Having previous diplomatic postings in Uruguay and Washington DC, we sat down with the Ambassador of Mexico (Nathán Wolf) to discuss all things Mexican, Super Loco and upcoming cultural events taking place in Singapore this year.
What is the most celebrated festival in Mexico? Mexico is a country that is rich in traditions and there are many different festivals observed across its regions. However, Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead, which falls on 1 and 2 November, is amongst the most celebrated festivals all across Mexico. It is celebrated very grandly in Oaxaca and many visitors flock to this state to experience the vivid colours of this festival. Día de Muertos is a blend of ancient indigenous and European Catholic traditions. Altars are set up all over the country – in homes, schools, on the streets and in cemeteries – to honour loved ones who have passed on. These altars are lovingly decorated with candles, sand tapestries, cempasuchil (marigold flowers) and food offerings such as skull shaped candy, pan de muerto (bread of the dead), regional fruit, beer and other drinks. Despite what some people may think, Día de Muertos in Mexico is not a morbid occasion but rather a festive time for families to get together to remember and celebrate the lives of the deceased with their favourite food, drink and music. In recognition of the strong cultural significance of this festival, it was inscribed to UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.
What past cultural events have been held in Singapore? In recent years, we have organised a series of events including film and gastronomic festivals; musical performances such as a piano concert at the Esplanade and art exhibitions. For example, in 2015, we brought the first exhibition by Mexican painter Diego Rivera to south-east Asia. Another important event was Mexico’s participation in the 2015 Singapore International Film Festival which included a special “Spotlight on Mexican Cinema”. This was the first time that the Festival dedicated a section solely to a country. The Embassy also organized the Mexican Film Festival from 1 to 6 June 2017 at The Projector and *SCAPE. Due to the success of previous editions, this year we collaborated with these important partners as well as the Singapore Film Society, National Museum of Singapore and Super Loco. The Festival aims to bring some of the best of Mexican cinema to our friends in Singapore.
What are the upcoming Mexican cultural events coming up in Singapore? From 19 to 24 July 2017, we will have a very special visitor to Singapore – the Mexican navy vessel Cuauhtémoc, which is sailing around the world and stopping in ports along the way to share the message of peace and friendship from Mexico. The vessel will berth at VivoCity and be open for public visits. I hope you will come and join us on board.
How big is the Mexican community in Singapore? We currently have between 500 and 600 Mexicans living in Singapore. This number has grown considerably in the past few years. To give you an idea of the increasing number of Mexicans who are finding a home in Singapore, the Embassy had a register of 250 Mexicans in 2010. By 2016, this number had grown to 500.
What is your favourite traditional dish? Mexico is a food lover’s paradise with countless dishes and unique flavours. However, if I had to choose a favourite traditional dish, I would pick either escamoles and mole. Escamoles or ant larvae would probably be regarded by most foreigners as one of the more adventurous aspects of Mexican cuisine. However, they are a delicacy and considered to be the Mexican caviar. Mole, on the other hand, is a sauce that is similar to curry and is often prepared by following recipes that have been proudly passed down for generations. The typical mole sauce is a blackish-brown colour, however, there are also yellow, green, red and white variations. Different ingredients are used, depending on the flavour and colour desired. Some typical ingredients in mole are chocolate, chiles (chili peppers), cloves, cumin and axiote (a type of red berry). In fact, some mole recipes are so elaborate that they may take several days to prepare.
What is most common traditional dance in Mexican festivals? Each region in Mexico has its own traditional dance. However, we have one very famous dance known as the Jarabe Tapatío. Often referred to as the national dance of Mexico or the “Mexican Hat Dance”, it is usually performed by a man and woman to celebrate romantic courtship. The woman wears a colourful skirt and a blouse, while the man is dressed in a black embroidered suit and sombrero. The music that accompanies the dance is lively and upbeat.
What is the traditional way/method of appreciating tequila and mezcal? Traditional Mexican spirits, particularly tequila, have gotten a bad reputation as a shot-style drink. This, however, is not an accurate portrayal of the traditional method of appreciating these spirits. Good quality tequila and mezcal should be sipped and enjoyed slowly, the same way a fine whiskey would. It would be a pity to waste a high-quality tequila or mezcal by gulping it down without savouring its flavours.
What is your favourite local Singaporean dish? In the time I have been here, I have discovered that Singapore has a rich culinary scene with many dishes from the different cultures of the country. One of the dishes that I really enjoy is chicken rice. It is very flavourful and the chilli adds the perfect touch of spiciness.