One of the things I love most about fall is that it marks the beginning of a butt load of holidays. Starting with Halloween and ending with New Year’s Eve, there are lots and lots of opportunities to celebrate, to drink yourself silly, and yes, to eat. I’m especially excited about the upcoming Mexican Holiday that, to my surprise and disappointment, hasn’t really caught on in middle America: The Day of the Dead.
El Dia de los Muertos, or All Souls’ Day, is widely celebrated in Mexico, as well as by Latin American communities in the U.S. I’ve always thought that is was celebrated on the first of November, but I recently learned that in many regions of Mexico it’s actually a two day celebration. How sweet is that? The holiday was originally intended to honor the dead by building an alter in their honor using, among other things, their favorite foods and beverages.
Now who wouldn’t want to celebrate that holiday? I certainly would. I could even see myself going to my grandfather’s grave lugging a fifth of Kessler’s (that’s cheap whiskey) and a pot of grandma’s baked macaroni and cheese under my arm. She baked this dish to death because my grandfather had no teeth and baking the macaroni for an ungodly long time made it soft enough for him to eat. As a kid, I found it a disgusting, gooey mess, but then again I couldn’t wash it down with a big swig of whiskey the way my grandfather could. But I digress.
Celebrations in this country have strayed from the Catholic influenced, somber variety to whimsical parties that actually honor stuff like dead television shows. Celebrations in larger cities have even taken on the life of Mardi Gras style bashes. Whatever form it takes, celebrating the dead makes me hungry, and what better way to pay homage to this classic Mexican holiday than eating a good Mexican meal? So Stephanie and I did just that. We started the party early by having lunch at one of Flint’s most beloved Mexican restaurants of all time, La Familia Morales.
The weather was absolutely perfect for the occasion—cold, dark, drizzly, and windy. Dead leaves were flying around like big goofy snowflakes, and the ground was already covered in little drifts of yellows and reds and browns. I forgot my umbrella, so Stephanie let me huddle under hers for the six or seven steps it took to get to the front door.
Inside, the place was abuzz with the voices of customers, the staff, and the big colored TV sitting in a small cubby space next to the kitchen that two little kids were glued to. A few Halloween decorations littered the dining room, but off by itself in the far corner, hanging from the ceiling, was the true symbol of El Dia de los Muertos. It was a good looking replica of a human skull perched atop a black cape thingy. It was breathtaking and beautiful.
If you’ve never been to La Familia, then there’s no need to open the menu. Just order the Golden Tacos. They’re deep fried flour shells (and nobody in this town can make these shells better) with a mound of ground beef and cheese and lettuce inside. Simple. Delicious. Ya better order them three at a time! Sour cream is extra, but order it because it’s the perfect topping to this king of Mexican comfort food. I also pour some of the house salsa on mine to give it an extra kick.
Then, keeping your menu closed, order a small side of beans and a small side of rice. Almost everything is available ala cart on La Familia’s menu, so you can order what you want, and if you find it’s not enough, then you can order more. It’s like a Mexican Sushi Bar that way. The refried beans are pretty good, but the rice is the real surprise for me. Let me stop and remind you that the bar for good Mexican rice in this town isn’t set all that high, at least considering the places we’ve visited so far, but La Familia’s rice made me stop and say, “Hey, that’s pretty good.” Stephanie summed it up best though when she said something like “Finally, someone who knows how to make decent Mexican Rice.”
I’ve mostly gotten over my grumpiness about Mexican restaurants charging you separately for almost every ingredient on your plate, but something caught my eye on the La Familia menu that rekindled my cranky-pants attitude. You can order a side of jalapeño peppers for thirty cents. ONLY IF YOU DINE IN! Get them to go and they’ll cost you fifty cents. To my credit, I did not try to figure out the logic of this move; nor did I go off like a slobbery madman ranting and raving to my lunch partner about the inherent insanity of this ridiculous policy. No, I collected my wits and moved on. Better to let it go than to give myself a fatal stroke and risk Stephanie visiting my grave with a deep fried flour shell, some ground beef, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, taco sauce, and a fifth of Kessler’s to wash it all down. Much better.