MeXo celebrates Cinco de Mayo with cuisine inspired by Mexican history

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Cinco de Mayo is many times associated with a night at the bar, but one local restaurant on Wednesday showed its patrons that the holiday means much more.

Oscar Moreno, the executive chef at MeXo, a pre-hispanic modern Mexican restaurant in Grand Rapids, invited guests to celebrate with a unique perspective. 

“Through the food, we want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and a little bit of the history,” Moreno said.

Moreno prepared food inspired by cuisine from Puebla, Mexico to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. 

“The region of Puebla has very interesting techniques and ingredients,” Moreno said. 

His special dishes are gorditas poblanas and mole poblano. 

“Gorditas poblanas, which is like street food, but I did an appetizer, I did make it smaller, with braised beef and morita pepper,” Moreno said. “We’re also presenting the mole poblano with chicken. The chicken we marinated with fermented pineapple.”

The Puebla-inspired cuisine was featured to help highlight the importance of the holiday, which is a celebration of when the Mexican Army defeated the French Army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. 

“A French Army that was twice the number of soldiers, largely known as the best, most advanced army at that time,” said David Stark, a history professor at Grand Valley State University. “This really is seen as a moment when Mexicans were able to forge a sense of cultural and national identity because there was a lot of division within Mexico.”

Here in the United States, Cinco de Mayo is a day in which folks celebrate Mexican culture, oftentimes with alcohol. 

“All the beer companies — Corona for example — the wine, the tequila, they really promote this, but Mexico looks at this differently,” Stark said. 

He says there’s a greater emphasis on the historical aspect of the date. 

“The way that Mexicans commemorate this is by focusing on the military victory,” Stark said. “So, you have military reenactments, you have military parades.”

Moreno adds that there’s another common misunderstanding in the U.S. about Cinco de Mayo. 

“Today we are celebrating Cinco de Mayo,” Moreno said. “Which is a misconception of Mexican Independence (Day).”

Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated on Sept. 16. Moreno also plans on offering unique history-inspired dishes on that date. 

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