Today is Dia de Los Muertos and I am thinking of Mexico…pre-COVID. One of the highlights and joys of living in San Diego is that we border Tijuana. Many people think of Tijuana as a city of troubles. And yes, it does have its fair share of issues, but what many people don’t know is it is a hub for the Baja Med. This food trend is not new, it started in the early 2000s and only continues to grow and expand through Baja.
What my husband and I find interesting is you can find great food in small unassuming restaurants throughout Tijuana’s Zona Gastronomica that serve foods that blend fresh, locally-sourced ingredients with the region’s rich culinary traditions.
For example, a couple years ago, my husband had some business in TJ. I decided to tag along and afterwards we decided to have a late lunch. We were in the gastronomic zone and decided to stroll around the area and see what we would find.
We stumbled upon Cien Años. What a delight, this quaint restaurant offered a well-designed menu. I ordered the Crema del Día (soup of the day) which was a Poblano soup. All I can say is delicioso!
But what does our exploration have to do with Dia de Los Muertos? We dined at Cien Años right before this Mexican holiday and upon finishing our lunch, the manager delighted in showing us their altar.
I have always been fascinated at how different cultures celebrate similar holidays. In the U.S. and Europe, we celebrate All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. In Mexico, they have Dia de Los Muertos.
The creation of altars has been an important part of Día de los Muertos, a festival whose origins are deeply rooted in Aztec beliefs and tied to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, also known as the “Lady of the Dead.” Over the centuries, the holiday became more intertwined with Catholic traditions and shortened from a month-long event to a celebration that’s held on November 1 and 2.
The tradition is to create an altar to honor loved ones who have gone before us. The altar is layered with symbolism and elements that honor those that have passed. Key elements of an altar consist of skulls, representing the people who have passed and who are receiving offerings at the altar, marigolds, often referred to as flowers of the dead, intricately cut tissue paper which symbolizes the fragility of life, bread and other foods and beverages that the person liked when they were alive, salt and photos of the deceased who are being honored.
It is a wonderful tradition and a way to honor and remember those for whom we have loved and lost.
And for my husband and I on that normal day, partaking in a delicious Baja Med restaurant in TJ, we were introduced to a time-honored tradition that we now enjoy. Travel, even a day trip for lunch across the border, can introduce you to cultures and traditions if you are willing to open up and appreciate your surroundings.