As el Día de los Muertos (aka Day of the Dead) looms perilously close this week a notable point to make about the holiday is it is not so perilous at all.
In fact, it is quite sacred to many who live south of the border or, even in the more Hispanic areas of the United States.
Day of the Dead is officially celebrated on November 1 and with the obvious close timing to Halloween, some compare it, but that would be a “grave” mistake.
The roots of Day of the Dead are rumored to be tied way back to a combination of the Mesoamerican rituals that were celebrated entwining both the European religion and the Spanish culture.
And, while el Día de los Muertos does lend itself to costumes like Halloween the meaning is very different. Day of the Dead attire is normally the prominent calacas (skeletons) and skulls (calaveras) along with parades and celebration.
Skull masks are worn, and candy shaped skulls eaten for good measure on this day. The day has gotten hype all these centuries because it is believed that on this day the veil between the living and the dead is very thin.
Thus, the perfect time for loved ones to return to their graves to feast, drink, dance and take part in the celebration. In cemeteries in certain parts of the world music is prominent as is food and drinks and the visit by many family members remembering those who have passed to the other side.
You will also find family members leaving the dead person’s favorite food and other goodies at the gravesite along with candles, marigolds also, called cempasuchil and red cock’s combs and of course plenty of fruit and tortillas.
I have spent time celebrating this holiday in West Texas – aka Terlingua – and in Mexico. This year I took a sneak peak in San Antonio discovering what that city plans to do this weekend for its Day of the Dead extravaganza.
Indeed, if you like skeletons you have come to the right place.
And if you like celebrations, this is an element of el Dia de los Muertos you can easily celebrate in San Antonio.
This year with what is rumored will be as many as 300,000 in attendance the city’s Spiritlandia (https://dayofthedeadsa.com/) is the huge draw and worth the time spent. Spiritlandia founder, chef and restaurant owner Johnny Hernandez gave me a tour of his warehouse while I was in town a few weeks ago and he showed me where the Day of the Dead goodies were hibernating waiting for the big weekend that has now arrived.
The Spiritlandia events at LA Villita began Thursday with a River Parade and Friday a concert, culinary village and general fun and food to get the weekend started.
The giant Day of the Dead skulls are on display this year and apparently Spiritlandia is only getting more renowned as the years go by because Hernandez said “San Antonio is proud to be the nation’s definitive Day of the Dead destination. Each year it gets bigger and better.”
Indeed, it does. As does Hernandez’ ideas for restaurants and commerce. His good natured excitement for all things labeled “good ideas” that work – even during the pandemic when he came up with the now infamous margarita truck – yep, Hernandez seems to have the golden touch.
He also hosted me for lunch at his cool little burger joint Burgerteca
(https://chefjohnnyhernandez.com/restaurants/burgerteca/) offering tasty gelato (not ice cream), and burgers that include a whole lot of choices. That includes a veggie burger option I will return to try a second time (if I can’t talk him into opening something in Big D). I will also say two more words about Burgerteca “Mole Fries” oh, and three more “Mexican Street Dog.”
For breakfast and coffee, there is a place that has a line winding around the corner every day.
Even better, these guys are Day of the Dead friendly. La Panaderia (https://lapanaderia.com/) – try the on Houston Street – is a bakery/café that offers the original pan de muerto, a traditional sweet baked good that is a staple of the Day of the Dead celebration.
The owners of La Panaderia are brothers José and David Cáceres. They opened the place in 2014 due to a love for their Mexican heritage and their passion for baking. The baking they learned from their mother Doña Josefina who baked fresh bread on the streets of Mexico City. Now they bake her goodies in San Antonio and the locals and visitors love it.
So, for the holiday this weekend just repeat after me “Feliz día de los Muertos,” then smile and throw on a skull mask. If you can’t make it to San Antonio this weekend, it is worth a visit anytime.
When in San Antonio:
Where to Stay:
115 Lexington Ave, San Antonio, 78205
Why: Good service (they are one of those cashless places so keep that in mind). The property does offer a noticeably friendly staff. The spa was a destination I would return to for another treatment even if not staying at the hotel.
Both my colleague and I had treatments and while we had different experiences both received high marks. We were invited to an afternoon party at the spa that included a tour of the facility as well as mini massages and bubbly – who can pass that up?
Where to Eat:
Boudro’s on the River Walk
421 E Commerce, San Antonio, 78205
Why: Guacamole tableside at this Texas bistro and it has been around since 1986. You can sit right on the river and take in that vibe or alternately inside among the limestone walls. If those options don’t work opt for the floating barge on the river. The prickly pear margarita is Texas to the core and the menu offers an array of choices.
The Good Kind
Ivy Hall, 1127 S St Mary’s St
San Antonio, 78210
Why: This restaurant is owned by chef Tim McDiarmid and tout’s meals that are good for your body and for the environment. The food does feel like it is chosen and made with love being clean, nourishing, and sustainable. McDiarmid is a James Beard Fellow and she has been on the Food Network so she has a good idea about Farm to Table, which she considers the only way to eat anyway. The property is large, and outdoors with a Tuesday Trivia night.
611 S. Presa St. Suite 106
San Antonio, 78205
Why: An Apothecary Kitchen, okay so who wouldn’t be attracted to that meme. I like the idea of apothecary – it kind of beckons back to days of old when food was healthy.
The food at Pharm Table can boast that same moniker. With a lot of research under the belt of those in the kitchen in a short blurb “Pharm Table promotes the ancient wisdom of a plant-forward lifestyle.” The idea is to eat with the seasons and source from small local farms. The menus are designed to “utilize scraps and trim from the kitchen, maximizing the nutrients found in the skin of plants and avoiding food waste.”
Chef Elizabeth Johnson blends the right bit of this and the perfect bit of that for a distinct taste. I was interested in the Indian (healthy) options since I am an India travel junkie, and I can tell the real from the fake.
I was impressed. But of course, Johnson has been referred to by the James Beard Foundation as a “Food is Medicine guru.” As such, the chef considers the name Pharm Table a synonym for culinary medicine. While there order the ayurvedic wellness flight, mushroom ceviche, detoxing kitchari and a ginger meal starter while sitting outside on the patio. Namaste!
711 Navarro, Suite 100
San Antonio 78205
Why: I always like laughter. I always like to laugh. At Hopscotch unless you are the most daunting of souls, you are going to laugh. The entire experience is all about immersing yourself in art and sound and color – like finding the child in you again.
Artist installations tell stories in each of the rooms you visit from speaking into a telephone and revealing your greatest secret to “no one,” to dancing and jumping up and down, to playing with colors on the walls.
Takeaway, the experience is all about good synergy meant to be had by all – and lots of good selfies. And the bar has some fun drinks before you get lost in the 20,000-square-foot Hopscotch experience.
For more details about el Dia de los Muertos this weekend or a visit to San Antonio in general visit https://www.visitsanantonio.com/