My first experience at Las Posadas—a tradition of the Mexica that honored the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, adapted to Christianity by Spanish conquerors to coerce Native Americans into conversion—was in my family’s hometown of Aguascalientes back in ’75. ‘Twas the first time I tried Jarritos, ate real carnitas (a bag purchased at a road stand by my grandfather that I can’t stop thinking about), and played with those triangular paper firecrackers. There was a procession of people walking through my cousin’s neighborhood, stopping at various houses to gently sing the Posada Song in unison; and blindfolded youngsters—myself included—swung for the fences at a hanging piñata. That was my first time in Mexico.
Las Posadas began last night, and for a formal experience during the December 16-24 festivities, the best place to go is Olvera Street where they do a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to find lodging. Finally, the reward of treats like ponche (warm tropical fruit punch), champurrado (hot chocolate and masa drink), tamales, and buñuelos (fried flour tortillas with Mexican brown sugar and cinnamon) is offered once Mary and Joseph are handed a room key to their crash pad.
The best part about all of this is the food, of course, and all over town, families and friends are hosting Posadas with lots of tamales–you will eat tamales until you can’t have another bite, and then somebody’s Mexican grandmother will shame you into eating another dozen. But, if you haven’t been invited to a Posada, that’s no reason to miss out on the big kick-off to tamales season; here are a few places to grab some treats for your own Posada.
Mercado de Los Angeles, 3425 E. 1st St., Boyle Heights, (323) 262-4507
You know those giant, sweet and tempting manhole-sized buñuelos you saw at the Mercado de Los Angeles? The ones with so much sugar on them you had no idea what to do? Grab a stack for your friends because Las Posadas require this dessert to eat with hot beverages like ponche, atole (masa based drink), and champurrado.
Tortas Ahogadas Ameca, 747 S. Atlantic Bl., East Los Angeles, (323) 268-6636
To feed the masses, there’s nothing like a giant pot of pozole to serve at midnight after the Presidente Brandy has drained your protective layer of tamales to make sure you don’t wake up with a hangover. In L.A., trust your Jaliscan cenadurias like Tortas Ahogadas Ameca for delicious red pozole , and sometime they even have green pozole. Bring your own pot and just say “fill ‘er up!”
Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen, 7891 Garfield Ave., Bell Gardens, (562) 659-7800
For one-stop Posada shopping, chef Rocio Camacho is always my go-to-fiesta-queen for any seasonal Mexican celebratory foods. This year she has ponche, caramel champurrado, and tamales filled with cochinita pibil, squash blossoms, chicken, sweet corn, and habanero chilies so call in your order in advance.