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Food plays a key role in Día de los Muertos celebrations for these Louisvillians

Pastry chef Diego Hernandez scores pan de meurto at his bakery inside the Logan Street Market in Louisville on Oct. 27, 2021.
Pastry chef Diego Hernandez scores pan de meurto at his bakery inside the Logan Street Market in Louisville on Oct. 27, 2021.

Diego Hernandez has been at it since 6 a.m. — first mixing the dough, then shaping it into buns or loafs, and scoring it before putting the breads in the oven.

“This is a traditional bread of the dead in Oaxaca City, where I come from,” Hernandez said. “It’s very popular for the Día de Muertos in my home.”

The bread in reference is pan de muerto, flavored with orange zest and anise seed. And Hernandez has been making it all week ahead of the two-day holiday that celebrates life and death. 

Some of the buns have dough pieces on top sculpted into, what looks almost like, the bones you’d find in your fingers. 

“It's a symbol of all the people we lost,” Hernandez said. “That's how we remember them, eating our bread and talking about the people we lost, and that's why we share the bread.”

Hernandez is the pastry chef at the forthcoming La Pana, the sister bakery of Louisville fusion restaurant FOKO set to open in Logan Street Market later this year

Food is an important ingredient in celebrating the Day of the Dead, said Paco Garcia, chef at FOKO and La Pana.

He remembers his mother preparing special foods for the ofrenda, a home altar for loved ones who have passed, adorned with “what you offer to the spirits when they come to your house.”

Making favorite dishes of their late loved ones was one way to honor and remember them, Garcia said. Food brings people together.  

“We're gonna try to to make some traditional tamales just like we make them in Mexico, like straight up the same techniques they use, to try to bring those memories back... to make all our Mexican community and Latin community feel like they are in Mexico,” Garcia said of the Día de Muertos menu items at FOKO this week. “That's our goal.”

In addition to the tamales, FOKO will serve traditional Mexican hot chocolate. 

Garcia said they’ll also “bring the spirit” of the holiday to their storefront this weekend by setting up their own ofrenda and dressing up in costume. 

Here are some other ways to celebrate Día de los Muertos in Louisville this weekend:

Downtown Louisville Día de los Muertos:

The 10th annual downtown celebration at Fourth Street Live! is Saturday. This year’s event is scaled back due to the pandemic, but still features live entertainment, activities for kids and a community ofrenda. Performances include Latin Music Awards Kentucky winners Asly Toro and Acorde, as well as a screening of the Disney/Pixar film “Coco.” 

Louisville Downtown Partnership organized the event with Louisville Metro Government’s Office for Globalization.

  • Date: Oct. 30, 2 - 5:30 p.m. Details here

Día de Muertos at the Speed:

Louisville’s Speed Art Museum hosts Day of the Dead events, including a salsa and bachata dance night with lessons, crafts and the chance to bring a picture of a loved one who has passed to add to the ofrenda.

Activities are included with admission.

  • Dates: Oct. 29, 6 - 8 p.m. & Oct. 31, 2 - 5 p.m.

La Casita Center Virtual Event

On Thursday, the La Casita Center in Louisville will host a 30-minute virtual Day of the Dead event on its Facebook page. The event will focus on how different cultures across Latin America celebrate Día de los Muertos. The programming will be in Spanish.