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Tastiest Dish in Latin America: Mole Poblano

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Grinding mole ingredients on a metate at La Casita PoblanaAll About Puebla features more than a few posts about Poblano food and, perhaps because of that, the upstart company Chowzter last summer asked our founder, Rebecca Smith Hurd, to serve as its chief culinary correspondent for the city of Puebla. As such, she wrote about her top regional dishes and her favorite places to eat them around town.

One of her picks, the mole poblano at La Casita Poblana in Col. Huexotitla, was nominated in Chowzter’s second annual Fast Feasts Awards as the tastiest dish in Latin America—and it took home top honors. Hurd accepted the prize on behalf of the restaurant in London on Sunday and plans to present it to owner Angélica Bravo Gutierrez and her kitchen staff, including Doña Ramona (who’s pictured here grinding mole ingredients on a metate), on May 6. Stay tuned for photos; we’ll update this post next week.

Want more in the meantime? Check out this short video shown during the awards presentation. Or better yet, visit the restaurant and try its mole poblano! Tip: It’s a tad spicy and a tad sweet—our favorite combo—and most traditionally served over chicken breast or thigh. We often order mole with chicken enchiladas too.

LaCasitaPoblana-moleCongratulations to everyone at La Casita Poblana for cooking up such a delicious version of the iconic and traditional dish! Elsewhere in Mexico, Teotitlán del Valle’s Carina Santiago was nominated in a different category for her mole coloradito. For a complete list of 2014 winners, click here.

Chowzter is a free website and mobile app (Android and iOS), that provides reviews of the “tastiest fast feasts” in scores of cities worldwide, chosen by foodies familiar with the area. The fare, which must be authentic and locally sourced, is typically offered by market stalls, street food vendors, and casual restaurants. The idea is to provide residents and visitors with insight into where to find seriously good eats at affordable prices wherever they may go.

If you’ve found a particularly tasty spot in Puebla you think we should try, let us know by leaving a reply below.

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A Sunday Drive From Puebla to Atlimeyaya

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

San Baltazar AtlimeyayaThis guest post was written by Margie Hord de Méndez, a Canadian expat who grew up in Honduras and has lived in Mexico for the past 40 years. She lives and works, as a teacher and a translator, in Puebla.

I’ve never seen San Baltazar Atlimeyaya mentioned in a tourist guidebook, which is unfortunate, because this sleepy mountain town makes for an easy, lovely day trip from the Puebla capital. Although one can pass through the city of Atlixco to get there, by trial and error we found it was faster to take the Cuautla turnoff (Siglo XXI) from Highway 190, which avoids quite a few twists and turns on small roads. If you’re lucky, you can catch some great views of the majestic Popocatépetl volcano as you grow closer and closer in proximity.

The next town to look for—about 5 km from Atlixco—is Metepec. Its Centro Vacacional y de Convenciones is a government-owned recreational center with a hotel, camping areas, sport fishing, swimming pools, and quadricycles for rent. Previously a hacienda that produced textiles, its late 19th-century architecture reflects its interesting history; guided tours of its Industrial Worker Museum are available in Spanish. From there, the same narrow main road, or camino vecinal, winds up into the hills toward Atlimeyaya. Lost? Head for the fake, graffiti-covered UFO on one little hill.

Entering Atlimeyaya, follow the signs to the giant ahuehuete tree, an ancient specimen of the conifer (the water-loving Montezuma cypress), which you can pay a small fee (10 or 15 MXP) to visit, just a minute’s walk from the entrance. Nearby, you’ll find springs of delicious cold water, which comes from the snow melting on the volcano. A sign declares that a chemist has declared the water very pure, but if you decide to drink from it, do so at your own risk—and before it reaches the troughs where donkeys and horses quench their thirst. Love horses? You can ride for half an hour or longer around the main roads, with a guide helping you if you wish. The dirt road continues into the foothills, but if you head further up the volcano, be aware that herds of goats and sheep frequently occupy the road, making progress slow.

Just before the ahuehuete, a road to the right that leads to a corridor of restaurants, which allow both indoor and—most popular—outdoor eating options. Choose one, such as La Cascada, near a flowing stream that splashes along in a canal. If you’re young or young at heart, you may enjoy swinging like Tarzan on the ropes over the stream or sticking your feet into the icy water. Keep a close eye on anyone who doesn’t swim. Most restaurants also have dry playgrounds for children.

View of Popocatépetl from the Puebla-Altixco highwayXouilin Trout FarmLa Cascada RestaurantTopping the list of favorite dishes in the area is responsibly farmed local trout. You can fish for your own nearby and pay to have it cleaned and prepared. Or you can simply order the day’s catch from the menu, either fried or empapelado (steamed in aluminum foil), with tempting flavors such as garlic, almond, or chile. Handmade tortillas help to round out an excellent meal. The fish comes from the adjacent Xouilin trout farm, where you can visit the raceways of royal, rainbow, and salmon trout in various stages of development as they splash around in the 13 degrees Celsius runoff from the volcano. An information center periodically offers videos that educate both children and adults. Admission is 15 pesos for adults and 5 pesos for kids. You can also purchase and take home extremely fresh fish (100 to 120 MXP per kilo); bring an ice chest if you plan to do so.

When you go, don’t be fooled by the fact that everyone will tell you Atlixco is always “a few degrees warmer” than the city of Puebla. Atlimeyaya is situated at a higher elevation (nearly 2,200 meters above sea level) and tends to be cooler, so bring a jacket or a wrap just in case. Mosquito repellent is a good idea, too. —Margie Hord de Méndez

To get to San Baltazar Atlimeyaya, 43 kilometers from the city of Puebla, head in the direction of Atlixco on the Atlixcáyotl toll road. You’ll find a Google map here.

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Cuetlas: Sampling One of Mexico’s Edible Insects

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Boiled and unfurled, these cuetlas are ready to fry.It probably wasn’t the smartest plan to arrive at the Grandiosa Tardeada de Cuetlas feeling absolutely famished. But we’re adventurous eaters who sometimes enjoy bugs in Mexican cuisine, particularly regional specialties like escamoles (ant eggs), chapulines (grasshoppers), and gusanos de maguey (pulque worms). So, we showed up at the 13th annual cuetlada in Puebla on Saturday afternoon ready to sink our teeth into some serious butterfly larvae.

Chiancuetlas, or cuetlas for short, are edible catepillars that grow in Jonote and other types of trees throughout south-central Mexico. The larvae are typically consumed in the Mixteca region of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Guerrero, where they provide an imporant source of dietary protein. You can also buy them locally from tianguis in Atlixco—25 pesos for a sardine tinful—and at the Feria de Cholula. During the rainy season (August and September), the live caterpillars are collected from Cualagua, Cuaulote, and Pochote trees in the gullies near Huaquechula and gutted to remove their green entrails. Many cooks then boil the larvae in salt water, unfurl them by hand, and fry them in oil until they puff up and turn golden brown, and serve them as the main ingredient in tacos.

Guillermo Duque de Estrada (pictured), who invited us to the Grandiosa Tardeada de Cuetlas, has co-organized a semi-private culinary celebration with Antonio Álvarez Moran and a lively group of entomophagous friends since 2000. At previous events, the cuetleros have tried using the caterpillars as a protein in various gourmet recipes, from paella to cuetlas en nogada. They’ve even stuffed the finger- to cigar-sized larvae with tiny grasshoppers and sautéed them with garlic in olive oil.

Guillermo Duque de Estrada fries cuetlas for the taquiza.This year, Duque de Estrada—also known as “Don Cuetlo”—and crew hosted a traditional taquiza featuring fried caterpillars for tacos with eight different homemade salsas, avocado slices, black beans, and grasshopper-infused rice. Those of us who had never tried one before received our “first communion” of a single fried cuetla, so we could savor the larvae in all its salty and crunchy yet chewy glory. The experience was sort of like eating a rehydrated dried mushroom that’d been plunged into a deep-fryer. I jokingly called it cecina de árbol.

Want to try them yourself? El Mural de los Poblanos restaurant (Calle 16 de Septiembre #506 at 7 Oriente) is serving cuetlas for another week and offering them as part of a beer pairing menu this Thursday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. (Side note: Álvarez Moran is the painter responsible for the historical murals on the restaurant’s walls.)

In the end, we can’t say that we’d routinely choose cuetlas over carne asada as a taco filling or that the larvae satiated our hunger. But the caterpillars were certainly edible. And, seeing as more than 1,000 types of insects are eaten by choice worldwide—including 67 species of butterflies and moths in Mexico—we’ve arrived terribly late to the dinner party. We’re convinced there’s a Lepidoptera out there we’ll enjoy as much as escamoles.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Molletes Dulces, Puebla’s Best-Kept Culinary Secret

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Molletes dulcesFew places on Earth can satisfy a sweet tooth like the Calle de los Dulces in Puebla. You can almost get a sugar fix just walking by the shops that line Avenida 6 Oriente, their windows and display cases stuffed with traditional candies and cookies.

Once inside, you can choose among dozens of confections to please your palate, from camotes (fruit-flavored sweet potato “cigars”), borrachitos (tequila-infused gum drops), and candied fruits to muéganos (of various kinds), tortitas de Santa Clara (shortbread-like rounds iced with a pepita glaze), and polvorones (sometimes known as Mexican wedding cookies). And, at this time of year, there’s one particular treat that’s sought-after by a few savvy locals: molletes dulces (pictured above).

Molletes? We know, we know. Molletes in Mexico are usually a savory item, often served for breakfast. The basic version is a bolillo or another sandwich roll that’s cut in half, slathered with butter (or not), topped with refried beans, melted cheese, and pico de gallo. Tasty, but these aren’t those. Never heard of molletes dulces? You aren’t alone: Even some Poblanos are unfamiliar with the sugary kind.

“In Puebla, we have many things—memelas, chalupas, molotes, mole, esquites, chileatole, chiles en nogada, our typical sweets, among others … and the molletes that I know aren’t a dessert!” Lucet Gonzalez recently posted on our Facebook page, making us hungry.

“I’m not familiar with those,” added Christine Romero.

“They’re delicious, and they’re only made for the fiesta de Santa Clara … very few people know about them,” chimed in Carlos Rojas Xicotencatl.

“Where to they make them and when?” asked Tammy Fernando.

Good question! Permit us to explain, at least as much as we’ve been able to dig up about this little-known delight.

Inside a mollete dulceMolletes dulces — sometimes called molletes poblanos or molletes de coco — are sweet buns filled with custard, sherry or rum, and sometimes coconut and topped with an icing made of finely ground pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The recipe for the bread, notes chef Ricardo Muñoz-Zurita in an article for Mexico Desconocido, is “jealously guarded.” But he compares it to a concha in size, shape, and ingredients, which he lists as “wheat flour, yeast, salt, sugar, egg, and butter.”

Muñoz-Zurita and other observers say that molletes dulces can be had from Father’s Day in June to Independence Day in September, even early October — but we’ve never found them before late July. (Their availability tends to coincide with chiles en nogada season.)

The origins of the dessert are unknown, yet the earliest recipe dates back at least four generations. According to El Universal, the dessert was originally made to celebrate the feast day of Santa Clara (St. Clare of Assisi). It’s possible that we owe its creation to the nuns of the ex-Convent of Santa Clara themselves, who are credited with concocting their namesake tortitas and myriad other typical sweets. The former convent, located at the corner of Avenida 6 Oriente at Calle 2 Norte, is nestled among the various shops on the Calle de los Dulces that sell it today.

Get ’em while you can, for about 55 pesos a pop.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Want to learn more about the city’s gastronomy? Take a typical foods tour, which includes a stop on the Calle de los Dulces, with us!

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Enjoy a Cultural Feast at ‘The House of Crumbs’

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Inside the Casa del MendrugoIf the walls at La Casa del Mendrugo could talk, they’d probably tell more tales than most. The house, like many grand structures built in Puebla from the 16th to 19th centuries, is a study in local history. For example, Augustin de Iturbide reportedly stayed here on August 2, 1821. What sets this home apart from the rest is its careful rescue, its public accessibility, and its location above a pre-Hispanic burial site — the first ever discovered in the city’s core.

La Casa del Mendrugo literally translates to “the house of crumbs” or “bread crusts” in English. Mendrugo is also what the Jesuits called the leftover charity from nearby St. Jerome’s College that they used to rebuild the house in the 17th century. The home’s original owner may have been Juan de Salmerón, one of Puebla’s founders, back in 1534. When the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain in 1767, the building fell into the hands of a public commission. A century later, it returned to private ownership and, according to historians, “suffered several interventions which altered its main structures and uses.” One of the last attempts at renovation tried to divide the building into apartments in the 1950s and failed, and the site was abandoned until 2008, when the current owners purchased it. Their entire restoration project was supervised by the INAH, Mexico’s national institute of history and anthropology.

Olmec Remains, Other Artifacts Unearthed

“While excavating in a not previously altered area of the patio, [we found] two layers of Spanish-style brick flooring of different centuries. In the same area, there was also what used to be a water well,” explains the brochure that’s available in English at La Casa del Mendrugo. “The deep hole was filled with dirt and fragments of many utensils, ceramics, and animal bones from the Spanish Colonial times. But outside the well and underneath the flooring, pieces of very old Indian ceramics started to emerge.”

Further digging revealed more artifacts, a pre-Hispanic wall and stone flooring, and a ritual funeral offering that consisted of Olmec-style figures, shell and stone pendants, rock-carving utensils, and other objects. Two sets of human remains, one male and one female (known as “Chuchita”), believed to be from the same Pre-Classic Period (2500 B.C. to 200 A.D.) were also found. The INAH hopes to extract DNA from one of the molars recovered to find out for sure. The bulk of these items, including the skeletons, are now on display in a small private museum on the building’s second floor. They’re accompanied by more modern pieces, including antique talavera pottery and children’s toys from the early days of plastic.

Chuchita: Olmec remainsTapas at La Casa del MendrugoAAP-mendrugo1

Flaunting Puebla’s Cuisine and Culture

Beyond the museum, the three-story building—which we’re told has been restored as much as possible to its original state—also houses an art gallery, a stage for live entertainment, and three main dining areas: a coffeehouse, a fine-dining restaurant, and a tapas bar. The menus, says executive chef Daniel López Aguilar, are designed to celebrate Puebla’s Spanish heritage, with Mexican and international flair. They do. We liked the savory croquetas and the stuffed Poblano pepper so much, we’ve ordered them twice. The cheese plate, featuring products from IPODERAC, is a thing of beauty.

We’ve visited four times already, to check out all aspects of La Casa del Mendrugo. We give just about everything a thumbs-up, particularly the house-made beer, the live jazz on Friday nights, and the art gallery. La Galería Lazcarro is currently exhibiting “Matter Matters,” a mixed-media show by Jorge Juan Moyano, a Poblano painter and a friend of ours. Latin jazz will be featured in the restaurant on Fridays at 9 p.m. through the month of June.

“It is the only venue I know of [downtown] where it’s fun for grown-ups!” says another friend, who’s had a standing reservation since the restaurant opened two months ago. We can think of a couple more but agree it’s one of the few!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

La Casa del Mendrugo is located at 4 Sur #304, one block from the main square, in Puebla’s historic center. The art gallery and museum are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and the café and restaurant generally serve breakfast, lunch, or tapas from 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 6 p.m., and 7 to 11 p.m., respectively. Admission to the museum is 20 pesos. The cover charge on Friday nights is 80 pesos. For more information or reservations (essential on Friday nights), call (222) 232-5148.

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5 (Mostly) Vegetarian Street Foods in Puebla

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Pork and lard play such prominent roles in Poblano cuisine that it’s tough to make a case for replacing them in typical “street” foods like chalupas, tacos árabes, tlacoyos, or even tortitas de Santa Clara. Yes, soy proteins and vegetable broth, oil, or shortening can be substituted in traditional recipes, but the resulting flavor is rarely the same. Perhaps this is why so many local cooks continue to use pig parts and products: They’re both delicious and customary.

EloteThat said, being the gastronomic capital that it is, the city of Puebla also offers some intrinsically meatless fare that’s truly fantastic, such as elotes, molotes de papa, and huauzontles capeados (see descriptions below). These popular antojitos are relatively easy to find at neighborhood puestos and market stalls — and, with a little careful ordering to avoid the unnecessary addition of animal fat, almost everyone may enjoy them.

I say almost everyone, because most of these snacks rely on either eggs or dairy products as key ingredients, and some are cooked on the same surfaces as meat. If you’re a strict vegetarian or a die-hard vegan, you may have a difficult time finding casual foods you can enjoy in their intended forms. Striking out curbside? At least a dozen vegetarian restaurants in Puebla cater to your dietary needs. When navigating menus at other eateries, be aware that classic sauces like mole poblano and pipiánes, vegetable soups, and rice dishes often contain chicken broth. Other tips: Always ask whether the beans contain bits of meat or lard (¿Los frijoles llevan algo de carne o manteca?). Order green salads and fruits in higher-end establishments, where it’s likely the produce has been properly handled and disinfected.

So, who’s hungry? Here are five delicious and (mostly) vegetarian street foods to enjoy in Puebla.

Elote or esquites

The state of Puebla is sometimes called “the cradle of corn,” in part because the oldest kernels in the world were found near the city of Tehuacán. Elotes and esquites celebrate fresh maíz. An elote is typically a tender ear of white or blue corn that’s boiled, put on a stick, slathered with mayonnaise, and sprinkled with coarse Parmesan-like cheese and chile powder (from mild to spicy) to taste. Esquites are the kernels cooked off the cob, often mixed with onion, chile peppers, and butter. They’re served in a Styrofoam cup and topped with the same condiments plus a squeeze or two of lime juice; you stir and enjoy them with a plastic spoon. I’m partial to Elotes Zavaleta (Calzada Zavaleta #3908, Col. Santa Cruz Buena Vista Sur, across the street from Office Depot), where the choice of toppings includes homemade peanut and habanero salsas. Chileatole is available, too. 16 pesos. Open 5 to 11:30 p.m. daily.

Huauzontles capeados

Huazontle en caldilloClosely related to quinoa, these wild greens are a personal favorite. You typically find them capeados, or coated in flour and egg batter and fried, with or without their inedible stalks removed. For a truly tactile experience, buy huauzontles at a city market such as Mercado de la Acocota (16 Norte at 6 Oriente, Barrio del Alto) and devour them at room temperature, pulling the stalks through your teeth to remove the broccoli-esque flowers. For a more refined experience, try them at La Casita Poblana (16 de Septiembre #3912, Col. Huexotitla) restaurant, which serves them several ways with the stalks removed. I can’t resist the huauzontles en caldillo, or two bunches paired with cheese, battered and fried, and then bathed in a garlicky tomato broth. 15 to 115 pesos. Market and restaurant open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.Quesadilla de flor de calabasa y champiñon

Quesadilla de flor de calabaza y champiñones

Squash blossoms, mushrooms, epazote, and melted cheese inside a corn tortilla that’s handmade to order. What’s not to like? Order yours sin grasa at Quesadillas y Gorditas La Paz (Aljojuca #25, Col. La Paz) to avoid the liberal addition of pork fat, which is otherwise used to add flavor and grease the comal your quesadilla is fried on. Still hungry? Order a memela (a.k.a. gordita), or corn dough that’s filled with black beans, shaped into a thick, oblong tortilla and cooked on the griddle. The staff says the beans are lard-free. Order a gordita en bandera con todo, sin grasa and it’ll arrive sporting red and green salsas, crumbled cotija cheese, and chopped onions. A selection of fresh juices and smoothies is also available. 10-21 pesos. Open 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily (until 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday).

Molote de papa

Molote de papa at La Poblanita in Puebla.As a mid-morning snack or a late-night treat, these deep-fried pockets of corn dough stuffed with mashed potato hit the spot. La Poblanita (5 Poniente #114, Col. Centro) tops each of its made-to-order molotes with your choice of red or green salsas and sweet crema. I prefer the green, because the acid of the tomatillo cuts the grease of the soy oil used for frying. Other vegetarian fillings, which the proprietors make at home and bring to their tiny stand in Tupperware-type containers, include huitlacoche (corn smut) and tinga con quesillo (a meatless tomato-chipotle sauce with string cheese). 17 pesos. Open 8 a.m.-midnight daily.

Torta de ejotes con rajas

When it comes to sandwiches, green beans with chile peppers and onions may seem like an odd combination, but it’s a winning one at Tortas El Girofle (2 Oriente #15, Col. Centro). Other meatless choices include potatoes or eggs with the same spicy rajas, served in modest portions atop a torta de agua with the center crumbs scooped out. Add avocado, if you’d like. Whichever entree you choose, make sure to order your sandwich sin frijoles, because the beans here are flavored with sausage. Carnivores, in the meantime, must try the chorizo ranchero, whose closely guarded recipe is practically a local legend. 16 pesos. Open 10 a.m.-midnight daily.

¿Se te antoja algo más? You’ll find other vegetarian street foods in Puebla, such as savory and sweet camotes (sweet potatoes), falafel (garbanzo bean patties, often with beet salad, offered by many purveyors of tacos árabes), and fruits or jicama served with chile and lime. If you have a favorite, please feel free to share it by leaving a reply with the delicious details below.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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“Mesas Poblanas” Touts 15 Typical Restaurants

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

The 2013 Mesas Poblanas Restaurant Guide and gastronomic calendar (in Spanish)Mexican food lovers, take note: The city of Puebla on Dec. 6 unveiled a new program for identifying and recommending local restaurants that serve typically Poblano cuisine.

The Mesas Poblanas (which translates to “Pueblan Tables” in English) distinction is awarded by the office of economic development and tourism to dining establishments “characterized by quality customer service, attention to detail, and a strong local identity.”

The 2013 list comprises 15 restaurants, which are divided into two categories: gourmet and traditional. The former denotes innovation, the latter an adherence to classic recipes. Nearly half of the restaurants in the inaugural group—Casareyna, Casona de la China Poblana, El Sueño, Mesón Sacristía, Royalty, San Leonardo—are located inside downtown hotels. A free, pocket-size booklet describing the eateries and locating them on a handy map is available around town, and you can find links to the restaurants’ websites here. The city plans to update the guide annually.

Each restaurant volunteered to participate in Mesas Poblanas and was visited once by an anonymous reviewer for quality assurance, officials explained during Thursday’s press conference at Casa del Mendrugo in the city’s historic center. “It’s the first quality club in Puebla!” That may be true, but Mesas Poblanas is by no means a definitive guide, and the federal tourism secretary’s quality standards — Distintivo M and Distintivo H — appear to remain in effect.

The guide comes at an auspicious time, given the international press coverage Puebla has received this year, nearly all of which touts Poblano food, and the upcoming Tianguis Turístico trade show, which is set to take place here in March. This is the first time the annual conference, run by the Mexico Tourism Board, is being held in an urban (vs. beach) destination.

Wny is Poblano food such a big deal? “No other city reflects the richness of Mexican cuisine as well as Puebla, a cuisine blending chiles, seeds, spices, mole paste, tortillas, cheese, insects, mescals, and a long list of native products,” the Mesas Poblanas guide boasts. “It was included in the list of Intangible World Heritage by UNESCO [PDF] on November 16, 2010. Puebla’s gastronomy is one of the most representative of Mexican cooking, folled with tradition and fusion, and it has made enormous contributions to the legacy of mankind for the past four centuries.”

To coincide with the Mesas Poblanas announcement, the city also released a “gastronomic calendar” (available only in Spanish) that describes some of Puebla’s seasonal ingredients and dishes, from huauzontles (goosefoot) and escamoles (ant larvae) in the spring to huasmole (goat hip stew) and alfeñiques de azúcar (sugar skulls) in the fall. If you’re interested in trying some of these foods, join us for A Taste of Puebla walking tour, during which we’ll discuss regional produce at traditional market.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Expats Create a Sense of ‘Home’ in Puebla

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Art Open House at Galeria Bayro and INNI Innovo InstituteBeing an “expat”—or at least living outside your native culture and functioning in another language—isn’t always easy. Feeling frustrated, lonely, and homesick from time to time is inevitable, especially in a city like Puebla, where the locals have a reputation for being exceedingly kind to strangers yet glacially slow to add anyone new to their social circles. Thus, it can be helpful to connect with other foreign residents to form friendships, share resources, support one another, and build community.

Outdoor symphony concert—the first of its kind at the BUAP—to celebrate the Botanical Garden's 25th anniversary.It took me a while to figure out how to do that, because unlike Mexico City, Puebla doesn’t have a Newcomers Club or a U.S. Embassy or any other organization that coordinates events for Americans, Canadians, or folks from elsewhere in the world who speak English and aren’t affiliated with a specific employer, church, or school. (I say “English” because not everyone’s Spanish is perfect or even passable, especially when they first arrive in Mexico.) So, with the help of a few others, I started an “expat” group in September 2009, about six months before launching this website. Through word of mouth, our initial group of five has grown to some 160 people from a dozen different countries.
Fireworks over the pond at the BUAP Botanical Garden

Although “home” is wherever my husband and cat happen to be, having a supportive social network is important, too.

It seems like it took forever, but as a result of the friends and connections I’ve made through the group, this week I finally felt like I was home in Puebla — an insider instead of an outsider. By “insider,” I simply mean my social calendar was filled with events, from a Thanksgiving potluck to a SoHo-worthy art open house and a gala anniversary party to a gourmet dinner at the most contemporary restaurant in town. All four private affairs were hosted by foreign residents and Poblanos (including the dinner, which was organized by All About Puebla). Could it be that we’ve achieved some sort of critical mass, in terms of people, energy, and diversity? A girl can dream, can’t she? In any case, what a privilege it was to be in the presence of such stimulating company, having conversations in English and Spanish!

All About Puebla holiday dinner at Intro RestaurantAll About Puebla holiday dinner at Intro RestaurantThank you, everyone, for your efforts, your invitations, and your contributions to the group. If anyone out there would like to join us in the future, drop me a line and I’ll add you to our emailing list. Happy holidays!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Savoring Mole de Caderas (and More) in Tehuacán

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Mole de caderas y espinazo is a seasonal, regional dish from Tehuacan, Puebla.It took me five years of living in Puebla to visit Tehuacán, but when I finally did this past weekend, I savored every moment of it. Literally. I spent most of my time there eating: Tacos de cabeza. Mole de caderas y espinazos. Candied fig, squash, and tejocotes (Mexican hawthorn fruit). Muéganos from El Águila Real. All of these culinary treats are local specialties, the first two of which are based on goat meat from the annual slaughter.

Yes, slaughter. Every autumn since the 17th century, when Spanish settlers introduced livestock to Mexico, shepherds have driven goats from the coasts of Oaxaca and Guerrero to the Tehuacán Valley of Puebla, where they’re sacrificed in a ritual ceremony and then eaten. During the migration, the animals feed only on wild grasses and salt (to retain liquids, because they don’t drink any water), notes Enrique Aquino in a column for SDNoticias.com, a national news site. As a result, their flesh—unlike that of farm-raised animals—is very lean and flavorful.

“For more than 300 years, landowners and ranchers paid the servants [and butchers] of the killings with the bones of the goats, the hips and the spines,” Aquino writes. “With these bones they made a broth with tomato and chile, to which they added other seasonal ingredients like ejotes ayocotes (runner beans) and huajes (wild tamarind seeds), resulting in el mole de caderas (goat hip stew).”

Goat brain and head meat tacos with green salsa at La Casona de Mi Lupita.An estimated 4,500 to 8,000 goats were sacrificed this year at Hacienda La Carlota, the owners of which have participated in El Ritual Cultural y Festival Étnico del Mole de Caderas, also known as “La Matanza,” for four generations. Much of their meat will be consumed in Tehuacán by residents and visitors between now and Nov. 15, which marks the end of the 2012 season. The annual celebration, which since 1784 has taken place on the third Thursday of October, includes prayers and folkloric dances and brings together people from across the Mixteca. It is recognized by both the state and federal governments as part of Puebla’s cultural heritage. Although previous festivals tended to be a bit gory, as one might imagine, the knife used to kill the first goat has been replaced with an air gun, to avoid what members of the Humane Society dubbed “a vicious and bloody spectacle.”

Food lovers should note that the wildly popular mole de caderas isn’t the only dish made with the organic carne de chivo. At least two dozen delicacies can be had, based on pretty much every edible part of the animal. These include ubre a la plancha (grilled utter with garlic and milk), riñones encebollados (kidney with onions), and other bits prepared in mojo de ajo (oil, garlic, and spices).

House-made candied fig, squash, and Mexican hawthorn fruit at La Casona de Mi Lupita.All of these dishes are offered at Mi Lupita (5 Sur #307), where Doña Lupita and her family have cooked up goaty goodness since 1956. In fact, her version of mole de caderas is so popular that the restaurant opened a second location last October on the city’s main square. It’s there, at La Casona de Mi Lupita, that my husband and I tucked into a plateful of tacos de cabeza (five head meat and brain tacos) and a piping-hot bowl of mole de caderas y espinazos with ejotes acoyotes.

“This was worth the drive from Puebla,” declares my Poblano other half, tucking a napkin into his white shirt and licking his fingers. “This is the best mole I’ve ever eaten.”

It is not, however, food for reluctant carnivores or the faint of heart: Enjoying this dish to its fullest requires using your hands and teeth to pick and suck the flesh off cracked goat vertebrae and broken leg bones. If that sounds appealing to you, it’s totally worth the trip and the 300 to 400 peso price per (very generous) serving.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Tehuacán is located 82 miles southeast of the Puebla capital. ADO operates regular bus service from CAPU to its station a few blocks from the main square in Tehuacán for about 100 pesos. By car, it’s about a 90-minute drive via toll roads (about 200 pesos round-trip) en route to Oaxaca.

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The Cider ‘Crush’ at Copa de Oro in Cholula

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Sampling cider from an oak barrel at Copa de Oro in Cholula.The Spanish influence in San Pedro Cholula isn’t always quite as evident as it is in the nearby Colonial city of Puebla. Despite an abundance of Catholic churches, including one that crowns the world’s largest pre-Hispanic pyramid, the town maintains its older, distinctly indigenous vibe. However, just a few blocks from the archaeological site, inside a nondescript industrial building, the Castillo-Blanca family is working to preserve a centuries-old tradition from Asturias, Spain, and make it a bona fide Mexican one.

For three generations, its Copa de Oro distillery has produced sidra, or hard cider, from apples cultivated in the state of Puebla. The business began in 1936, when Ramón Blanca Amador started fermenting the regional red fruit into an aguardiente de manzana. He called the drink sidra actiopa, a nod to the Nahautl words atl (water) and teopa (temple) and a suggestion that his liquor was nothing short of divine. Today Copa de Oro produces several varieties of sidra gasificada, or carbonated hard cider, plus non-alcoholic sparkling cider, cider “coolers,” vinegar, applesauce, and more. The company turns out three grades of cider—Palencia, Copa de Oro, and Renetta—which are differentiated by their labels and the amount of time each cider is aged in an oak barrel (up to one, two, or three years, respectively).

Unlike many wines, hard cider doesn’t improve with age: After about two years, it’s properties change and it evolves into vinegar.

“The national palate is sweet,” sales director Mario García Roche explains to me after a tour of the factory. To cater to that taste, most of Copa de Oro’s ciders are on the sugary side, with one important exception: Renetta Reserva Especial, which the company produced for its 75th anniversary last year. “It’s the only cider made in Mexico that’s semi-dry,” García Roche boasts.

Copa de Oro Renetta is “the best cider” my Poblano hubby has ever had.His bragging is justified. The Renetta is, in a word, exquisite. “Wow! It’s the best cider I’ve ever had,” my husband declares after taking a sip of the ice-cold bubbly. Like many Poblanos, he’s accustomed to drinking the sweeter stuff, and mostly at family dinners around Christmastime or New Year’s. It’s said that hard cider became popular in Mexico as a festive yet less expensive alternative to Champagne and sparkling wines like Cava. And, comparatively, it’s a bargain. At 101 pesos (about US $7) per bottle, the Renetta semi-seco is Copa de Oro’s priciest product.

Copa de Oro expects to produce some 800,000 cases of cider in 2012.Copa de Oro is looking for ways to broaden cider’s national appeal by developing new products, such as cider “coolers” in single-serving bottles that come in different flavors and include rum, García Roche says. But its core product remains its amber and rosé ciders (the latter of which is 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile). In 2012, the company expects to produce some 800,000 cases of cider, he notes, all of which is made from 100 percent fruit that’s cultivated in Puebla. Most of that will be consumed nationally, but Copa de Oro is working to export more products to the U.S., Colombia, Cuba, and Spain.

The “crush” typically begins in July and lasts for about six months, as tons of apples — of the winter banana, perón, ripio, or panochera variety — arrive from orchards, most of which are located on the skirts of the Popocatépetl volcano or near the Puebla-Veracruz state line in Santa María Coatepec and San Salvador El Seco, García Roche explains. After the apples arrive, they are washed and pressed into juice, which is then fermented, filtered, pasteurized, carbonated, and bottled. Copa de Oro can process up to 30,000 bottles per day (5,000 cases) when operating at full capacity, García Roche says.

Copa de Oro plans to kick off the 2012 season with a “blessing of the apples” and a parade on Saturday, July 21, from 10 to 11 a.m., García Roche says. The route starts and ends at the distillery (3 Sur #904, Col. Centro), passing through downtown San Pedro Cholula. A tasting and cider pairing will follow at Copa de Oro, which also operates a tasting room and “living museum” called La Barrica. The public is invited; expect to pay about 120 pesos per person for the food and drink.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Free tours of the distillery (in Spanish only) are offered year-round, by reservation only, to groups of 10 people or more. Call +52 (222) 247-1989 for more information.

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