Archive for June, 2010

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Holy Mole Poblano!

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Chef Alonzo Hernández's mole poblanoLegend has it — and nearly everything in Mexico has a legend — that the rich, savory mole poblano for which Puebla is famous dates back to the 18th century, when nuns at the Santa Rosa convent prepared it for a visiting archbishop. The savvy sisters combined no fewer than 20 indigenous and imported ingredients, including chocolate, garlic, and various peppers, to make the sauce, which they then poured over cooked meat (probably turkey). The result was delicious, and the dish helped to establish Puebla as a destination for good eats.

Fast-forward 300 years, and nearly every cook in the state has developed his or her own recipe. Some moles are made from scratch; others are based on a paste purchased in a market. Their flavors vary wildly. In the mountains, more chiles tend to be used, intensifying the mole’s heat, whereas in lower-lying areas, more fruits are added, making the sauce sweeter, says Alonzo Hernández, executive chef for Mesones Sacristía, a trio of boutique hotels in the city’s Colonial center. Hernandez offers semi-private classes in his kitchen and inspired regional fare in his restaurants. “We want to change, to do what is practical, but it’s also necessary to save the original recipes,” he says. His mole poblano ranks among the best — a thick, mild, slightly fruity version that’s served over chicken breast or thigh and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Many of Hernandez’s dishes, including his signature cazuelita poblana, arrive at the table in traditional clay pots.

“If I couldn’t eat in my restaurant, I’d eat at Meson Sacristía de la Compañía, because it has good food and good moles,” says Luis Javier Cué de la Fuente, who runs El Mural de los Poblanos (16 de Septiembre #506), a cozy restaurant just two blocks from the zócalo. He suggests that travelers who’d like to compare mole poblano with pipian rojo and pipian verde sauces order the three-mole enchiladas at El Mural. The dish is typically prepared with chicken, but vegetarians may substitute fresh cheese. Adventurous diners will also find seasonal local delicacies, including escamoles (ant eggs) and huasmole (goat bone stew), on the menu.

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Where to Watch the 2010 World Cup

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Soccer fans cheer for Mexico (photo by The Vandhaal/Creative Commons).¡Ponganse la verde! That’s the rallying cry for everyone to wear green in support of the national soccer team, also known as “El Tri,” for the three colors in the Mexican flag. To say that fútbol is huge in Puebla would be an understatement. When Mexico takes on South Africa in the opening game of the World Cup tomorrow at 9 a.m. CDT, there’s unlikely to be a TV in town that isn’t tuned into the match.

“It’s impossible to separate ourselves from the phenomenon of soccer,” Darío Carmona García, the secretary of public education, said this week, apparently hoping to keep students and teachers on campus. “In schools where conditions permit, everyone may follow the games, but it’s not permitted to suspend classes.”

That’s a tall order. Schools outside its jurisdiction, such as Humboldt College and the UDLA, reportedly plan to show the inaugural game on giant displays on campus. Meanwhile, expect business to grind to a halt for 90 minutes on Friday morning: Volkswagen, which employs nearly 15,000 people in Puebla, will allow its union workers four hours off to watch the World Cup games involving Mexico. Another large manufacturing plant in town will shut down temporarily and invite its 450 employees to watch Mexico vs. South Africa in the company’s conference rooms.

It’s doubtful they’ll be the only ones not working. Every time El Tri plays, the city, in cooperation with TV Azteca Puebla, will set up screens and chairs in the zócalo. Anyone who’s downtown can watch the action for free.

The June 11 broadcast from Puebla’s main square begins at 8 a.m., and the station promises “a party atmosphere.”

Other spots around town that could make for good public World Cup-watching:

Bull McCabe. An Irish-style pub that serves a mean bagel, which should be perceived as a bonus for anyone who drags themselves out of bed and across town to watch early morning games. Avenida Juárez 2902, Colonia La Paz

Scudetto. This large sports bar overlooking Boulevard Atlixco always seems to be bursting with people — and its name is Italian for “soccer champion.” And since Mexico beat Italy in the friendly leading up to the World Cup, well, you have nothing to fear. Blvd. Atlixco 37, Plaza JV San Jose

La Martina. The most casual choice, this Cholula restaurant will serve you a proper Mexican breakfast in front of its newly installed flat-screen TVs. Bonus: Freshly baked goods and European-style treats are available from Flavr next-door. Container City, 12 Oriente and 2 Norte, San Andrés Cholula

Photograph courtesy of The Vandhaal/Creative Commons.

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Puebla’s Ring of Fire

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

A spiral staircase leads visitors down into the cone.The high valley of Cuetlaxcoapan, where Puebla was established in 1531, is surrounded by some of North America’s tallest mountains—Pico de Orizaba, Popocatépetl, Iztaccíhuatl, and La Malinche—and, on clear days, a mere glimpse of them can be spectacular. The most impressive peak, owing to its stature and proximity, is Popocatépetl: the active volcano rises 17,802 feet into the sky from its base, just 25 miles northwest of the city.

Since its last eruption in 2000, Popo has regularly sent up plumes of gas and smoke, giving it a somewhat ominous aura, but scientists monitor the site continually as a precaution. Due to the activity, visitors aren’t allowed any nearer to Popo than the mountain pass that separates it from the dormant Iztaccíhuatl to the east. Those interested in the area’s seismic history, however, can get an up-close-and-personal look at a related crater—in fact, a spiral staircase leads you right down into it—without straying too far from the center of town.

Cuexcomate has been called the world’s smallest volcano, the devil’s navel, and one of Mexico’s more unusual tourist attractions.

Located in La Libertad, a neighborhood in northwest Puebla, Cuexcomate (the Nahautl word for “mud pot”) was once the only landmark in the area. It is believed to be a secondary crater, or an extinguished geyser, created by bursts of magma and sulfuric water from Popocátepetl during its last violent eruption in 1064. The little limestone cone measures a mere 43 feet high and 76 feet in diameter. On the bilingual plaque outside the cone, an observer from 1585 describes Cuexcomate as “a very large rock crag standing alone, six or seven states tall, with circular form, in whose summit there is a great mouth, as if it was made to hold a well. It is very deep, and at the bottom there is foul-smelling water.”

Whether that stench was residual sulfur, or something else entirely, is unknown. The sign outside suggests that the cone once served as a site for human sacrifices to indigenous gods and later a depository for citizens who committed suicide, because “they didn’t merit being honorably mourned or buried in sacred ground.” Perhaps due to these horrors—or the fact that the inside of the cone is a popular spot for smooching teenagers—the people who lived near Cuexcomate were sometimes referred to as “children’s of the devil’s navel.”

Is it dangerous? The geographers at Geo-Mexico.com say no. “Cuexcomate is considered ‘inactive’ and highly unlikely to burst into renewed activity. However, Popocatépetl itself has been increasingly active over the past few years, leading to several temporary evacuations of the villages around its base. If Popocatépetl were to erupt violently again, some locals believe that perhaps the subterranean link to Cuexcomate might be re-established. …Let’s hope that never happens. It would bring an end to one of the more unusual tourist attractions in this part of Mexico.”

Cuexcomate is located at 3 Norte and 2 Poniente, a few blocks from the intersection of Reforma and Esteban Antuñano, in Colonia La Libertad. Admission is 10 pesos per person.

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Catch That Summer Blockbuster in Puebla

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Hurricane season has begun, and what that usually means for Puebla, more than 100 miles from the nearest coast, is possible afternoon showers daily between now and mid-October. So pack waterproof gear, plan any outdoor activities before 4 p.m., and then take a break indoors. One excellent way to stay dry is to go to the movies.

If you haven’t yet spent a lot of time in Mexico, you may not realize that the majority of feature films shown in cinemas here are Hollywood blockbusters. Most theaters screen both the subtitled and dubbed versions of major movies. ¿No habla español? No problem, as long as you choose U.S.-made motion pictures with the word subtitulada next to them on the marquee: these films are in English with Spanish subtitles. For best results, avoid movies with lots of multilingual dialog, such as Inglorious Basterds, which may prove frustratingly indecipherable.

Mexico’s movie ratings differ from those of the United States, although they’re very similar.

The current classifications, established by the Interior Ministry in 2002, are based on a given film or TV show’s use of violence, addiction, language, and sexual content. The ratings and their general criteria are as follows:

AA = Suitable for all viewers, particularly those under 7 years old, because the narrative is easy to understand and does not degrade any group or individual. Any physical contact is “family friendly.” Think Sesame Street.
A = Contains no scenes with physical or psychological violence, sex, foul language, or drugs. Considered suitable for all viewers. Think G-rated.
B = Occasional scenes of violence and nudity, not showing genitals; considered suitable for viewers 12 years and up. Think PG.
B-15 = Same as B, but includes scenes with alcohol and drugs. Considered suitable for viewers 15 and up. Think PG-13.
C = Contains scenes with violence, sex, profanity and drug use. Considered suitable for viewers 18 and up. Think R.
D = Shameless violence, sex, drugs, and foul language. Think porn.

Puebla has scads of theaters, so you can dodge the raindrops wherever you happen to be around town. For a list of the various options — and the current show times — consult Todopuebla.com. Keep in mind that all of the titles will be in Spanish, and some of them will vary from the English for marketing purposes, so you may need to click around to figure out that ¿Qué Pasó Ayer? is actually The Hangover.

If you really want to treat yourself, head for the Cinépolis VIP at Angelopolis mall, which offers the most luxurious movie-going experience in town: reclining leather chairs, a full bar, and seat-side service in each of its four theaters. You can order sushi and beer, crêpes and cappuccino, “light” popcorn and a glass of wine—and it will all be brought to your assigned seat. Tickets may be purchased online in advance or on-site. The best day to go is Thursday, when all shows are a discounted MX$92 per person; the regular price is MX$110. Now showing: X-Men 5: Primera Generación (X-Men 5: First Class) and Transformers 3: El Lado Obscuro de la Luna (Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, among other films.

Post updated July 1, 2011.

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