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Some theorize that the springtime Mexican dish Capirotada – a rich bread pudding infused with sweet cheese and drenched in syrup – also originated with Mexican Jews, as a way of disguising their consumption of unleavened bread during Passover.
Pan de Semita, the iconic sesame-seed-studded roll of Mexico’s Puebla region (the area where the Battle of Puebla, celebrated in Cinco de Mayo celebrations), has been linked to secret Jews who possibly ate it as an unleavened alternative to regular bread during Passover.
(Visitors to the Zocalo, the main plaza in the center of Mexico City today, might be unaware that this was the main location where generations of Jews were publicly burned at the stake for the “crime” of being Jewish.) By the time the Inquisition was abolished in Mexico in 1821, approximately 100 Jews had been killed and many more imprisoned.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla when a small Mexican force led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin defeated a much larger French army, on May 5, 1862.
Ashkenazi Jews maintain the traditions they brought with them from Eastern Europe.
Another group of Mexican Sephardi Jews hails from the Balkans, and keeps those memories alive through family recipes and customs.
(The area of Puebla might have been home to a thriving secret Jewish community of its own; see the section on Jewish-Mexican food, below.) Despite this victory, French forces went on to conquer Mexico, and set up the short-lived Second Mexican Empire.
Anyone guilty of these “crimes” faced drastic punishments including torture, imprisonment, forced wearing of a sanbenito, a knee-length yellow gown, or a dunce-cap, and execution.In fact, Spain’s first Viceroy in Mexico, Antonio de Mendoza, possessed a Jewish surname, and historians suggest he was possibly one of the secret Jews who moved to the new territory.King Phillip II of Spain soon established the Kingdom of Nuevo Leon in Mexico (and parts of what is today Texas), and appointed Don Luis de Carvajal – a well-known Portuguese-Spanish nobleman who was born to Jewish converses, or forced converts – as Governor of the new territory.Another iconic Mexican regional dish – roast suckling goat, enjoyed in and around the Mexican city of Monterrey (which also contains an established Jewish presence) – was likely Jewish in origin, as a way for secret Jews to avoid eating the roast suckling pig so popular in much of Mexico. Mexican Jewish cooks have adapted the bright flavors and fresh fruits of Mexico to traditional Jewish dishes, adding chilies to gefilte fish and tropical spices to chicken soup.
In Mexico City today, kosher consumers can enjoy Mexican staples embraced by the Jewish community such as quesadillas (corn tortillas that are filled, folded and fried), flautas (tortillas that are rolled and fried), sopes (fried circles of cornmeal dough), chalupas (cups of fried cornmeal) – all filled with Mexican delicacies such as queso (cheese), nopales (cactuse), frijoles (refried beans), salsa, and guacamole.
(Sephardi Jews had an added incentive to immigrate to the new nation; they spoke Ladino, a Spanish-derived Jewish dialect that helped them feel at home in Spanish-speaking Mexico.) Mexico’s oldest standing synagogue is the Sephardi Synagogue, built in 1923 in the heart of Mexico City, at 83 Justo Sierra Street.