How I Celebrate Day of the Dead as a Mexican Chef in London
Mexican cooking

How I Celebrate Day of the Dead as a Mexican Chef in London

The fact that people want to celebrate and show an interest in Dia de los Muertos makes me happy.
02 November 2017, 12:30pm

Food, drink, and sharing meals are a huge part of our lives in Mexico. It's the core of all the activities we do and a special part of our culture for any sort of celebration, especially for Day of the Dead.

Day of the Dead is a way to remember those who are no longer with us and pay tribute to what they liked and enjoyed when they were here, particularly their favourite foods and drinks. All of our country celebrates this. It's a cultural thing.

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I remember when I was younger in Mexico City, we used to build an altar with a picture of someone who was close to us who had died, like our granddad or grandma. We put a picture and light some candles, along with a representation of the food and drink they loved. People would cook food and put a plate of it down, leaving it there for two or three days.

A Day of the Dead altar in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo courtesy Carlos Gonzalez.

So many people say and I fully believe that mole represents all the love you can get from your mum, aunties, and grandmas. A mole sauce that's made from scratch takes days to prepare. It implies frying, roasting, grinding, going to different providers of the cocoa beans, and having tortillas, and bread. It's a ceremony. I remember my grandma cooking the mole that her mum used to like for Day of the Dead. It's always the smell that brings you back the memories of those celebrations.

In Mexico, it's more ceremonious. It takes more time and implies more commitment.

I moved to London in 2013 after spending three years in New York. In New York, it's much more about Halloween at this time of year, but I think there's more interest in Day of the Dead in the UK. I want to preserve those celebrations from Mexico and I'm really happy to see them abroad.

Pork pozele, a dish cooked by the author on Day of the Dead. Photo by the author.

This year, I'm doing a collaboration with Martin Morales at at his Peruvian restaurant in East London. We're creating an altar for those who are not with us and putting down fruits and vegetables that Martin uses or I'm using in my recipes. We're putting some pictures, some pisco, some tequila, some mezcal, flowers, and ornaments representing Mexico.

I'm not making mole but at the end, it's not about what you cook, drink, or what ingredients you're using. It's an excuse to get on with people, have a good time, and share some knowledge or pray for others. It's a small thing that I can do being very far away from Mexico. It makes me happy because it's something that belongs to my culture and I want to help preserve the traditions as much as I can.

An altar in Oaxaca. Photo courtesy of Carlos Gonzalez.

In the UK, some people might not completely know the meaning behind the traditions and it might be an excuse to go to a Mexican restaurant and have margaritas and tequila. But the fact that people want to celebrate and show an interest in it makes me happy. Also, in Mexico, you pay respect but it's also an opportunity to eat and drink and dance at some point as well.

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Food is an important way of connecting cultures and reconnecting to home. I've met many people in Mexico who say that we don't take our values to others until we are outside Mexico. Then we realise how important the traditions are for our culture and how important it is to preserve them for future generations.


Chef Edson Diaz-Fuentes grew up in Mexico and moved to London in 2013. He opened Santo Remedio in London Bridge earlier this year.

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in October 2016.