History of the Term Pata Salada

I have heard stories from locals about what it was like to grow up in Puerto Vallarta in the 1950s. 

Once, a taxi driver told me this story: 

In the 1950s, it was common that children in Puerto Vallarta didn’t wear shoes until they were about 10 years old. This is why now people born in Puerto Vallarta are called pata salada. The term means “salty paws,” which is a reference to children going everywhere barefoot. The children, of course, loved this lifestyle. 

At that time, the school in the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood had no wooden doors or glass windows, only openings in the building where they would go. Anyone who lives full time in Vallarta can tell you that during the hot, humid summer months it’s better to have an open air design, and this is why some of the older buildings and homes in Vallarta do not have doors or windows. Now that air conditionings are becoming ubiquitous, this is changing, but in the 1950s it was common to have openings to let the air pass in and out. 

Many people know the Hollywood history of Puerto Vallarta: In 1963, filmmaker John Huston arrived with cast and crew to film the movie Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, and Sue Lyon. Burton brought his then girlfriend, soon-to-be wife, Elizabeth Taylor to the set. They were both stars and both married to other people at the time, so their illicit romance drew paparazzis around the world after them, including to Puerto Vallarta.

The movie put this small Mexican fishing village on the map, and Burton and Taylor’s romance became legend. An airstrip had been built for the film crew, and started servicing wealthy people. More Hollywood movie stars started to come to Vallarta for vacation and touring the city.

One particular group of movie stars (the taxi driver didn’t know who) visited the school in Colonia Emiliano Zapata, and they found children with no shoes and a school building with no doors or windows. They automatically assumed this was due to poverty, as opposed to logical reasons and choices. Maybe it was, but from a child’s perspective, everything was normal. 

So the stars returned with glass and wood, and they installed doors and windows on the school building. They returned again with shoes for all of the children. They came back again, built a basketball court at the school, and hired a teacher to teach the kids how to play basketball. 

The taxi driver told me as kids they were grateful for the basketball court, but they didn’t understand why they had to wear shoes! 

To this day, people from Puerto Vallarta are called pata salada.

The Best Tamales in Puerto Vallarta

If you got the baby Jesus in your slice of rosca de reyes yesterday, Mexican tradition states that you are in charge of hosting a party and either making or bringing tamales on February 2nd, which is Día de la Candelaria.

But if you’re not planning to make your own tamales from scratch, where can you buy them?

There are many different kinds of tamales in Puerto Vallarta, and everyone has their own opinion about which are the best. My personal favorites are the ones sold by a guy out of his big black truck in the parking lot of Farmacia Guadalajara in Fluvial.

This vendor makes tamales oaxaqueños (Oaxacan-style tamales) which are wrapped in green leaves, as opposed to corn husks.

You can find him there every evening except Mondays.

Here is a list of some of the flavors he offers:

  • tamales de rajas – slices of poblano peppers and cheese
  • tamales de costillas – barbecued pork ribs
  • tamales de pollo verde – chicken with green sauce
  • tamales de pollo rojo – chicken with red sauce

Three Kings Day in Puerto Vallarta

Rosca de Reyes

In most places, the holiday season seems to be over. Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year came and went. However, Mexico has one more celebration happening on January 6th, and a tasty one, I must add. The Rosca de Reyes happens on a day known as “Three Kings Day” or “Day of the Three Wise Men” or Epiphany. 

Epiphany Day Origins 

This lesser known tradition in the United States is widespread in all Latin American countries and some European nations. According to Western Christianity, the Epiphany, which means revelation, refers to the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. Celebrated 12 days after Christmas, on January 6th, when the Three Wise Men visited the Christ Child by following the stars. Traditionally, the Three Kings symbolized Europe, Asia, and Africa, and they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh representing those regions. 

The Epiphany celebration comes with a few customs, such as church services, blessing of one’s home, Epiphany singing, winter swimming, and the tastiest one of all, Three Kings Cake or Rosca de Reyes.

First King Cake 

Also known as Three Kings Cake or Twelve Night Cake, this traditional King Cake dates back to 14th century France. It was dry french bread with some sugar on top and a bean inside. The person that got the bean would be treated like a king for the rest of the day. 

Eaten uncommonly, it was a ritual on its own. Customarily, the first slice of cake was for a stranger or a poor individual. In the second place, was the people from the King’s army, and lastly, the rest of the guests got their slice of cake. After a while, this tradition took root in other European countries like Spain, Germany, Portugal, Greece, and later on, in Latin America.

Today, the Rosca de Reyes is made out of sweet dough with dried or candied fruit pieces. You can even find them filled with chocolate or custard. 

Rosca de Reyes Symbolism  

Every element of the Rosca de Reyes or Roscon de Reyes has its meaning. 

The round shape of the Rosca de Reyes represents a crown, like the one worn by the Three Kings Melchoir, Gaspar, and Balthazar when visiting baby Jesus. Others, see the crown shaped cake as an association with the eternal love of God that has no beginning or end.

The candied fruit implies the jewels from the Three Kings’ crowns. To others, it means the obstacles the Three Wise Men endure on their way to meet Christ Child.

The hidden figurines in the cake symbolized when the Virgin Mary and Joseph hid baby Jesus to save him from being killed by King Herodes. 

Mexican Tradition 

Like many other traditions, the Three Kings Day and the Rosca de Reyes arrived in Mexico when the Viceroyalty of New Spain was established in the XVI century by Catholic missionaries.

Presently, Mexican families and friends gather on January 6th to share a delicious piece of Rosca de Reyes with a traditional Mesoamerican beverage, called Atole, a hot drink made out of corn and masa.  

Atole is not only yummy, but it has also been attributed to have nutritional benefits like boosting your immune system, as well as providing nurturing for those experiencing illness or disease.  

The Rosca de Reyes can also be paired with a Champurrado (chocolate flavor Atole) or hot cocoa. 

Additionally, on the night of January 5th, kids leave their shoes next to the Christmas tree waiting for the Three Wise Men to give them presents by dawn, on January 6th. 

The Rosca de Reyes can have anywhere from 4 to 12 little figures of baby Jesus, depending on the size and portions of it. The person who gets a baby Jesus will be in charge of organizing a party and getting the tamales and atole for Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemass) on February 2nd. 

Dia de la Candelaria 

This holiday is an interesting mix between Prehispanic Mexican traditions and the ones brought up from the Spanish conquistadors. 

At the beginning of February, the Mexican Rain God, Tlaloc, was honored, marking the beginning of the agricultural cycle. 

From all crops, corn is considered sacred in the Mexica culture as is the base of the Mexican civilization. Therefore, any offers made out of corn were considered higher than any other. This is why on this day the celebration’s main dish is tamales: corn meal deliciousness in a package.   

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they matched this Mexican traditional celebration with the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, also known as Candlemass. They linked this celebration to the Rosca de Reyes on Epiphany day. 

These days, in some indigenous communities in Mexico, people will take their seeds to the temples to be blessed on Dia de la Candelaria.

Classically, Christmas decorations will stay in the homes up until February 2nd, so no holiday cleaning yet.

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An Independent Online Magazine In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico