Dia de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead) takes place on November 1 and 2. It’s a multi-day celebration that honors the lives of deceased loved ones. Check out these delicious Day of the Dead food and drink recipes you can make for this special holiday!
In Mexico, Day of the Dead is a huge celebration. It stems from the belief that death is not to be feared or avoided but celebrated as another passage of life. Altars or Ofrendas are set up in public squares and people’s homes. They are decorated with sugar skulls (Calaveras) and other decorations that welcome the souls of those who have passed before us.
With Armando and I living here in California, and raising our kids far away from our families in Texas and Iowa, this holiday has always been a special time for us. We set up our little altar in the living room and it is an opportunity to share with our children the stories of their relatives that they never got a chance to know themselves.
Significance of Day of the Dead Food
Of course food is at the center of these celebrations. There are foods that are placed on the altar with hopes that with divine permission our loved ones will visit us on earth to enjoy the pleasures of life. Then there are foods that are meant to be shared around the table.
Certain ingredients and foods are closely associate with Dia de los Muertos. Here’s what they mean:
- Sugar Skulls: Typically not meant to be eaten these decorated skulls made of sugar (or sometimes chocolate) are to be placed on the altar to represent the idea that we all are equal in the end. You can purchase these or if you are up for a fun project, easily make your own sugar skulls.
- Marigolds: Specifically a Mexican marigold flower, known as cempasuchil. This flower is traditionally used to decorate Día de Muertos altars because of its bright color and abundant fragrance. It also is used to make celebratory cocktails, breads, and other foods.
- Pan de Muerto: The skull and crossbones that decorate the top make this sweet brioche-like bread a must for Day of the Dead. The traditional pan de muerto is flavored with orange and anise but my chocolate version and jeweled tropical fruit version are also delicious and fun.
- Personal Special Foods: Consider your loved ones favorite foods and place those on the altar as well. If they loved tequila, leave a shot of tequila. If they loved tamales, leave a dish of freshly-made tamales. For example, my grandmother loved chocolate. We found bags of mini Snickers bars tucked all over her apartment after she passed so there is always a Snickers on our altar for her.
20 Day of the Dead Food and Drink Recipes
If you are gathering with family and friends this year. Here are 20 popular recipes to make and enjoy.
To kick things off, let’s start with an easy appetizer to serve with chips. This salsa is simple (and simply addictive). This tomatillo avocado salsa is made with raw tomatillos, ripe avocados and serrano pepper, blended until smooth and creamy, ready in 10 minutes!
Homemade guacamole with a twist! This Charred Poblano Guacamole has all the creamy avocado goodness you love plus charred bits of poblano pepper and jalapeños that takes it to a whole new level of delicious. Looking for something more straightforward? Try my classic guacamole recipe.
Fluffy masa filled with tender pork and rich sauce all rolled up in corn husks and steamed. These tamales are essential for your Day of the Dead celebrations. While tamales can be enjoyed year round, the Day of the Dead holiday really kicks off tamales season. Here are some more tamales recipes for you to explore all season long: Strawberry Tamales with Horchata Sauce, Black Bean and Cheese Tamales, Chile Verde Chicken Tamales.
These richly spiced Instant Pot Carnitas are full of flavor and ready in a fraction of the time. Orange zest, cumin, and guajillo chiles make these pork carnitas exceptionally delicious. Finishing them in the Air Fryer (or under the broiler) gives incredibly crisp edges. You are going to love this recipe!
5. Carne Picada
Carne Picada is one of our favorite family recipes with tender beef, fire-roasted tomatoes, poblano pepper, and spices it makes incredible tacos or as a main dish with rice. Awesome for feeding a crowd!
How about making a dish of Enchiladas Verdes? Shredded chicken wrapped in warm corn tortillas coated in homemade enchilada sauce made with charred tomatillos, poblano pepper, serrano chiles, and onion then baked until the cheese is melted. You are going to love this recipe!
Big bowls of this rich soup are a favorite Day of the Dead food. The recipe makes a huge batch which is awesome for large get togethers. I always set out lots of garnishes like minced onions, dried oregano, thinly sliced cabbage, and lime wedges for everyone to top their bowls as they like.
These Tacos Dorados are made with soft sweet potato filling flavored with garlic, cumin, and lime then stuffed into earthy corn tortillas and lightly fried until crisp. Drizzle with a fiery charred jalapeño yogurt sauce for a tasty dinner everyone will adore. These make a great vegetarian option!
This rich mole from Puebla, Mexico is the epitome of traditional Mexican food. The mole sauce is made with dried chiles, thickened with lightly fried almonds, pistachios, and sesame seeds and accented with Mexican chocolate. In Oaxaca they make a complex and delicious Mole Negro made from the ashes of burnt chiles. It is a labor of love but so worth it. If you want to give it a try, my friend Lola’s recipe is incredible.
10. Chiles Rellenos
This Authentic Chile Relleno Recipe takes you step-by-step on how to make this traditional Mexican dish of poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg batter and lightly fried. Serve with frijoles de olla, a crisp salad, and salsa ranchera. Another excellent vegetarian option.
The easiest, tastiest Instant Pot Mexican Rice Recipe you’ll ever make using all fresh ingredients like onion and garlic, ripe, juicy tomatoes and jalapeño. It doesn’t get any better than this—on the table in 20 minutes!
12. Refried Beans
All you need is a few simple ingredients and time for the beans to get tender for restaurant-style refried beans cooked right on the stovetop. A healthy, vegan refried bean recipe that goes with practically anything you are serving for Day of the Dead.
Our favorite flour tortilla recipe based on the method from Mexico: The Cookbook. A wet dough and long kneading time make them soft and chewy. Armando’s family is from Chihuahua, Mexico where flour tortillas reign supreme. It’s nice to remember them with a warm batch of freshly made tortillas.
Pan de Muerto or Day of the Dead Bread is essential for any Dia de Muertos celebration. Traditional loaves are lightly scented with anise but this festive version combines pan de muerto with the fall favorite—pumpkin spice. It has pumpkin and warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, and clove.
Calabaza en tacha is a traditional Day of the Dead food that is made from pumpkin that is simmered in cinnamon, piloncillo, and orange in this recipe I have taken that glorious pumpkin and tucked it into a flaky crust to make a delicious tart.
16. Caramel Flan
An authentic recipe for flan; a super easy, creamy custard made simply with eggs, sweetened condensed milk, and ricotta cheese dripping in caramel sauce.
Tres Leches isn’t specifically a Day of the Dead dessert but it is a dessert that is easy to make, feeds a crowd, and everyone loves it. Try this classic vanilla version or my more seasonal Pumpkin Tres Leches Cake.
This warm Mexican drink combines cinnamon, piloncillo, and masa harina for a creamy warming cup of comfort. Like Day of the Dead, drinking warm corn-based drinks originated with the Aztecs and is therefore a popular drink during the holiday.
This is the most delicious Mexican hot chocolate you will ever try. Like atole it is thickened with corn flour and is traditionally made during Día de los Muertos to keep you warm on the chilly November nights.
This creamy almond and rice drink is a favorite throughout the year but on Día de los Muertos you can turn it into a cocktail with a splash of añejo tequila.
Want To Learn More About Día de los Muertos? Check Out These Posts:
- How To Make Flowers For Day of the Dead
- Marigold Smudge Sticks For Día de los Muertos
- The Easiest Sugar Skull Tutorial
- 10 Essentials For Your Dia de los Muertos Altar
- How To Throw A Day of the Dead Fiesta
- Chocolate Strawberry Peanut Butter Calaveras
- Chocolate Anise Pan de Muerto
I Want To See Your Day of the Dead Food!
I hope you and your family love these recipes as much as we do. Leave me a comment below and let me know which ones you tried or even better, take a picture and share it with me on Instagram by tagging @holajalapeno and #holajalapeno. Also, sign up for my weekly newsletter, lots of good stuff there too!