faces painted and ready celebrate day of the dead

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an especially important holiday in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas because it is a colorful city that really comes alive for the two-day event.  It all begins on October 31, where the families of the deceased clean the graves and make them look fresh by putting recently dug up dirt piled up with pine needles and chrysanthemum petals.  The final touch to make the graves complete is topping them with planks of wood that represent doors.  The official party begins on November 1.  Families lay out their offerings that they have prepared in the ofrenda and items that are always included are favorite foods, drinks, and any personal effects that belonged to the deceased.  All of the offerings are to make the souls happy for when they arrive from their long journey.

San Cristóbal de las Casas is a great city for tourists because of the monuments, food, and nightlife.  The city offers “iPod tours” where tourists use the GPS system on an iPod and wander around the city and read and listen about the areas.  The GPS component is used to identify where the tourists are located at all times and provide information about their whereabouts.  One of the very popular and unique sites is the Maya Medicine Museum because it has healers on site that cure illnesses. Another popular attraction is the Mayan villages.  It has been said that they best way to see the city is to take one of the day tours. 

After touring the city, shopping and food should be next on the list of things to do.  The market in San Cristóbal is where everyone shops and an array of products from leather goods to handmade crafts is sold.  The last things on the to-do list go hand-in-hand; food and nightlife.  The main square is where most of the restaurants are located.  The state of Chiapas is known for its tamales, sopa de pan, coffee, and pozol and all of these items can be found in the main square.

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calaveras for day of the dead

One of the most important components of Day of the Dead is the food.  As families prepare the delicious dishes, it is easy to imagine what everyone’s kitchen will smell like; fresh herbs and produce, bread baking in the oven and sweet pumpkin.  Families spend a lot of time making sure that everything is ready for when the souls of their loved ones arrive and that their favorite foods are included in the offerings.

Although different regions in Mexico vary in what foods are prepared, there are a few staples that are uniform in every household; sugar skulls (calaveras), pan de muerto, candied pumpkin, and atole. 

If interested in learning how to make any of these delectable items, click on the links below for the recipes:

•    Sugar skulls (calaveras) are made of granulated sugar and are decorated with icing to enhance the features of the skull.•    Pan de muerto is a sweet soft bread that is shaped like a bun and decorated with bone-like shapes.•    Candied pumpkin is a favorite among families and consists of sliced pumpkin cooked in a piloncillo glaze.•    Atole is a thick drink made with masa and often topped with fresh fruit.

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man in day of the dead costume

The Smithsonian Latino Center will celebrate the Day of the Dead with a three-day online event. The festival will be held October 31 to November 2 in the Latino Virtual Museum in Second Life. This year’s Día de los Muertos festival will feature ofrendas to late Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, actress Lupe Ontiveros and artist Carlos Alonzo. 

The online commemoration of Día de los Muertos will also be enhanced with social media. Visitors will have the opportunity to tweet messages and offerings during the ceremony, which will be delivered in the Nahuatl language. 

“This year’s festival allows visitors to create a virtual presence with their avatars and to engage in the spirit of this culturally significant celebration by sharing their offerings with a global audience via Twitter,” said Melissa Carrillo, Latino Center director of New Media and Technology. “This celebration continues to grow in popularity, which is evidenced by more than 11,000 visits to our online festival last year.” 

The Smithsonian Latino Center ensures Latino contributions to arts, sciences and the humanities are highlighted, understood and advanced through the development and support of public programs, scholarly research, museum collections and educational opportunities at the Smithsonian Institution and its affiliated organizations across the United States.

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people gather to celebrate day of the dead

Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s most vibrant states, is located in southwestern Mexico and is best known for its indigenous cultures. The Central Valley of Oaxaca is well known for its archaeological sites, culture and fine crafts.  Oaxaca also contains a vast diversity of wildlife including plants, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.

Whether one is interested in shopping, sightseeing or eating great food; Oaxaca has something to offer everyone.  The angelic state has unique architecture, top-notch museums, and its own delicious version of Mexican food.  Some great places for shopping are the Atzompa community market which is famous for its handmade green-glazed pottery and Mercado de Abastos, the largest outdoor market in Mexico.  A few places for sightseeing are the Monte Albán archaeological site, the mezcal plantation, the Mitla archaeological site, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca.  Known for its fabulous regional cuisine, many people visit Oaxaca just for the food. Mole negro, cocido, and tlayudas with quesillo are just a handful of the dishes that you will find here.  Some of the crowd-pleasing restaurants are Los Danzantes, Los Pacos and Catedral.  When looking for something sweet, look no further because Oaxaca is famous for its chocolate.

In the state capital, the celebration of Day of the Dead begins a week before November 1 with the commencement of the “Plaza de los Muertos.”  Located in the city market, natives will find everything they need for the holiday including mole negro, marigolds, Oaxacan chocolate and pan de muertos.  Although Day of the Dead is celebrated all of over Mexico, the state of Oaxaca has become famous for its elaborate celebrations.  Families typically build the ofrendas (altars) on a table and then wrap it with a tablecloth or white sheet and use sugarcane to make an arch above the altar.  After the ofrenda is built, families will start placing the offerings that consist of corn jelly, pumpkin with black sugar, and chocolate ground by stone.  In addition, there is an abundance of fresh regional fruit, nuts, and cooked chayote.  Families not only visit the gravesites and make altars; they also enjoy and participate in theatrical performances that represent the returning of the deceased.

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Monarchs represent the souls of returned loved ones

As the monarch butterflies’ annual migration brings them closer and closer to Mexico, one of Mexico’s best-known holidays is approaching. The beginning of November marks Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead.” This holiday celebrates and honors deceased loved ones, and coincidently occurs simultaneously with the monarch arrival in Mexico. Monarch butterflies travel thousands of miles from the United States and Canada to their winter nesting grounds in central Mexico.

The native Purépecha Indians believe that encapsulated within each butterfly is the soul of a returned loved one. In the Mexican state of Michoacán, monarchs drift through the cemeteries. As the butterflies dance across graves, these souls are greeted by locals celebrating the holiday.

The orange-winged beauties add a vibrant touch to the celebrations. As 300 million butterflies complete their 3,000-mile journey, the living rejoice in their annual visit from the returning souls. 

In the new movie Flight of the Butterflies, the observance of Día de los Muertos plays a key role in the plot of the movie. Among the citizen scientists search for the monarch butterflies were Ken Brugger and his wife, Catalina Aguado. As Catalina and Ken visit a local cemetery during Día de los Muertos, they see monarch butterflies heading towards a nearby mountain. This mountain is later discovered to be the winter nesting place of millions of monarch butterflies.

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Traditional day of dead costumes

Located in the north of Michoacán and 53km from the capital of Morelia, the beautiful city of Tzintzuntzán is a place everyone should visit.  Tzintzuntzán, meaning “place of the hummingbirds,” is known for its festivals, including Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Festival of Señor del Rascate.  Moreover, this extraordinary city has many unique and interesting monuments and attractions, making it well worth the travel.

Every year, people from all over the region celebrate Día de los Muertos in Tzintzuntzán.  This holiday has been observed for centuries and was a major celebration for the indigenous people, the Purépecha.  As October comes to an end, the festivities begin.  Families start building private altars, picking marigolds, and preparing food for their departed loved ones.

Aside from the holiday, Tzintzuntzán has a number of tourist attractions.  A few of the things that should be on everyone’s to-do list are Yácatas, the former monastery complex of San Francisco, the Ex Convent of Santa Ana, and the outdoor market.  Yácatas is an archaeological site that consists of five pyramids and has a breath-taking view of Lake Pátzcuaro.  The former monastery complex of San Francisco is the main attraction of the town and contains two chapels, a large atrium that has a 500 year old olive grove, the Church of San Francisco, and the Church of La Soledad.  Located near the olive grove, the Ex Convent of Santa Ana is a historical monument that has been restored where religious art and murals can be viewed there.  One of the jewels of the town is the outdoor market.  Known for its handcrafts, the town is most vibrant on the weekends where vendors sell woven tule, high-end ceramics, rustic wood furniture, and items woven from straw.

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black and white photo Tim Burton Frankenweenie

Iconic film Director, Tim Burton’s newly released film ‘Frankenweenie’ was inspired by Mexico’s holiday, Día de los Muertos. Burton, who is known for his dark themed movies, has captured the essence of what Día de los Muertos is all about; celebrating the dead. Frankenweenie is a remake of Burton’s short film and a parody to the film Frankenstein.

The black and white, stop-motion animation film is about a little boy, Victor Frankenstein, who lives with his parents and dog in New Holland. During a baseball game, Victor hits a home run and his dog Sparky chases after the ball and gets killed by a car. Feeling depressed about the loss of his dog, Victor decides to try to resurrect his beloved pet by making a laboratory in his attic. Fortunately, Victor is successful and brings Sparky back to life with lightning.

When asked about the film, Burton said “Of all the cultures I’ve visited and been to, I find the Mexican way of dealing with death the most positive.” Every year on November 1-2, people from Mexico celebrate Día de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, by decorating their homes and leaving offerings.

Since the release of the film, it has been a huge success and seems to be another slam dunk for the talented director. Fans went crazy when Burton visited Mexico. Many felt that Burton really understood their culture and how they celebrated death instead of being depressed about it. With the Día de los Muertos approaching and families getting ready to celebrate, the movie couldn’t have been released at a better time.

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Day of the Dead Me iPhone App

Simply Sweet Apps have created an iPhone/iPad app in honor of Day of the Dead, a traditional family oriented holiday.

The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a two-day celebration that takes place on November 1 through November 2. The holiday, which celebrates the lives of loved ones who have passed, is deeply rooted in the Mexican culture.

Many celebrate this holiday of remembrance by dressing up in costumes and makeup inspired by La Calavera Catrina (or ‘The Elegant Skull’); the DAY of the DEAD ME app gives you the opportunity to decorate an image with traditional festive makeup and flowers.

Day of the Dead Me app allows you to place a variety of traditional images, such a painted eyes and facial decorations, onto any photo and digital face paint in the style of sugar skull makeup. You can personalize photos of yourself and loved ones, or even pictures of your favorite celebrities. The app is user-friendly, age-friendly, and is less than a dollar.

Day of the Dead Me app includes resizable image templates: Roses, facial scrolls, skull nose, hats, moustaches, painted eyes & chins, and much more! There are additional face-decorating features and flowers options available for purchase in art packs.

Learn more about the DAY of the DEAD ME app (and see before and after pics) on their Twitter and Facebook pages. You can also watch a tutorial of the app in use on YouTube, and finally, get the app for your iPhone and iPad at iTunes.

While you are looking into the Day of the Dead Me app, be sure to check out and decorate your iPhone 4 with this wonderful vast variety of Day of the Dead cases.

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Mexico Branded Car Ricardo Triviño PS3 World Rally Championship Game

MexicoToday’s Brand Ambassador and rally racer Ricardo Triviño, together with co-pilot Alex Haro, are part of the latest video game “WRC3” released by Italian leading video game developer Milestone. The “WRC3” game is the official video game of the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).

Released on October 12, Europeans can now enjoy the WRC 3 game which shows off high-speed game play -- and users can enjoy scenes from the Guanajuato Rally in Mexico while racing on the Mexico branded car.

Ricardo Triviño is the first and only Mexican in the WRC competing against Europeans and rally racers from around the world. For the sixth time this year, Triviño was recently crowned as champion for the FIA-NACAM Region comprised of North, Central, and northern South America and Caribbean.

The “WRC 3” game is available for the PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360 and PC platforms, so be sure to check out Ricardo and his Mexico branded car here!

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Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat has included Jose Ramon Castillo in 2012 edition

For the very first time, a Mexican chef and his chocolate have been selected for the most prestigious international chocolate guide, “Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat! "

QUE BO!, by Jose Ramon Castillo was selected in September for the 2012 edition of the guide. Located in Paris, the “Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat” makes up the largest group of passionate chocolatiers professionals worldwide. 

The club’s 2012 edition will debut at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris from October 31 through November 4. Chef Jose Ramon Castillo will participate as an international chef in “Choco-demos.” After its debut, the guide will be available in bookstores across France. 

The club is unparalleled in its experience with chocolate. They exist to promote extraordinary professionals in the world of chocolate, providing an annual guide of the best chocolates and chocolatiers in the world. The “Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat” originated in 1981. Each member tastes over 1,000 chocolates and cocoa products each year to determine which are the best. In order to be awarded a place in the guide, a chef must be selected through a series of rigorous tasting and demanding scrutiny, and then a unanimous vote. 

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Shamans of Mexico holding a ceremony in Mexico

Black pointy hat, wart on the nose, woman flying on a broomstick and cackling: these are the images that might come to mind when one hears the word "witch". Fairy tales may be a great source of entertainment to most, but in Mexico, witchcraft is a serious matter. Healers, shamans and sorcerers have long held places of prominence in the culture of Mexico. Even in today's high-tech world of advanced medicine, many still prefer the herbs and rituals of a “curandero” to meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. 

If you are looking to have your own experience with a shaman or healer, you will find them all in all parts of Mexico, but the best place to look is in the Tuxtlas area of Veracruz, specifically in the town of Catemaco. This small town located on a beautiful lake snuggled between mountains is the site of the annual “Congreso Nacional de Brujos” or “National Witches Congress” on the first Friday of March. The event began as a social gathering of shamans and healers but has grown into a festival for tourists. While some believe it has lost its magic, others still flock to the region for “limpiezas”, amulets and oils, and to seek the advice of healers or purchase a spell that will bind their love to them forever. 

The congress begins at midnight on Thursday; as the clock changes to Friday, a “black mass” is held on the shore of the lake. The term “black mass” may sound ominous, but it signifies the cleansing of the negative (or “black”) energies. Torches and candles are lit, the heady smoke of copal fills the air and prayers mixed with Catholicism and ancient beliefs are recited. Hundreds of shamans, healers, and psychics together with thousands of visitors gather to be a part of the rituals. The next three days are filled with ceremonies, parades, and parties, group rites and private sessions. People feast on typical cuisine (delicious seafood from the lake is a favourite) and indulge in tequila and locally produced rum.

The most sought after ritual is the “limpieza” or “cleansing”. “Limpiezas” can be done in groups or individually. The shaman will have a collection of items to assist in the cleansing, each with their own individual tastes and styles, but there are things they all have in common. Fresh herbs will be used, often rosemary, bay leaves, and rue, as well as cinnamon, fruits, teas, rubbing alcohol, purified water, copal, cigars and conch shells. The shaman will begin with prayers, a mix of pleas to Catholic saints, ancient spirits and the energies of nature and mother earth to rid the body of negativity and to fill it with light and positivity. The leaves of the herbs will be brushed along the body, smoke from copal and cigars wafted across the skin and the conch shell blown at different chakra points, the vibrations of the sound opening any blockages. The shaman may ask questions or even surprise you by telling you details about your past, your personality and the future. Suggestions may be given for things to be done at home, from a special bath in honey and rose petals, to meditation, yoga, a change in diet and a change in personal habits and interactions. Believers leave feeling light and full of energy and perhaps even changed for life.

You do not need to visit in March to have a spiritual experience in Mexico. The beauty of Catemaco can be experienced year round. The small nature reserve of Nanciyaga on Lake Catemaco is simply one of the most beautiful destinations you may ever wish to visit and offers natural and mystical experiences. A place of positive vibrations and natural wonders, Nanciyaga is a welcoming spot for guests to disconnect, get close to nature and find harmony in their spiritual centers. The charming cabañas have stunning views of the lake, perched on the shore and set amidst the towering trees and lush plants of the jungle. It is a place of peace and renewal. Visitors will be a part of the "temazcal" ritual, similar to a Native American sweat lodge, in a small dome with intense heat emanating from volcanic rocks. A rinse in the cool clear waters of the natural mineral well will leave you feeling refreshed. Body and soul are cleansed with mud treatments, massages and rituals of dance and song as well as interactions with shamans. A few days in Nanciyaga and Catemaco, with their natural beauty and magical healers, will leave you changed and recharged, in touch with yourself and the world.

Skeptic or believer, a visit to the spiritual centers of Mexico offers a unique experience and an opportunity to discover something new about the world and about yourself. A taste of culture, magic and natural beauty, ancient mysticism is alive in this modern world.

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El Castillo the pyramid of Chichen Itza

From the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, modern man has been mesmerized by the complex cities left behind by Mexico’s indigenous cultures. Magnificent temples and astonishing pyramids are at the center of some of the more notable and profound archeological ruins in the world.  

Thousands of years ago, the Maya created one of the most prolific and fascinating civilizations the world has ever known. Their brilliant creativity and design prospered and lasted for around 600 years. Then, for reasons unknown to historians and scholars, their culture went into decline, the cities were abandoned and the inhabitants disappeared.  Mayan ruins are scattered throughout the dense jungles and lush rolling hillsides of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and the five Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo. This entire area is collectively referred to as the “Mundo Maya” or Mayan World. 

Chichén Itzá is undoubtedly the best-known Mayan site in all of Mexico.  About two hours by bus west of Cancun in the state of Yucatán, this is one of the masterpieces of the Mayan civilization. It’s a combination of two cities: one under Mayan rule from the sixth to the tenth century; the other, a Toltec-Maya city that emerged around the year 1000 AD. Under the Toltec rule, the buildings were developed and the city came to life. 

At the center of Chichén Itzá is the pyramid known as El Castillo. This structure is recognized for its cosmological symbolism. As seen in many photographs, its four sides contain 365 steps (one for each day of the solar year), 52 panels (for each year in the Maya century), and 18 terraces (for the eighteen months in the religious year). There is also a temple inside the Castillo, which is accessible via a narrow stairway. Unfortunately, to preserve the structure, tourists are no longer allowed to climb some pyramids in Mexico, including El Castillo. 

Uxmal, located 58 miles south of Mérida, is architecturally speaking one of the most significant sites in the ancient world. Founded around 600 A.D., Uxmal (meaning “three times built”) was created in various stages of complex façades and arches, majestic columns, and massive terraces facing broad plazas. The centerpiece of Uxmal is the 100-foot tall “Pyramid of the Magician.” In the same area, you can also discover the ruins of Kabáh, Labná, and Sayil. 

The state of Chiapas boasts the ruins of the city of Palenque, believed to have been an ancient burial ground. Deep in a jungle setting, it’s more airy and delicate than other sites. At one time, Palenque was said to be a sprawling religious center that spanned nearly 25 square miles. Its 75-foot high “Temple of Inscriptions” contains one of the only crypts found inside a pyramid in Mexico. 

South of Cancun (in the state of Quintana Roo), the cliff top fortress of Tulum stands alone as the only walled city the Maya built. It’s also the only known Maya city to be constructed on the edge of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

In central Mexico, you’ll find the remnants of the Aztecs. The very heart of today’s Mexico City served as the center of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire.  Here the Aztecs built palaces, pyramids and temples, including the Templo Mayor, or Great Temple. When it was completed in 1487, the Templo Mayor consisted of seven superimposed structures, each making the temple more magnificent. The remains of the lower levels are preserved today (just as they stood) adjacent to Mexico City’s main square. 

Approximately 31 miles northeast of Mexico City, in the state of Mexico, the pyramids of Teotihuacan remain a popular tourist attraction and its first true city. The monuments were built as flat-topped bases for ceremonial temples that reached towards the sky to be close to the gods. 

In the neighboring state of Hidalgo (about 60 miles north of Mexico City), are the ruins of Tula. This Toltec city is known for its giant 15-foot stone warriors (called “alantes”) that stand atop the main Pyramid of the Morning Star. Tula was founded around 1000 AD, after the fall of Teotihuacan and before the advent of Tenochtitlan. 

Also outside of Mexico City, near Cuernavaca, the impressive mountainside archeological site of Xochicalco ties together the styles of cultures from central Mexico, the gulf coast, the Maya region, and the Mixtec-Zapotec area in the state of Oaxaca. Also near Cuernavaca (about 25 minutes outside the city) is the city of Tepoztlan where ruins of a temple dating from the late 1400s are located north of town atop a majestic mountain. 

In southern Mexico, the parallel cultures of the Zapotec and Mixtec developed and flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca from about 500 AD to the 16th century. The ceremonial centers of Monte Alban (meaning white hill) and Mitla stand as testament to their skill and artistry. These ruins and hundreds of others like them are an integral part of understanding Mexico and history in general. 

Making them a part of your personal discovery of this country will be both captivating and rewarding. 

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Pati's Mexican Table showcases true Mexican food

Pati Jinich, describes herself as “an overloaded soccer mom with three kids and a powerful blender.” Born and raised in Mexico City, Pati is on a mission to show all Americans that true home Mexican cooking isn’t what they’ve come to expect. Today, she is the official chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute and host of the PBS show Pati’s Mexican Table.

Pati Jinich is now the author of a forthcoming cookbook, Pati’s Mexican Table, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) which is also the title of her popular public television series. Pati’s Mexican Table will go on sale March 5, 2013. Pati’s Mexican Table introduces readers to Mexican ingredients, cooking techniques, and recipes, many of which are surprising in their simplicity and freshness. 

Contrary to popular belief, Mexican food is not always spicy, covered in cheese, or for carnivores alone. Pati presents many recipes that aren’t well known outside of Mexico: from “Divorced Eggs” striped with red and green salsa, to her boys’ favorite lunch, “Grilled Cheese and Bean Heroes,” to the homey “Chicken à la Trash,” a staff meal she gleaned from a Mexican catering company. She’s also mined her native country for regional specialties, from vegetarian dishes like Oaxaca-Style Mushroom and Cheese Quesadillas to Piggy Cookies, and included a few of her own Mexican-influenced creations, like Ancho-Chili Burgers with Lime Aioli. All her recipes fit neatly into a busy routine. Throughout the cookbook, Pati’s charming personality, warm voice, and joyous celebration of the Mexican family gathering—past, present, and future—are on full display.

Pati Jinich has appeared as a guest on the Food Network, NBC’s Today, CBS’s The Chew, CNN, Fox News, NPR, and The Splendid Table. She directs and teaches a culinary program through the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., where she lives with her husband and three boys. She also hosts live programs for the Smithsonian Associates and has cooked at Blair House, the official state guest house for the vice president. 

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On September 30, nearly 500 Mexicans were in Berlin, Germany to participate in the annual Berlin Marathon 2012, a prestigious international competition. Watch the video and interviews with marathon participants.

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On October 9 and 10, Mexican tequila and mezcal were at the main stage of Germany and Central Europe’s largest beverage and spirits tradeshow at the Postbahnhof in Berlin, Germany. The architecturally exquisite venue was filled with mixologists and beverage connoisseurs from around the world, and Mexico was honored to have been chosen the guest country at this year’s Bar Convent Berlin (BCB). 

At the Mexico Pavilion, hundreds of Europeans enjoyed tastings of tequila and mezcal. In the evening of October 9, the Mexican Embassy in Berlin also hosted a cocktail reception with the theme “Mexican Night” where Mexicans in Germany and friends of Mexico continued celebrating the wonders of Mexico’s exquisite beverages.

Germans and other Europeans met the masters from Oaxaca and Guadalajara, and watched them make phenomenal drinks, while also learning more about Mexican tequila and mezcal. Tequila and mezcal are differentiated by the production process, taste, and location where the agave is grown. The different types of tequila include blanco, gold, reposado and añejo, where the difference among them is established by the amount of time they are aged in barrels. Mezcal is mainly made in Oaxaca, while tequila is made in Jalisco. Although they both come from the agave plant, the variety of the agave differs. In addition, mezcal is typically distilled once and tequila is distilled at least twice.  

Mexico is not only an innovative leader in the beverages sector but also a leader in commercial trade. And at the Pavilion, Mexico was proud to show Europe all that it has to offer.

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