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Contrary to our popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, that is actually September 16th.  May 5th commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 where they were greatly outnumbered by the French army. That battle was led by the heroic General Ignacio Zaragoza, a brave warrior who was dedicated to the liberal cause in his homeland.

Additionally, I learned about the three most popular traditional dishes served on Cinco de Mayo and found authentic recipes for each.  So come below to immerse yourself in a real Cinco De Mayo experience.

Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin was born on March 24, 1829 in the city of Presidio de La Bahia de Espiritu Santo, now Goliad, in southeastern Texas on the San Antonio River.

After Texas achieved it's independence his family moved first to Matamoros in Tamaulipas state and ten years later to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.  It was during this time that young Ignatico had been considering entering the priesthood, but he chose to follow in the footsteps of his father, an infantryman.  

During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) Zaragoza tried to enlist as a cadat, but his application was rejected.  He was forced to watch from a distance as Mexico was defeated by the Americans.

Ignacio Zaragoza
In 1853 Zaragoza managed to enter the Nuevo Leon army and quickly rose to captain of his regiment.  In 1854, along with 100 of his followers, Zaragoza began his lifelong dedication to the liberal cause by joining the Plan de Ayutla, a movement attempting to overthrow the dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.   He fought, in 1860, in favor of the Constitution of 1857 and participated in the battle of Calpulalpan where he faced off against the conservative forces.  This battle was relatively easily won thanks to a brave counterattack by the liberals which ended the War of Reform and laid down the cornerstones of a new republican system for Mexico.

Recognized for his high sense of loyalty and patriotism, Zaragoza was awarded the position of Minister of the Army and Navy which he held until 1861.

The Mexican-American War and the Mexican Civil War of 1858 took a tremendous toll on the country's economy.  Drowning in debt, a moratorium was announced to suspend all foreign debt payments.  The US had previously settled their debt with Mexico following their war, but Spain, England and France were demanding repayment.  When it became clear that France was bent on expanding her empire by establishing its own leadership in Mexico then Spain and England quickly withdrew.

France pushed forward and invaded Mexico on the gulf coast in 1862 and began a march towards Mexico City, a distance of around 600 miles.  

President Juarez swiftly organized a military unit and placed General Ignacio Zaragoza in command. On her march, the French army encountered strong resistance near Puebla at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe, it was May 5th.  There the smaller - 4,500 men - and poorly armed militia led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, were able to stop and defeat the well outfitted 6,500 French army and completely halt, albeit temporarily, the invasion of Mexico by France.

This victory was a proud and glorious moment for Mexican patriots and helped to develop a much needed sense of national unity which is the basis of the celebration for this historic date.

Napoleon III sent even more troops and invaded Mexico again and maintained rule of Mexico from 1864 - 1867, at which time the Americans, their own Civil War at an end, provided political and military assistance to expel the French and depose the ruler Maximilian.

Because of his bravery and amazing feat at the Battle of Puebla, Ignacio Zaragoza is considered the Hero of Liberty and champion of the Battle of Puebla.  The city was subsequently re-named by presidential decree as Puebla de Zaragoza, as well as the bordering state of Coahuila de Zaragoza.

On September 8, 1862 Ignacio Zaragoza died from typhoid fever.  He was 33 years of age.  

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Here are, thanks to What to Really Eat on Cinco de Mayo three of what may arguably be the most famous dishes from Puebla.  Many of the cherished dishes of Mexico and Puebla in particular were invented by nuns who in their convents integrated old world traditions with new world ingredients.

Photo of the authentic Mexican dish Mole Poblano.
Mole Poblano
Mole (think "guacamole with the accent on the second syllable) is reportedly the most consumed dish in Puebla during Cinco de Mayo.  Mole is a sauce consisting of many ingredients. It is the Aztec word for sauce, but the Spanish claim it derives from the word "moler" which means to grind.
Legend has it that mole poblano was first created in the kitchen of the Santa Rosa convent in Puebla by Sor Andrea de la Asunción in the late seventeenth century. According to The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist, Sor Andrea de la Asunción is said to have prepared it for don Tomás Antonio de la Cerda y Aragón, the new viceroy of Spain. This dish is the ultimate combination of old and new world ingredients and cooking practices. This sauce can be somewhat daunting by the long laundry list of ingredients that requires various preparations. But, after one taste of this mole, all the roasting and toasting will be worth it.
The two recommended recipes are: Mole Poblano: Yes You Can! at Pati's Mexican Table and Chicken in Mole, Puebla Style from Epicurius
:Photo of the authentic Mexican dish Chalupas Poblanas
As with mole above, there is no agreement on the origin of the word chalupas.  Some claim the word comes from the Aztec name for boat and others prefer to believe it is from the Spanish name for basket.
Chalupas, an iconic Poblano street food, have a resemblance to tostadas and are the perfect antojito for any Cinco de Mayo celebration. To put it simply, chalupas are fried thick tortillas topped with salsa, shredded meat, chopped onion and sometimes queso fresco.
The two recommended recipes are: Chalupas Poblanas (Thick Tortillas Fried with Salsa) from Saveur Magazine and Puebla-style Chalupas: Chalupas Poblanas from Mexconnect
Photo of the authentic Mexican dish Chile en Nogada
Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en nogada is an iconic dish of Mexico. It is said to have been invented in the convent of Santa Monica for Agustin de Iturbide‘s visit to Puebla in 1821. Agustín de Iturbide was Mexico’s first emperor after Mexico won independence from Spain. He was served chiles en nogada in Puebla while traveling back to Mexico City from Veracruz after signing the Treaty of Cordoba, which gave Mexico its independence.

The dish signifies Mexico’s independence and is made up of the colors of the Mexican flag; red, white and green. The flavors are just as colorful as the ingredients. The sweet, savory, picadillo stuffed poblano pepper dipped in egg batter, fried, and topped with a rich walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds and parsley is something you will not regret. Though it is more traditionally made for Mexico’s Independence Day, it is one of Puebla’s most cherished dishes.

The recommended recipes are: Chiles en Nogada from The Kitchn and Rick Bayless's Chiles en Nogada from The Atlantic
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