Archive for February, 2011

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Visiting Chipilo for a Traditional Charreada

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Charros attempt to corral an uncooperative bull from both ends.Chipilo is a small farming town located about seven miles south of the Puebla capital. It was established in 1882 by emigrants of the Veneto region in northern Italy, who relocated to central Mexico to escape poverty back home. The majority of these chipileños, as they’re known in these parts, hailed from Segusino in the Treviso province, which in 1982 became an official sister city.

Perhaps because of this close relationship — and the fact that Chipilo was relatively isolated from Puebla’s urban sprawl until the late 20th century — many locals speak a Venetian dialect. The biggest draws to outsiders are its meat and dairy products, particularly artisan cheeses, which are sought after for miles around. Nearly all of the attractions in town are located along a short stretch of road that veers off and then back onto the federal highway to Atlixco. (Turn right before the sister city sign.) Here visitors will find restaurants, shops and services, a church, a hotel, baseball and soccer fields, and the town’s lienzo charro, or rodeo ring.

Charreadas — or rodeos — have been a part of the Mexican culture since the 16th century, although being a charro used to be more of a job than a sport.

Our visit to Chipilo last Sunday took us directly to this ring, where the family of Alfonso “Poncho” García, was holding a gran charreada, or great rodeo, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his death. The free event attracted hundreds of spectators and riders from Atlixco, Mexico City, and beyond, including an award-winning group of escaramuzas (women equestrians who ride side-saddle in precise, choreographed patterns) from Puebla. Our friend Elmar, who’s close to the Garcías, invited us to see the show — my first-ever rodeo — and we were honored to meet several longtime charreada fans and participants.

Charreadas have been a part of the Mexican culture since the 16th century, but being a charro was a more of a job than a sport up until the early 20th century. In 1921, the National Association of Charros formed to keep tradition alive, and in 1933 turned over country-wide organizational duties to the new National Federation of Charros. (Puebla’s affiliated state association of charros is among the oldest, dating to 1923.) A typical charreada comprises nine events for men and one for women, which are scored based on an individual’s technique. There is no time limit. Rodeo is considered an amateur sport, in that competitors usually vie for trophies, titles, and bragging rights instead of money.

The charreada in Chipilo was scheduled to start at noon, but in true Mexican fashion, it didn’t get under way until sometime thereafter. We didn’t mind. Our seats on the rickety metal bleachers were in the shade, and we bought a giant beer and snacks from various vendors. In some form or another, there was constant entertainment: Early on, one bull escaped the ring and disrupted the soccer game going on next door, as players and charros tried to get him off the field. Later, two others wouldn’t buck during the jinteo de toro, or bull riding, event; right out of the gate, they simply sat down. The announcer told jokes — some less politically correct than others — and tried to hurry the proceedings along by reminding everyone that he needed to, ahem, get to church by 6 p.m. And, at one point, the water truck managing the dust in the ring drove a little too close to the crowd.

The roping, reining, and riding skills on display, however, were well worth the occasional wait. The escaramuzas appeared to be in top form, executing intricate patterns in close proximity with speed and grace. Perhaps most impressive to me was the young charro who, on foot, repeatedly lassoed a mare that was being chased around the ring by three other competitors on horseback in the forefooting event. For his efforts, he received a standing ovation and many hats thrown into the ring.

A charro works his lasso in Chipilo, Puebla.The García family pays tribute to their son, Alfonso, on the 20th anniversary of his death.A charro rides a bucking bull in Chipilo.

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Specialty Food Market Flaunts Flavors of Puebla

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

The facade of the new market features a mosaic of names of poblano dishes.The very mention of Puebla should conjure images of food in every traveler’s mind. Cooks from all over the state are responsible for developing some of the most delicious, iconic cuisine of Mexico—including the internationally beloved mole poblano and the widely misrepresented chalupa. Both dishes were invented ages ago right here in the capital city. Today visitors to Puebla can sample these and other regional recipes at the brand-new Mercado de Sabores Poblanos (market of Puebla flavors).

The market, part of a downtown revitalization effort, opened Feb. 5. It satisfies three municipal needs: increasing tourism, providing a quality space for vendors who specialize in gastronomy, and re-purposing an unused space in the historic center, Mayor Blanca Alcalá said last weekend in an official statement. Alcalá, whose term ends Feb. 15, believes the market will drive future social, economic, and urban development in Puebla—and ensure that poblano cuisine remains one of the city’s biggest attractions. The project took about six months and $4.1 million (50 million pesos) to complete, according to the online newspaper PeriodicoDigital.com.mx.

The Mercado de Sabores Poblanos is a huge U-shaped food court where more than 130 vendors prepare and sell an array of typical street and restaurant fare.

The new market is like a giant food court, with more than 130 vendors.The market establishes an unmistakable modern landmark in the city center. The building’s facade features a vibrant tile mosaic designed by acclaimed painter José Lazcarro that calls out the names of regional dishes. Inside, artist Luz Elvira Torres continues this motif in metal sculptures that dangle from the ceiling, adding a splash of color amid a sea of the white tile that covers the vendor stalls. Laminated signs identify each stall and share a few recipes. By design, the Mercado de Sabores Poblano appears orderly and pristine—a sharp contrast to the chaotic traditional Mercado Venustiano Carranza across the street. Read: What it lacks in charm, it makes up for in hygiene. Meanwhile, the older market is being renovated to house butchers, vegetable growers, and other merchants who did not relocate to the new building, according to a parking attendant who works in the neighborhood and various news reports.

The message: Come to the Mercado de Sabores Poblanos to eat. Go elsewhere for the old-school Mexican market experience.

The food choices are, in a word, abundant. Visitors can sample tacos árabes (pork wrapped in pita), pelonas (sandwiches on deep-fried bread), memelas (bean-stuffed corn tortillas topped with salsa, onions and cheese), pipián verde (chicken in green mole), cemitas (Puebla’s take on the torta), camotes (sweet potato candies), and much more. Vendors range from independent food purveyors to well-established businesses like As de Oro, El Girofle, La Choza del Pescador, and Tacos Tony. Hungry yet?

Pipián verdeCemitasMemela

Mercado de Sabores Poblanos is located on 4 Poniente between 11 and 13 Norte, about halfway to the 4 Poinente bus station from the center of town.

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Posted in Eat, Featured, Restaurants, Street Food | 5 Comments »