For over 3,000 years the people of Mexico have celebrated a day that we here in the UK might see as a bit morbid. Dia de Muertos – or The Day of the Dead – may sound a bit depressing, but in reality this festival is a celebration of life and a chance to remember with fondness all those who have passed away. Mexican street food makers Wahaca decided to transport this vibrant, colourful festival straight into the heart of London by hosting their very own version of the iconic event. Kasha and I were asked to join a group of bloggers (Erica, Leanne, India and May) to try out Three‘s new 4G Supervoice (which tackles the blogging nightmare of limited signal) and using a slick Samsung S6 we would capture the magic of the festival as the event’s official Instagrammers.
For those of you that read this blog regularly you’ll be well aware that food and tequila are two of my biggest vices; I had no hope in hell of refusing this offer. We descended upon Tobaccos Docks and sought out every experience possible and discovering a surprising number of things. Let me share with you now the nine things I learned at the Wahaca Day of the Dead Festival.
Death Doesn’t Have to Be Scary
In England we don’t make a show of remembering our dead in a public way, but in Mexico this festival is a way of welcoming their dead back and staying connected. To welcome the spirits, alters are adorned with sugar skulls, colourful marigolds and items belonging to those who have passed on. Families will often leave offering that were liked by the deceased like a tequila bottle or a cigar. We were treated to full sugar skull make up that left us feeling very much a part of this undead community.
There is More to Mexican Food than Tacos
As you might expect, Wahaca put on a good show for the hungry tummies out there, with a variety of different bites to eat. Favourites had to be the perfectly crunchy fish tacos (smothered in a hot sauce obvs), the moreish chorizo quesadillas topped off with a healthy dose of chocolate dunked churros; Mexican street food at its most comforting.
But the food choices did not end there, the festival was also running a supper club run by famous Mexican chef Enrique Olvera. This gastronomic superstar is famous for creating high class cuisine using traditional local ingredients like dried insects, agave and the rare chilhuacle chilli. In keeping with this tradition the guys from Grub were also selling delicious worm margaritas and roasted chilli and lime crickets…yum!
Death Can be Art
The festival hosted some astonishing works of art from the Saatchi Gallery’s exhibition. One of the most eyecatching was the room full of ants, but what I later learned was that these ants’ bodies were each shaped in the exact shape of a human skull… morbid indeed! As we wandered around the cavernous venue, we would come across another work of art by Alina and Jeff Bliumis.
Looking like a man who’s been killed by literature, Language Barrier is a commentary on the issues they had when moving from Russia to the USA. Some of the most impressive and powerful pieces however, were created by Mexican street artists from Rodrigo Peñafiel’s collection.
Lucha Libre is Actually Pretty Awesome
From the outset you can hear the audience muttering and whispering among themselves, saying things like ‘it’s so fake’ and it’s basically ‘acting’. But when the wrestlers start to bleed, jump from the balcony above into the ring or full on jump outside the ring and smash the metal barriers; you kinda have to give it to them, they put on a bloody good show.
Even if some of the moves are laughable there is a heck of a lot of talent there, and I wouldn’t want to come face to face with the flamboyant Cassius anytime soon…
Mexico’s Journalists are Being Murdered
As the heart of all the fun at the festival lies a great cause. Wahaca has donated 10% of all money raised from food and drink at the festival to the charity Periodistas de a Pie which helps journalists to conduct their work safely and thus promote free speech in Mexico. Unfortunately right now it’s a sad fact that freedom of speech in Mexico can get you killed. At the festival, there was a small memorial devoted to the 55 journalists who have been murdered by people involved in everything from organised crime to government corruption.
It’s truly horrific to know that the state of Veracruz has become one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world, where dozens have been silenced. It was touching that the festival told the story of Regina Martinez and Ruben Espinosa, both of whom were murdered for having the courage to speak out against this corruption.
Undead Musical Bingo is a Thing
There was a lot of this going on at the mental musical bingo. @wahaca @threeuk A video posted by Chris A Sharpe ? (@makenewtracks) on
As if bingo wasn’t fun enough, the guys at Musical Bingo created a killer (see what I did there) playlist of songs with some great (read: awful) prizes to giveaway for the lucky (unlucky) winner of each round of musical bingo. Our energetic, entertaining host for the evening was full of beans and kept everyone laughing the whole way through. I do feel bad for the poor girl forced to stuff her face full of marshmallows during a game of ‘Chubby Bunny’ and awarded a lousy set of fake moustaches.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Wife is Mexican
After desperately trying to source some last minute tacos (and failing) I heard rumour that a certain political chap was hanging about the Death Café. Upon further inspection I massively freaked out and realised that Jeremy Corbyn was at the festival chatting away to undead patrons and posing for pics with festival-goers. Kasha and I grabbed him for a cheeky selfie and I caught a few words with the Labour Leader. I ascertained that his wife is Mexican (hence why he was there) and that he loved Mexican food, who knew!
The Crystal Fighters are Incredible Live
My favourite gig of the evening had to be the mind-blowingly awesome Crystal Fighters. Strutting out with all the energy of Mardi Gras, and wearing an Indian headdress; the band were in full form and brought so much life to our Day of the Dead. Suffice to say, when ‘I Love London’ came on the place when nuts. (FYI the image is of Mano de Dios not Crystal Fighters, I was too busy going nuts to get a good picture)
TEQUILA IS AWESOME
Actually I already knew that, but I had to repeat it. Oh and also mezcal is the future.
What I found so touching about this festival is that it treats the dead like they are still an important part of the community, and that even death doesn’t take you away from that. Especially now, in such a time of such heightened tension, a day that celebrates life and remembers those that have passed away before us can only be a positive thing.
Have you been to the Day of the Dead in Mexico? Or did you dead doll yourself up for Wahaca’s do? Share your thoughts and stories by commenting below. Alternatively check out this awesome round up video of the event (keeping an eye out for Kasha scoffing at 1.10 mins).
If you love a good Mexican spot, check out my review of El Patron in Putney.