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Style & Living Food and Drinks

Your Guide to Hosting the Ultimate Cinco de Mayo and Kentucky Derby Mashup Bash

What to serve on the very special May 5 when horse racing meets horchata this year.

By Kristyn Pomranz
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Heeeeey, party people! We’ve got very good news for you: 2018 is one of those magical years where the Kentucky Derby just so happens to fall on Cinco de Mayo. (We've not been this excited about unusual food-pairing potential since Thanksgiving met Hanukkah.)

No longer will you have to choose between mint juleps and margaritas or pin-the-tail games and piñatas. No, no — this year, you get to combine all the greatest things about America’s fave horse race and Mexico’s life-affirming heritage into one massive, colorful celebration! 

Whether you’re throwing a Kentucky de Mayo (Cinco de Derby?) party of your own, or attending one as a guest, we’ve got everything you need to serve or bring (plus do and wear) at a celebration full of food, drinks, and extra multicultural creativity potential this year.

The Drink: Mexican Mint Julep

The classic Kentucky Derby drink is, of course, a mint julep, served nice and chilled in a pewter julep cup, and the drink of choice for Cinco de Mayo is tequila (any way you like it). So the natural combo cocktail for your Kentucky de Mayo party? A tequila-based julep! Just pick your favorite mint julep recipe, swap the bourbon for tequila (maybe even switch out the mint sprigs for cilantro?) and ta-da! You’re doubly, drunkenly festive.

The Apps: Chips with Southern Salsa and Bourbon Cheese Dip

As Austen Kroll from Southern Charm once said, “What kind of a s--- party is this without Tostitos and salsa?” And we do very much agree that chips and dips are a necessary ingredient for any successful celebration. Take the traditionally Mexican appetizer and give it a southern twist with a corn and beans salsa (we love Trader Joe’s Cowboy Caviar), and a homemade queso infused with the whiskey or bourbon of your choice.

The Main Dish: Fried Chicken Tacos

Everyone knows that Kentucky is synonymous with fried chicken. (Blame the fast food chain.) But even though legacy insists you eat the crispy foodstuff straight from a bucket, on Cinco de Mayo, we recommend making it much more Mexicana: Place fresh fried chicken into soft corn tortillas, dress up with buttermilk ranch, avocado, and cilantro. Or if you’re feeling extra ambitious, set up a Kentucky Taco bar with all the above, plus other southern-tinged fixin’s like pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, red beans, and rice.

The Dessert: Tres Leches Bread Pudding

This is one dessert that we’re confident we would eat any damn day of the year: A traditional southern bread pudding (mmm) where the bread soaks up all of the flavors of a classic Mexican tres leches cake: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole milk, and cinnamon.

The Attire: Color, Color, Color

The Kentucky Derby is known for its pastel palette and statement hats. Cinco de Mayo, meanwhile, kicks it up a notch with bright colors and oversized flowers. No matter which direction you choose, your outfit should be big, bold, and embrace the rainbow. (Just remember to leave your cultural stereotypes at home, please.)

The Game: Horse Piñata

A standard piñata is shaped like a donkey. But on Cinco de Derby, it is obviously a horse. (Whether you choose to buy a horse-shaped piñata or just misconstrue the donkey is up to you.) We recommend saving this game for after the race: You can encourage your non-winning attendees to enjoy a spiteful bash at “their” losing horse. And maybe fill it with mini bourbon and tequila bottles to help them drown their sorrows.

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