I don’t know much about Cinco de Mayo
I’m never sure what it’s all about.
– from the song “Mexico,” by Cake
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, and many of us still haven’t learned what it stands for. It’s become one of those vaguely ethnic holidays that we get all bungled, like our annual homage to St. Patrick: a manic wearing-o’-the-green (www.history.com notes that the original color associated with St. Patrick was blue). Not coincidentally, these are both excellent marketing opportunities, with a plethora of food specials and drink specials and deejay dance parties.
Http://mexonline.com notes that many mistake Cinco de Mayo for Mexican Independence Day, which is actually September 16, 1821. Forty years later, France threatened that independence, and a militia of 4,500, led by general Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, defeated 6,500 French soldiers in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The victory was short-lived: One year later, Napoleon III sent 30,000 more troops, and installed the Archduke Maximilian of Austria as ruler of Mexico. Maximilian ruled from Mexico City for three years before being ousted, with US military assistance, and subsequently executed by the Mexicans. His shirt, dotted with bullet holes, is on display in a Mexico City museum. (Muchas gracias, www.mexonline.com.)
The ubiquity of Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the US today must seem strange to most Mexicans. While Cinco de Mayo is commemorated each year in Puebla – with pageants, parades, dances, dinners, festivals and fun – it is rarely celebrated in other states. But a victory for self-determination is something that we can all get behind.
There are many places to toast General Seguín and company in the Hudson Valley this Saturday. The Rosendale Cinco de Mayo Celebration kicks off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 5 with a parade on Main Street led by the First Rosendale Improvement Brass Band and Social Club. This circular parade begins at the Redwing Blackbird Theatre and ends at the Rosendale Theatre. Those who’d like to march should head to the Redwing Blackbird Theatre early, between noon and 2 p.m., for rehearsal with masks and puppets.
At 3 p.m., at the Rosendale Theatre, it’s Mexico beyond Mariachi, an educational entertainment experience featuring live music and dance from south of the border. The journey begins over 600 years ago with the Aztec civilization and ends with the folk traditions of the present day. Tickets cost $5 each. Next, at 4 p.m., it’s Cookout and Fandango, a couples’ dance traditionally accompanied by guitars, castanets or hand-clapping, at the Big Cheese’s outdoor garden at 402 Main Street, and accompanying activities at participating Main Street businesses. Stay for the 7:15 p.m. screening of Like Water for Chocolate at the Rosendale Theatre; tickets cost $7 general admission, $5 for Rosendale Theatre Collective members.
The Rosendale celebration is sponsored by BlueBarn Productions, Prudential Nutshell Realty, Jack & Luna’s Café, Little Ones, River and Mountain Midwives, Codhill Press, Medusa Antiques, Little Explorers, Half Moon Books and the Rosendale Chamber of Commerce. The Rosendale Theatre is located at 408 Main Street. For more information, visit www.rosendaletheatre.org or call (845) 658-8989.
For a high-end, sit-down Mexican-food fix, I’d recommend these three restaurants:
Armadillo Bar & Grill, 97 Abeel Street in Kingston, (845) 339-1550, http://armadillos.net. Southwestern and Mexican with a “Nuevo Latino twist.” If the weather is nice, patio dining – with a famous frozen margarita or two – cannot be beat. Dishes range from Oaxacan black bean soup, with Mexican herbs and queso añejo, to the sumptuous shrimp burrito, with black beans, cheese, salsa verde, pico de gallo, avocado and sour cream, to green chile mac-and-cheese with Monterey Jack and roasted poblanos, served with cornbread.
Maya Café, 448 Route 9 in Fishkill, (845) 896-4042, www.mayacafecantina.com. Come for the Guacamole en Molcajete, prepared tableside; stay for the live Mariachi music. An excellent bar stocked with many tequilas, house-made white and red sangrias and a knack for margaritas on the rocks or frozen; the Maya Margarita is mixed with that sweet sangria. Substantial fare includes Cochinita Pibíl, a dish of pulled pork marinated in Seville orange juice with achiote, slow-cooked in banana leaves, and served with cebolla curtida (pickled onions), rice, black beans and corn tortillas. Enchilada de Mole Poblano is a soft corn tortilla filled with chicken and topped with a thick, rich mole, served with rice, beans, guacamole and sour cream.
Mexican Radio, 537 Warren Street in Hudson, (518) 828-7770, http://mexrad.com. A heavy Mission door leads to a warm orange room punctuated with punched tin, wrought iron, aged woods and painted tiles. Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer candles and designer hot sauce decorate the space. Try the Elotes de Mercado (roasted corn with all the fixings) and Plantain Rellenos, ripe plantains split lengthwise and stuffed with your choice of protein or vegetables, served with rice and beans. The Short Wave margarita, made with Sauza and Citronge, is best on the rocks, with a salted rim and slice of lime. The flan is not to be missed.
And my super-secret recommendation, for those who made it to the end of the column: I am happy to report that Tacocina of Wappingers Falls has reopened in a new location in the plaza across from the newest Adams Fairacre Farms. On Saturdays, Tacocina serves five different types of tamales, both savory and sweet: verde, with pork in green sauce; rajas, with jalapeños, onion, tomato and cheese; mole, with chicken; piña, with pineapple chunks; and bright-pink dulce, filled with swollen raisins. ¡Viva Tacocina! ¡Felíz Cinco de Mayo!