There are many good reasons to visit Puebla and one of them is to indulge in its cuisine. After all, mole poblano, the “king of all sauces” was invented here. And according to Alonso Hernández, executive chef of a well-known Puebla City restaurant, mole poblano “can be served with everything from chicken and beer to caviar and champagne”. Mole poblano has chocolate in it—a long ago discovery of the Olmec people. But as a non-foodie my first thought was: Who wants chocolate on chicken?
While in Puebla, I abandoned my yogurt-fruit-coffee breakfast tradition and ate just about everything that was placed in front of me by Yazkade, the chef at the bright pink bed-and-breakfast where I stayed (Puebla La Paz B&B). Now Yazkade is no ordinary cook but a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of Mexico. And the B&B owners (Lucia and Richard) are no ordinary hosts. Aside from being bi-cultural (he a former American banker, she a Mexican artist and language teacher), they are well informed, interested in their guests and enthusiastic about Puebla.
During my week in Puebla I learned that not all moles contain chocolate. A mole can be red, green or yellow in colour, not just brown. All moles have lots of chilies and spices in them though, and since this is the “land of 300 chiles” you have to expect scrambled eggs (huevos rancheros) to be served with a chile sauce on top.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner can seem somewhat the same, perhaps because corn and beans—staple foods—seem to be served at most meals. Corn is used in hundreds of foods including tortillas and what’s a Mexican meal without a steaming plate of tortillas. Beans here (frijoles refritos) are cooked, mashed and fried with lard and spices.
They say Puebla cuisine was the first “fusion” food because it reflects several cultures. All I can say is that it’s not boring. You are more likely to be served beet juice than orange juice, or a green-coloured concoction made from a leaf of the cactus plant mixed with celery and parsley. And just as in Asia, they sometimes have soup for breakfast, with strips of tortilla floating in it, of course.
(From top left, clockwise) Chilaquiles, Caldo Tlalpeno, Refried beans with sour cream, Mole Poblano
Every morning Yazkade presented what must have been a cuisine standout: tortillas de harina plus colabocita, ceballa y yitomote (floured tortillas with zucchini, onions and tomatoes), chilaquiles (tortillas covered in chile sauce with an egg on top and sprinkled with cheese), caldo tlalpeno (chicken broth with tortillas strips), and a mole made of chile ancho, chile guajillo, ajonjoli, ajo, pimiento, sal, and chocolate laurel.
One morning she showed me how to make picaditas verdes y rojas, rolling the dough into balls, pressing the balls flat in a little machine and then cooking them on a special pan, each topped with a different sauce.
Mercudo de Sabores ‘gringo’ plate (Riding the buses)
It was tougher to be a foodie when I had meals outside the house because if the menu was not in English I had a hard time ordering (sadly, I don’t speak the language but plan to do something about that). At the relatively upscale Mercado de Sabores the proprietor took one look at me (GRINGO) and served me spaghetti and potato chips, albeit along with refried beans and a cactus leaf.
Richard and Lucia recommended the Mesón de Sacristía, where the family had recently been to celebrate their son’s graduation from law school. The restaurant is in a colonial-style hotel on Calle 6 Sur #304 in the old city. I had the infamous dish, mole poblano, “same as in the days of viceroys and bishops”, and it did not disappoint. The waiter asked if I would like to have the mole on the chest or leg of the chicken, rather self-consciously pointing to his body parts as he said it.
I fell in love with the Fonda La Mexicana, an establishment recommended by several on-line sources. From the English menu I chose mixiote de carnero, a lamb stew in an adobo sauce folded in a parchment sheet, and it was an excellent choice. The side was simply the best avocado dip.
I found my way back to Fonda La Mexicana, this time ordering enchiladas tres moles (enchiladas with three sauces), chocolate, red and green mole, topped with sesame seeds, toasted almonds and cheese strips. This time the side was rice with peas. Yum, yum.
There were other meals, both winners and losers. And although my stay in Mexico was four weeks, I only devoted one of them to being a foodie. Besides, the next stop on my itinerary was Oaxaca and two of their delicacies are fried pork skin and grasshoppers. Those are way beyond chocolate-on-chicken when you’re the sort who tends to favour bland.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2014