Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo. It’s not Mexican Independence Day (which is September 16th), but it is a day that commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French troops at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 on, you guessed it, May 5th. Cinco de Mayo isn’t as widely celebrated in Mexico as it is in the United States. So, how did this historical day turn into an annual celebration of inebriation in the US? And is there a better way to celebrate this holiday than public drunkenness…like with vegan Mexican food?
While it started as a way to celebrate Mexican-American heritage, over time, Cinco de Mayo turned profitable by beer companies. Now, everyone and their mom is familiar with this holiday, and probably celebrates it, but doesn’t know why. The boozy holiday we celebrate now is as American as apple pie, just like the American version of St. Patricks Day. There isn’t anything wrong with that in theory, but while people are taking tequila shots in sombreros, family-owned restaurants are shutting their doors and immigrants are facing a hostile political climate. Because those sombrero-clad people who enjoy “Cinco de Drinko” one day may take that ideology to the polls the next. Now there is something wrong with that.
Rather than sharing a Cinco de Mayo recipe, or party ideas, my suggestion is to vote with your dollars and support establishments in your community. It doesn’t have to be either-or; you can still throw a party or cook your favorite dish at home. You can even do 20 tequila shots if no one gets hurt. But then try incorporating these ideas in your everyday life!
But first let’s review the “don’ts” of Cinco de Mayo.
- Wear a sombrero and a fake mustache while taking tequila shots and drinking “beer-os” then walking into the middle of the street unintelligibly yelling about “Cinco de Drinko!”
- That’s all.
The “dos” will land you with better food, and a nobody gets hurt. Order all of the margaritas you wish!
Patronize Your Local Vegan/Vegetarian Mexican Restaurant
Yes, those exist! There are many family-owned, local, meat-free Mexican restaurants in cities all over. If you want them to stay in your community, spend your money there instead of Taco Bell and Chipotle.
In Chicago, I love Quesadilla La Reina del Sur, and Vegetarian Express. There are also great vegan seitan and soy meat options at El Nuevo Mexicano, La Cocina, and La Cantina Grill, and clearly-marked veg options at Dia De Los Tamales, and Taqueria Los Comales.
Besides your specifically vegetarian Mexican restaurants, I’m sure there are many more in your area with vegetarian sections of the menu, or accidentally vegan beans and rice, which brings me to…
How to Order Vegan Mexican Food at a Restaurant
Don’t have a local vegan or vegetarian Mexican restaurant? Here’s how to order vegan at any Mexican restaurant.
1. Get the scoop on the beans
Sometimes refried beans are prepared with lard or meat. If you can confirm that the refried beans are vegetarian, the menu is now your vegan oyster. Swap out the meat for beans of a burrito, tacos, or torta, hold the cheese, and you’ve got yourself a vegan meal.
If the refried beans are not vegetarian, sometimes restaurants are kind enough to prepare a separate, lard-free portion for you (be sure to tip accordingly!) Alternatively, they may have black beans prepared without meat, or would be able to swap the refried beans for plain ol’ black beans.
2. Also check out the rice
Sometimes rice is made with chicken stock. Again, you can request plain rice or to hold the rice if there is not an easy meat-free option. But really, once you have a local restaurant that you love that makes meat-free rice and beans, or has a vegetarian section on the menu, you can keep going back without having to play a round of 20 Questions.
3. Order all the chips and guacamole
Guacamole is pretty much always vegan. Sometimes store bought guacamole from the grocery store deli has mayo or milk added (gross) to stretch their dollar when it comes to expensive avocados, but this is very unlikely at an actual restaurant.
4. Order the fajitas
Fajitas is grilled meats and veggies served with corn tortillas. Very straightforward and veganizable. Many fajitas have veggie options, but if not, just order one sans meat, extra veggies. Also, many plates are served with rice and beans, so refer to #1 and 2 on that.
5. When in doubt, salad or veggie dishes
Unlikely worst case scenario: if you’re at a restaurant without vegan options for beans and rice, stick with vegetables as the main component, or order off the salad menu. Then try a different restaurant next time. Google is your friend.
Donate Money to Non-Profits
Don’t feel like going out, but still want to vote with your dollars? Or want to put your money where your mouth is when your mouth is enjoying a delicious meal and 3 rounds of margaritas? Donate money to organizations that work for immigrant rights like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), or another worthy organization.
How are you celebrating Cinco de Mayo?
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