We Americans love eating and drinking holidays so much that we will co-opt them from other countries. Take Cinco de Mayo, for instance.
Cinco de Mayo, which falls on May 5 this year, is seen as an excuse to eat lots of fajitas, drink beer with a lime forced into the bottle, and lick the salt off of many a margarita rim. Never mind that fajitas are largely an American invention (there isn’t even a Spanish translation for fajitas), the practice of shoving a lime into a bottle of Mexican beer originated in this country, and even the margarita may have first been mixed in Texas.
But those things are appropriate for the Cinco de Mayo celebrations that will take place across the U.S. this weekend because it’s arguably a bigger holiday here than it is in most of Mexico.
Contrary to what many people believe, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. (Mexico’s independence is celebrated on September 16.) Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle in the region of Puebla in the year 1862. (Can anyone tell me what month and day the battle took place? Bueller? Anyone?)
It seems that Mexico owed the country of France a lot of money, so a French army was sent to basically foreclose on Mexico. Mexico asked for help from the U.S., but Abraham Lincoln had his hands full at the time with an unpleasant skirmish known as the Civil War.
So Mexico was on its own, and as the French army marched its way through the country on its way to the sea, it was challenged by a much smaller army in Puebla. Despite being greatly outnumbered, the Puebla army defeated the French.
If you happen to be in Puebla this weekend, you’ll probably see great celebrations. Maybe a few in Mexico City, too. But the rest of the country? Nada.
No, you’re much likelier to find a Cinco de Mayo celebration by staying closer to home.
In anticipation of the weekend’s festivities, I paid a visit to the Tacos el Rancho on Chickasaw Trail in Orlando.
This is a second location for a charming little shop on Hoffner Avenue at South Conway Road. The new location isn’t quite as polished looking as the original -- somehow it looks older. But the food is about the same.
I ordered a chorizo taco and a pork tamal. The taco was served in two soft corn tortillas and was topped with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and spicy hot sauce. As I took a bite, the grease from the chorizo dribbled out the other end onto the plate. In other words, it was wonderful. (You can get the taco with a hard-shell tortilla, but let’s not take this Americanization of Mexican food too far.)
The tamal was less so. The consistency of the cornmeal was very nice, but there was precious little pork inside, and it was ultimately dry. (I tried to position the tamal under the taco as I took a bite so it would catch the ooze, but I wasn’t very good with my aim.)
Tacos el Ranch is at 2194 S. Chickasaw Trail (at Curry Ford Road in the Publix plaza), Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. Here’s a link to the website. The phone number is 407-482-8545.
Some other places to celebrate Cinco de Mayo:
Cocina 214 -- sure its Tex-Mex, but that seems appropriate for this Mexican-American holiday.
If you’re looking for more authentic food, try La Hacienda Meat Market y Taqueria, Grocery Los Hermanos, or Los Primos. They’re very Mexican and the food is terrific. Just don’t be surprised if they look at you funny if you wish them a happy Cinco de Mayo.
What about you? Where will you be celebrating this weekend?