Foods to Eat in Mexico During Day of the Dead

Foods to Eat in Mexico During Day of the Dead


What is a celebration without delicious food? While the name “Day of the Dead” may not stir your appetite, this lively and cheerful holiday actually has delicious foods for both the dead and living to enjoy! Families get together and remember loved ones who have passed away all while enjoying traditional foods and adorning beautiful altars for the dead with them.

Learn about the most popular Day of the Dead foods you’ll find in Mexico.

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Courtesy of Cristina Zapata Pérez

This drink goes all the way back to Mesoamerican times. Atole is made from corn hominy flour, cinnamon, water and vanilla. This sometimes thin, sometimes chunky drink is served frequently for breakfast for dinner, but especially on Day of the Dead and Christmas. It comes in all shapes and sizes, sometimes made with rice or oatmeal, sometimes blue and sometimes with chocolate.


Candied Pumpkin (calabaza en tacha)

Pumpkins have been growing in Mexico for thousands of years and were highly valued by the Mesoamerican peoples. Every part of the pumpkin was used, like the seeds for making pepitas. Around Day of the Dead, candied pumpkin is sold in most stores, or you can make your own right at home. Traditionally, the pumpkin is placed in a caldron called a tacha and cooked with sugar, spices and fruit, but nowadays it’s much simpler. You can candy pumpkin with brown sugar and cinnamon on your stove or get creative and use any ingredients you want. Leave this tasty treat on the altar for the dead and enjoy a piece for dessert!


Hot Chocolate

Cocoa dates back to pre-Columbian times thousands of years ago and it’s believed the Mesoamerican peoples were the first to incorporate it into their civilizations. Historically, hot chocolate in Mexico was much different than we know it today—it was made with chilies and drank spicy. Though you’ll find this spicy “Mexican hot chocolate” today in Mexico and abroad, most hot chocolate is similar to what you expect—warm with milk, cinnamon and sugar.



When it comes to alcohol, not much changes in the afterlife. Living relatives make sure to adorn altars with the deceased’s favorite spirits like tequila, mezcal, pulque or whichever poison was their pick. Many Day of the Dead celebrations are more in the form of a solemn vigil, but depending on what town you’re in, sometimes there are full-on cemetery parties with heavy drinking and dancing.


Mole Negro

It takes patience to make any mole, but it especially takes patience to make mole negro—the richest of its kind. Originating in Oaxaca, Mexico—the land of seven moles—mole negro takes a long list of ingredients, challenging processes and sometimes days to make. It’s traditionally served on special occasions like weddings and funerals but makes an appearance on Day of the Dead as people set aside the time to make it instead of buying it from vendors.


Pan de Muerto

Courtesy of Marlene

Eating the “bread of the dead” on Day of the Dead and the days leading up to it is customary across Mexico. Pan de muerto is a sweet bread baked with anise seeds, a hint of orange flavor and bone designs over top. It comes in all shapes and sizes depending on what part of Mexico you’re in, and it’s an essential piece on altars for the dead. You may see it with sprinkles or sesame seeds on top and sometimes with sweet fillings inside.



Pulque is a milky alcoholic beverage made by fermenting the sap of agave plants. It dates back to pre-Columbian times and was thought to be the drink of the gods. Although slightly alcoholic, it’s commonly drunk during pregnancy for the nutrients it contains. Pulque is served during Day of the Dead and used as an ofrenda, much like atole.


Sugar Skulls (calaveras)

Courtesy of Thirty Two

Sugar skull makers are busy months in advance preparing enough of these sweet treats for Day of the Dead celebrations. While sugar skulls are made of pure sugar and technically can be eaten, recognizing a deceased person on an altar or ofrenda is their main function. The name of the deceased is usually written across the forehead and the rest of the skull is decorated with icing, glitter, sequins and ribbons. While skulls have represented the passage to the afterlife since Mesoamerican times, it’s also appropriate to gift a sugar skull to the living, as a reminder that death is the great equalizer and comes to us all.



Tamals have been on the scene for a long time, dating back to Mesoamerican times in approximately 5000 BC. Similar to atole, tamales come a variety of ways. First the outer shell is made of a corn-based dough then steamed in a corn husk or banana leaves, in some regions. The most common fillings are meats, cheeses, vegetables or anything the chef desires! Tamales came about initially because they were a convenient and portable food that the tribeswomen would make before travel and hunting trips. While tamales are served year-round in many places in Mexico, they are mainly eaten during holidays like Day of the Dead, Christmas and Mexican Independence Day. On Day of the Dead tamales are eaten by the living and placed on altars as offerings for the deceased.

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