Archive for March, 2011

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Drinking in Local History at La Pasita in Puebla

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

La Pasita sells its hand-crafted liqueurs by the glass or the bottle.La Pasita is the oldest cantina in Puebla—and, although it specializes in Mexican liquors, you won’t find the usual shots of tequila or mezcal on the menu. Instead, barkeeps pour locally made libations, such as the house’s namesake pasita, a sweet raisin liqueur that’s served with a cube of salty aged cheese and a shriveled grape on a toothpick in the glass. Other flavors include lime, pineapple, coconut, anise, almond, eggnog, and the more exotic blackberry with jamaica flower and quince with apricot. Each caballito goes for 25 pesos (about $2).

Pasita liqueur is served in a shot glass with a cube of cheese and a raisin.La Pasita opened in 1916 as a small grocery called El Gallo de Oro in the downtown area still known as Barrio de los Sapos. It was purchased 44 years later by Emilio Contreras Aycan, who sought to preserve its hand-crafted liquors. In 1960, Contreras converted the establishment into liquor store and bar, and a year later, trademarked its signature raisin-based liqueur, la pasita. Today, all of its liqueurs continue to be distilled in the same way they were at the beginning of the 20th century. The business is now run by his son, Emilio, who plans to pass La Pasita and its traditions on to future generations, starMedia’s Vive México says.

Over the years, the popular hole in the wall has been visited by artists, students, political figures, and tourists from all over Mexico and the world. More than 20 different drinks are available, divided into three categories (beginner, intermediate, and professional) based on the level of alcohol they contain. Patrons can work their way up the chain from the somewhat harmless la monjita (little nun) to the rather ominous sounding sangre de brujas (witches’ blood). As these names and the bar’s signage and retro-cool decor suggest, the owners have a wicked sense of humor.

Legend has it that La Pasita became famous for serving drinks according to the number of blocks that a patron could walk without falling down after consuming them.

The basic bar menu at La Pasita. Shots of all flavors go for 20 pesos each.According to local news site Poblanerias.com, the bar’s regulars know their limits and often order their drinks that way: “a block and a half,” “five blocks,” etc. Vive México adds that anyone who can handle 20 shots a chance to pummel an effigy of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas. Anyone who does 100 shots without passing out drinks for free, wins 100,000 pesos plus the cost of their funeral. Only one person has ever done so; the runner-up, at 98 shots, was hospitalized (and had to pay his bar bill).

Since then, the Los Sapos plaza directly in front of La Pasita has evolved into a popular antiques bazaar by day and a nightclub area by night. The Puebla City Council has reportedly considered the possibility of closing the bar—which now has a second location—but due to the site’s history and value as a tourist destination, it decided to leave it be. Let’s all drink to that. ¡Salud!

The original La Pasita, located at 5 Oriente #602 at the corner of Callejón de los Sapos, usually opens from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. Its second bar, a block from the Cathedral at 3 Sur #504, serves drinks from 2 to 9 p.m. weekdays. (Both are in the city’s historic center.)

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Celebrate Carnival With a Bang in Huejotzingo

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

The annual Carnival parade in Huejotzingo, Puebla.Carnival only comes once a year, and every season since 1893, the town of Huejotzingo in Puebla has celebrated it with gusto. Thousands of locals don elaborate costumes with masks and rifles — all of which they typically make themselves, sometimes at great expense — and put on a huge parade. Some 20,000 tourists are expected to join the 2014 party, which starts Saturday (March 1) and continues through Fat Tuesday (March 4).

The roughly two-hour daily desfile commemorates three major events in local history: the first marriage of a person of Spanish descent to an indigenous Mexican; the kidnapping and rescue of the mayor’s daughter by a bandit named Agustín Lorenzo; and the famous Battle of Puebla against the French. You’re probably familiar with the latter, especially if you’ve ever celebrated Cinco de Mayo; it was the Mexicans’ brief victory here that led to the state and US holiday. To re-enact it all, various battalions—whose members represent Indians, sappers, Turks, Zacapoaxtlas, and Zouaves—parade through downtown, firing muskets loaded with gunpowder and moving to the beat of marching bands as they dance down the street. The smoke, noise, and inevitable injuries add realism to the scene. It gets so loud, many spectators wear earplugs.

“The costumes that characterize the different battalions are very luxurious and almost everyone wears a mask made of leather, with a beard and mustache of ruffled horse mane.” —Mexico Desconocido

Many parade participants wear masks and carry homemade rifles.Although Carnival is a major regional festival, last year I was among only a handful of apparent foreigners in the crowd. I went on Fat Tuesday in 2011 with eight students from the Spanish Institute of Puebla, where I studied for four months in 2007. We arrived around noon and opted to pay 15 pesos (about US$1.25) each to sit in the stands running along the main square. Aside from having to look around shade umbrellas and assorted vendors, who were selling everything from tepache (a drink made from fermented pineapple peel) to noisemakers (as if the rifles, music, and cheering weren’t sufficient), our seats were well worth the price. I even managed to dodge the assorted candy and snack cakes being thrown into the crowd during the wedding scene.

Afterward, we had dinner in a restaurant between the main square and the former monastery. Our guide, Gabriela, treated us to a bottle of the locally made hard cider, and I shared a paella with a French Canadian student named Luc. We also took a peek at the ex-Convento de San Francisco de Huejotzingo, which is perhaps the oldest in the region (built in 1525). The building is absolutely gorgeous outside, but the inside was closed to visitors during Carnaval, probably to keep gun-toting pranksters out. I’m hopeful that because Huejotzingo is close by — it’s where the Puebla airport is, about a 30-minute drive from Cholula — I’ll have a chance to go back again soon. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

Sources en español: Mexico Desconocido, Periodico Digital

Post updated on February 28, 2014

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