Monday, November 6, 2023

Cemas: Puebla's Best Sandwich in SMA


Cemas was hand carried with love from Puebla where owner, Alberta Sanchez Arce, cooked for a family that ultimately moved abroad and she was out of a job. 

If you’re a good cook, you can always find work, but Alberta decided to take a risk and open a restaurant near her new house on Salida a Queretaro. San Miguel de Allende presents many opportunities for new arrivals and this was Alberta’s. She finds comfort in cooking simple dishes that remind her of home.

A family affair, son Eduardo works alongside his parents, Alberta and Gerardo . Eduardo and his sister, Natalie, who does most of the marketing from Puebla, both grew up in Los Angeles and speak perfect English. What attracted me to her menu in the first place was the Cemitas; the signature sandwich of Puebla.

I first went to Puebla back in September of 2013 when I moved to Mexico. The reason most people go to Puebla in the first place is to eat. With its unique combination of Indigenous, Spanish and Arab influences, Puebla has created one of Mexico's most vibrant cuisines. In fact, many gourmets and food writers consider the Turkey in Mole Poblano, which contains chocolate, to symbolize the culmination of Mexican cooking tradition. On the weekends, Alberta offers Mole Poblano and Enmoladas; two famous dishes from Puebla on the weekends at Cemas.

For me, the signature dish of Puebla is the Cemita. I love this sandwich and did not realize the complexity of building it until I watched the staff at Cemitas Las Polentas in the Mercado del Carmen in Puebla. It was one of those well-oiled machines and the biggest challenge was just getting your mouth around one.

You use to be able to buy a Cemita at Milpa, the farm to table restaurant in Doce-18 owned by Daniel Estebaranz of Bui. The chef, none other than Marco Cruz, one of SMA’s most famous chefs, made the Cemita with beef instead of pork or chicken but when Milpa closed, you couldn’t find a  cemita in SMA until now.

Alberta Sanchez Arce makes her Cemita with a chicken milanesa, panela cheese, quesello cheese, avocado, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, refried beans and uses a special Papalo herb. Her buns are baked locally especially for her; a specialty item in Mexico made of egg, much like a brioche and topped with sesame seeds. Over the years, the only place I’ve found them was at Panaderia El Maple at Salida a Celaya #53. She also makes Tamales with Salsa Rojo or Verde and a dessert one made from fresh strawberries.

The shop is tiny but there is room for four people to sit under an enormous, Mexican flag and sip Café de Ollo; a specialty of the house that I am totally addicted to.

Go for a Cemita and you’ll find so much more. We love this family so much. They represent the value of small businesses in San Miguel de Allende and what they add to the economy, community, and culture not to mention what they’ve added to our own life.

Photos: Pepe Martinez