Caramel Flan)

Luscious, eggy, caramel-coated custard is a favorite in Buenos Aires, and the perfect sweet ending to a languorous meal. See the recipe for Flan de Caramelo (Caramel Flan) »

New Mexican Sopaipillas

“I remember childhood visits to a restaurant on Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza. We’d press our noses to the glass as cooks rolled out the dough, cut it into squares or triangles, and plopped them into the vat of hot, bubbling fat, then, that dramatic moment, when the pallid little dough shapes magically inflated and turned golden brown. We’d seize one of the warm puffs of dough, bite off a corner, and drizzle honey into the hollow cavity.” —Cheryl J. Foote, from “Pillows of Bliss” (February 2006) Get the recipe for New Mexican Sopaipillas »

Day Of The Dead Drinks

Los Angelitos Punch

Adapted from a recipe from bartender Tom Lasher-Walker of New York’s George Washington Bar, this easy-sipping take on a spicy strawberry margarita fuses the smoke of mezcal with the peppery green notes of Ancho Reyes green chile liqueur. Drawing its Halloween-friendly, blood-red color from a splash of raspberry liqueur, the drink can be scaled up depending on how many servings you need. The name is a reference to Mexico’s Día de los Angelitos (“Day of the Little Angels”), the day the souls of departed children return home to spend time with their loved ones. Get the recipe for Los Angelitos Punch »

Coconut Horchata

This version of the classic Mexican rice-based drink, which writer Sara Deseran adapted from one at Fresno’s El Mercado Super, is made with a mix of coconut milk and coconut water for a beverage that is both luxurious and refreshing. Get the recipe for Coconut Horchata »

Mexican Hot Chocolate (Chocolate Caliente)

The best early morning breakfast to be found on the street of any Mexican city is a nice hot cup of chocolate caliente with some churros, sweet tamales, or fresh-baked sweet goods from a bakery. Made from just chocolate and milk or water, it’s a simple, rich drink. Get the recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate (Chocolate Caliente) »