Day of the Dead specials at Pilsen bakery, Wicker Park restaurant

October 26, 2011 9:47:34 AM PDT
Chicago's Mexican community is busy preparing for the holiday Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

The holiday, which follows Halloween, celebrates the lives of loved ones and includes a special bread that has Hispanic bakeries busy baking and some restaurants adding it to the menu.

In Wicker Park, the ofrenda - or altar - is the first thing you'll see inside Sabor Saveur - a restaurant combining Mexican ingredients and French technique. This week, the kitchen is offering a special menu for Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

"The Day of the Dead in Mexico is a very traditional day and we celebrate the dead," said Yanitzin Sanchez, the Chef of Sabor Saveur.

They do it through food, of course, and the ofrenda contains items that were enjoyed by loved ones.

"November 2nd we make like a kind of ofrenda. This ofrenda, we put pictures of the people dead...and we put always the dishes that the people like when they live," said Sanchez.

But Sanchez also makes her beloved dishes for her customers: a whole baby chicken with dark, mole negro and pumpkin puree, fortified with bacon and red onion; her tamale is stuffed with huitlacoche - the prized corn mushroom - served with a bracing tomatillo sauce with creamy Oaxacan and goat cheeses; mulatto and pasilla chiles add subtle heat. Her pumpkin soup serves two purposes: it's both symbolic as well as seasonal. She says cooking for this holiday is among the highlights of the calendar.

"Independence Day, and Dia De Los Muertos are the most big celebrations in my country," she said.

The regulars line up early for their daily bread at Panaderia Nuevo Leon in Pilsen. The legendary neighborhood bakery makes all kinds of traditional Mexican breads and pastries. But this week, with Dia De Los Muertos almost here, they're producing the traditional pan de muerto.

"It's just to share with the family to remember our past friends and past family members," said Dora Casas, owner of Panaderia Tortilleria Nuevo Leon. "We have the one that's formed like a person. Then we also have the round one, the hojaldre. And that would be like the top of the skull with bones on top."

Beyond the expected ingredients of flour, butter and oil.. they also add cinnamon, vanilla and orange flavoring. The dough is mixed by machine then kneaded by hand; each bread has to be shaped and decorated individually, which includes not only the design, but the eggwash and decorative sugars as well. Casas says the holiday is truly celebratory.. honoring the memories of loved ones.

"Their favorite food, favorite drinks, favorite candy, fruit, flowers...anything that they enjoyed that's what they would share with the family and for the person," she said.

Nuevo Leon Bakery
1634 W. 18th St.
(312) 243-5977

Sabor Saveur
2013 W. Division St.
(773) 235-7310

also mentioned:

Oct. 31:: Day of the dead cooking class 6 - 9 p.m. at Mercadito
$55 a person

Sopa de Calabaza
Tamales de Puerco en Mole Verde
Tacos de Chilorio
Enchiladas de Camaron
Pan de Muerto

108 W. Kinzie St.
(312) 329-9555

Day of the Dead Dining at Zocalo Restaurant and Tequila Bar
"Dia de Los Muertos" Menu
Special Dinner Menu: Friday, October 28 through Tuesday, November 2

Antojito / Appetizer
Ceviche con Pasilla de Oaxaca $9
Seared scallops tossed in a citrus-pasilla dressing with orange segments, red onion and cilantro; served with malanga and plantain chips

Platoes Fuertes / Main Course
Mole Negro $18
Braised beef short ribs in a rich, flavorful black mole prepared in the traditional style of Oaxaca; served with a caramelized sweet potato puree and seasonal roasted vegetables

Pescado en Mole Verde Oaxaqueño $20
Pan seared halibut in green Oaxacan mole served with a fava bean puree, sautéed baby carrots and asparagus

Quesadillas de Flor de Calabaza $17
Zucchini blossom quesadillas served with garlicky white rice and fresh cactus salad

Postre / Dessert
Flan de Calabaza $6
Pumpkin flan infused with autumn spices and garnished with cinnamon whipped topping and candied pumpkin seeds

ZOCALO Restaurant and Tequila Bar
358 W. Ontario
(312) 302-9977

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