Winter holidays in Mexico are synonymous with a potpourri of warming age-old delicacies –– some dating as far back as the Aztecs –– that provide the sparkling centerpiece of the season and remind us of our childhood treats.
Indulge in these Brooklyn options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a sweet snack, and revel in the flavors layered with holiday nostalgia that stretch from November, when the holiday season begins for Mexicans on Día de Los Muertos, all through February.
The holidays, pastries, merriment, and tamales, roll over from Dia de Los Muertos to Thanksgiving for Mexican-Americans, to Christmas, New Years, and Día de Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day), celebrated on January 6. During Three Kings Day — the Catholic holiday that marks the three wise men meeting baby Jesus for the first time and the gifts they bore — families and friends huddle around a round pastry called, rosca de reyes, a sweet bread with candied fruit, sugar, and the kicker — a tiny white plastic baby baked into the cake to symbolize baby Jesus.
Whoever gets the first baby in their slice is then responsible for making tamales and throwing the last holiday party of the season, El Dia de La Candelaria — the day that catholic tradition celebrates baby Jesus’ introduction to the church — and colloquially for many of us, is just another excuse to get together and eat tamales, on February 2. Here are some staples our holidays can’t do without and where to find them in Brooklyn.
Sister to atole, champurrado is also a maize-based but distinctively chocolate flavored, think of it as a thick and creamy version of hot chocolate.
This holiday treat is especially hard to track down, but, Tamales Lupita, a food cart that operates on Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, serves this delicious and warming chocolate beverage every day of the week, from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m, you can also find it at Don Paco Lopez in Sunset Park.
Well, who am I kidding, there’s always an occasion for these crispy and doughy delights! Made recognizable by their golden color, cylindrical shape, ridges and sugar coating, these bad boys are particularly easy to find, from subway stations to coffee shops and restaurants alike –– it may be an outright sin not to try one.
Sweet tamales were always a staple during my holiday events, like pineapple, strawberry, chocolate, and raisin — biting into these corn cakes will offer an irresistible balance of sweet and savory.
Find them at Tamales Lupita, where their sweet tamal option is a pink-colored raisin variety or visit Don Paco Lopez, a Panaderia in Sunset Park, that offers a strawberry plum tamal as well as a decadent chocolate tamal with vanilla cream filling, only on weekends.
With strong ties to Aztec culture, this ancient soup is still being enjoyed as a warming winter dish. Traditionally had during Christmas celebrations, and hailed by many as a hangover cure, the only wrong way to enjoy this soup is by making Ina Garten’s recipe.
At Citrico in Prospect Heights, one can indulge in a warming vegetarian bowl of red or green chile broth pozole served with vegetables, a tostada and option to add vegan cream, while the omnivorous eater can add on chicken or pork. Other options are Williamsburg’s Mexico 2000’s red pozole, Bushwick’s La Mesita’s pork pozole, and Maya Fusion Cafe’s red beef pozole.
Arroz con Leche
Spanish for “rice with milk,” this popular rice pudding treat is a nutrient rich option with its origins in Turkey and variations in Asia and Latin America. In Mexico, it is traditionally cooked with cinnamon, topped with raisins, and to be enjoyed throughout the year, but especially during festive seasons.
Don Paco Lopez in Sunset Park serves arroz con leche on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as Mi Mexico Pequeño. Azteca Bakery-Grocery also serves traditional vanilla and cinnamon infused arroz con leche, and Bella Cholulita across from Maria Hernandez Park also serves a classic arroz con leche.
Rosca de Reyes
Last, but not least, the Mexican holiday season is not complete without the festive sweet bread encrusted with sugar, decorated with candied fruit, and baked with little plastic baby surprises (please don’t choke on these!). Remember — if you are the first to get the baby, it’s your responsibility to make the tamales!
Most panaderías prepare this pastry, but bare in mind, calling ahead or making an order is the best way to secure this treat!
In Sunset Park there’s Mi Mexico Pequeño, Don Paco López — who start production January 2 or 3, and Mis Angelitos Bakery, who start taking orders by December 23 and are available in-store a week before January 6.
El Charro in Bushwick begins baking the rosca January 2, and suggests you call ahead, Panaderia Mexico has them available starting January 4 and is only available per order, and lastly, Gaby’s Bakery on Knickerbocker has the rosca available two to three days before January 6, and in three sizes. Bed-Stuy’s Guadalupana Bakery has them available only the day-of, so call ahead and reserve yours before they sell out!
This article was originally posted on November 18, 2019