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Essential Mexican Pantry Ingredients for Celebrations & Fiestas

Essential Mexican Pantry Ingredients for Celebrations & Fiestas
Home » Mexican Desserts » Essential Mexican Pantry Ingredients for Celebrations & Fiestas

Mexican cuisine is quite diverse, with many different regional variations of traditional or authentic recipes. However, during the Winter holidays there are a few key staples that can be found in nearly every Mexican household. Below are the essential pantry ingredients that will help you be prepared to take on making most Mexican celebration meals.

Jump to: Classic Celebration Recipes | Mexican Pantry Ingredients: A Checklist

Variety of chile peppers that would work for a salsa garden
Popular dried chile peppers used in Mexican cuisine

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Classic Mexican Celebration Dishes

While you can find many dishes year round in Mexico (or Mexican restaurants in the US), there are three dishes that reign supreme (the Three Kings, if you will).


The most classic winter celebration food is tamales. Tamales are quite versatile however- they can be sweet or savory, spicy or mild, and can even be served warm or cold.

Tamales are indeed time consuming to make, which is why they are usually reserved for special occasions. This step by step tutorial on making tamales should help if you are new to tamale-making.

Many families participate in tamaladas (or tamale-making parties), which is a really fun way to bring the whole family together.

Wrapped tamales in a steamer pot
Wrapped tamales in a steamer pot


Pozole is one of Mexico’s oldest soups or stews, and there are a ton of different versions, but old-school pozole rojo has a smoky red stock spiced with pureed chile peppers, slow cooked with pork and hominy.

While in the U.S. we think of stews as cold weather fare, in Mexico pozole is served whenever you need to feed a crowd or when there is something special going on (i.e., a fiesta).

Pozole is often thought of as a rural celebration food, often seen at fiestas, but it tends to be a more casual celebration dish than mole or tamales.

Pork pozole rojo with garnishes of lime, radish, cabbage and cheese.
Traditional pork pozole rojo with garnishes on side.

Beverages: Champurrado, Atole and Ponche Navideño

Atole: Atole is a classic Mexican beverage made from masa, piloncillo (or dark brown sugar), vanilla, cinnamon, milk and water.

Champurrado: Champurrado uses those same ingredients but adds a bit of Mexican chocolate, which creates a different flavor profile all together.

Although the key ingredients of Champurrado include masa, piloncillo, water or milk. it sometimes contains cinnamon, anise seed, or vanilla. Ground nuts, orange zest, and egg are also used at times to thicken the drink. This recipe for Champurraado from Isabel Eats looked both traditional and delicious.

While atole and champurrado are easy to make at home, you can also buy premade Champurrado mixes to just add water and make your fiesta easier.

Ponche Navideño: This celebration drink is basically a warm fruit punch. Although it is often consumed like a hot fruit tea without alcohol, it’s almost equally commonly spiked with a little liquor. The version with alcohol is referred to as ponche con piquete: punch with a sting.

This recipe for Ponche Navideño (aka Mexican Christmas Punch) will be a crowd pleaser at any celebration.

2 cups of Mexican ponche drink on red towel with lights in background.
Mexican Christmas Punch

Many people will opt for at least one of these celebration drinks during parades for Dia de los Muertos or at celebrations for Christmas or New Year’s.

More Classic Mexican Celebration Food

Some of the other classic celebration dishes include:

Many of these recipes can be found in the “Fiesta” category on this website.

Mexican chocoflan cake topped with nuts
Mexican chocoflan cake topped with nuts

If you enjoy all types of Mexican food, check out this category of ALL Mexican recipes, where you will find over 40 Mexican recipes, from casual, to low carb, to fancy.

Stocking the Mexican Pantry for Celebration Food

Canned, Jarred and Pouched

Pantry food needs ingredients that have a long shelf life, which usually excludes fruit and vegetables as well as meat. Here are some fruit, vegetable and protein items that would come in handy when you need to make Mexican celebration food in a hurry:

  • Canned fruits and vegetables (choose options without added sugar or salt)
  • Tinned meat, poultry, & seafood (fish, chicken, or other meats)
  • Canned beans (pinto, black, garbanzo)
  • Hominy
  • Soups
  • Nut butters (peanut, almond)
  • Dried fruit (including raisins)
  • Tomato-based sauces or tomato puree
  • Salsa
  • Broth or stock (chicken, beef or vegetable)
  • Canned evaporated and/or sweetened condensed milk
Pile of garbanzo beans to use as substitution for hominy.
Garbanzo beans as a substiitution for hominy

Grains, Pastas & Dried Beans

Grains and dried beans are a standard pantry item for any cuisine, but these are of particularly high value to Mexican celebration food. Just know that some breads will not have a really long shelf life.

  • Bread (consider whole grain varieties)
  • Tortillas or taco shells
  • Pasta (include vermicelli for Fideo recipes)
  • Rice (include some whole grain rice and some short grain rice for Mexican rice recipe)
  • Oats (old fashioned or rolled, quick, or steel cut)
  • Dried beans of all varieties (include pinto beans for sure)
  • Corn husks (for tamales)
Sopa de Fideo (tomato noodle soup) in a blue bowl with a spoonful of fideo noodles.
Sopa de Fideo

Baking Supplies

Mexican baked goods are extremely popular during the holidays and most of the ingredients needed can be stored in the Mexican pantry for quite a while. Be sure to include:

  • Instant nonfat dry milk
  • Canned evaporated milk
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • All purpose flour
  • Masa harina
  • Sugar (white granulated, brown, or piloncillo)
  • Seasonings & spices (see spice suggestions below)
  • Oil for cooking (or lard)
  • Vinegar (apple cider vinegar)
Two bags of heirloom masa harina, one blue corn and one white corn.
Heirloom masaa harina from Masienda

Spices and Herbs

Mexican cuisine makes use of a wide variety of spices, for either sweet or savory dishes. Here are some of the most popular spices for Mexican cooking (remember to refresh spices consistently as they do go stale):

  • Cinnamon (canela)
  • Vanilla (Mexican vanilla)
  • Cumin seeds
  • Achiote
  • Coriander
  • Bay leaves
  • Tamarind powder
  • Thyme
  • Chipotle powder
  • Allspice
  • Cloves
  • Hibiscus powder
  • Mexican oregano
  • Ancho powder
Five different powdered chile spices in black small bowls.
5 different powdered chile spices, from hot to mild

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are used extensively in Mexican cooking. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Pine nuts
  • Pecans
Bowl of pepitas (hull-less pumpkin seeds).
Bowl of pepitas

Dried Chiles

Moles and most Mexican sauces make use of dried chile peppers, which are now available in most grocery stores. Shop at a Mexican grocer if you want to buy in bulk however. Here are the most popular dried chiles:

  • Guajillo
  • Ancho
  • Arbol
  • Chipotle (Meco)
  • Morita
  • Pasilla
chart showing chile peppers in fresh vs dried form.
Chile pepper chart from


Must have Mexican pantry ingredients that are not listed above include:

  • Tequila
  • Beer
  • Ibarra chocolate
  • Queso
  • Chicken bouillon
Spicy Michalada (Beer & Orange Chipotle Shrub Syrup)
Spicy Michalada (beer, lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, and chile peppers).

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