Puebla, 45 Km from the volcano Popocatepetl, is Mexico’s fourth largest city. The reason most people come to Puebla is to eat. With its unique combination of Indigenous, Spanish and Arab influences, Puebla has created one of Mexico's most dynamic cuisines. In fact, many gourmets and food writers consider the renowned turkey in mole poblano, which contains chocolate, to symbolize the culmination of Mexican cooking tradition. I will not argue.
Fresh off the road from Puebla and feeling like I did nothing but eat while I was there, I’m in the mood for a little…well…mole. I’m always in the mood for mole these days.
Another well-known dish, Chiles en Nogada, was one that I took a taste of but never did order. It was way too rich for my taste. The dish represents the colors of the Mexican flag – green (polio chili pepper), white (the walnut sauce) and red (pomegranate seeds).
The signature dish of Puebla for me was the cemita. I love this sandwich and did not realize the complexity of building it until I watched the staff at Cemitas Las Polentas. Cemitas Las Polentas in the Mercado del Carmen was one of those well-oiled machines. I would love to work there for a day just to experience it.
As a food city, there is now doubt that Puebla takes one of Mexico’s top spots. Your next best meal is just around the corner or turn down a back alley (where I found La Purificadora) or go to an out-of-the-way market (like Mercado San Pedro at Cholula) and you’ll taste some of the best food in Mexico.
Famed chef Enrique Olvera created the menu and I have to admit that this was one of the best meals I’ve had since I have been in Mexico.
Here is what was on my menu that night:
Plato de Degustacion La Puri cadora (Flor de Calabaza, Chalupas, Tlacoyo)
Tasting Plate La Puri cadora (Squash Blossons, Chalupas, Tlacoyo)
Tiradito de Garra de León, Limon Aceite de Oliva Valle de Guadalupe
Fondant de Chocolate al Mezcal y Nube de Jamaica
They also made a red-brown chili sauce that was excellent as a spread on homemade tiny, hot bolillos. The chili they used was one I had never heard of before. I’ve written them to ask about it.
One of the things I look forward to seeing at the market and on the street here in Mexico is Squash blossom flowers. The flowers are so exquisite and the best way to cook them is to dip them in batter and fry them just like a tempura as La Purificadora did.
The Purificadora also added some cheese which you can for this recipe. They are best when they are served hot.
Cemitas Las Poblanitas, Mercado Del Carmen
As staff was pounding thin then breading and frying the meat, there is an assembly line piling the ingredients on. They could not be any fresher.
The biggest challenge? Getting your mouth around one. I thought that I would never eat a whole cemita but I did.
Here is a good recipe from Food.com and what I forgot the first time around was the oil. The only really makes a difference.
Purists claim that real Tacos Arabe is made by layering pork loin and onions on a spit and then slowly roasting everything over very hot coals. All I know is some of the best Tacos Arabe can be found at the markets or on just about every back street in Puebla.
Don’t forget to bring a map!
2 cups masa harina
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
½ teaspoon salt
2½ cups warm water
Filling as desired
Vegetable oil to a depth of 1-inch
In a large bowl thoroughly mix the flours and baking powder. Add the shortening and salt and mix well. Add water to give the dough the consistency of soft cookie dough. Divide into 12 balls and cover with plastic wrap.
Using a tortilla press, flatten a ball of the dough between sheets of plastic to make a medium-large (5-inch) tortilla. Remove the top piece of plastic.
Add your desired filling to one side of the tortilla, then fold in half and press edges together with a fork creating a seal.
Fry in a little oil until golden brown for about 2 minutes each side.
Drain on paper towels. Eat warm.
Meson Sacristía de la Compañía
We ordered the traditional , complex, and the smooth sauce had just a hint of spice and chocolate at the end.
1 oz. dried ancho chilies
1 oz. dried pasilla chilies
1 (3–4-lb.) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 cloves garlic, peeled
½ small plum tomato, cored
½ medium tomatillo, husks removed, rinsed
¼ small white onion, peeled
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ tsp. whole cloves
½ tsp. whole allspice berries
¼ tsp. coriander seeds
¼ tsp. whole black peppercorns
¼ tsp. anise seeds
½ stick cinnamon, preferably canela
¼ ripe plantain or banana, peeled and finely chopped
½ small corn tortilla, roughly chopped
3 tbsp. whole almonds
1 ½ tbsp. sesame seeds, plus more for garnish
2 tbsp. raisins
¼ stale bolillo or 1 slice white sandwich bread, toasted and crumbled
1 tbsp. lard or canola oil
2 oz. Mexican chocolate, such as Ibarra, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. finely chopped piloncillo or packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
Mexican-style rice for serving
Heat a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add mulato, ancho, and pasilla chilies, and cook, turning once, until toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer all chilies to a large bowl; pour over 5 cups boiling water and let sit until chilies are soft, about 30 minutes. Drain, reserving soaking liquid, and remove stems and seeds from chilies, reserving 1 tsp. seeds from chilies. Set seeds aside, and transfer chilies to a food processor; add 1 cup soaking liquid, and process until smooth. Set chile purée and remaining soaking liquid aside. Bring chicken and 8 cups water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain; set aside.
Meanwhile, arrange an oven rack 4" from broiler element, and heat broiler to high. Place garlic, tomato, tomatillo, and onion on a foil-lined baking sheet, and broil, turning as needed, until all vegetables are charred all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer vegetables to food processor, and process until smooth; set vegetable purée aside.
Heat butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add reserved chile seeds, cloves, allspice, coriander, peppercorns, anise seeds, and canela, and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 6 minutes. Add plantain, and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Add tortilla, and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 6 minutes. Add almonds and sesame seeds, and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 8 minutes. Add reserved chile purée and vegetable purée, along with raisins and bread, and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until all ingredients are softened, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and transfer mole to blender along with remaining soaking liquid; purée until very smooth, at least 4 minutes.
Return saucepan to medium-high heat, and add lard. When hot, add mole and fry, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add chocolate, piloncillo, and salt, and cook until chocolate and sugar dissolve and sauce is smooth, about 10 minutes. Arrange chicken on a platter, liberally cover with the sauce, and sprinkle with sesame seeds; serve with red rice, if you like.
You see that the cemitas in this market are only half the size of Cemitas Las Poblanitas.
Mercado San Pedro at Cholula
From the supplier who carried a whole pig through the market (he looked stressed) to an impressive lineup of food stalls that served everything from mole to Albondigas Soup, I only had a few hours to check it out. I felt like a lot of genuine food encounters were lost to the clock and I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this market.
Calzada Concepcion Zavaleta 5624 Colonia Zavaeta
I am told that the moles here are to die for and they serve everything from Maguey worms to Leg of Lamb in Mole Peanut Nugget.