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A Week’s Worth of Good Eats in Puebla

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

A sampler plate at La Casita PoblanaIf I had to describe my life last week in Puebla in a single sentence, I’d say that I died and went to some sort of foodie Zion. Seriously, my experience was that divine: I spent seven whole days sampling a smorgasbord of regional cuisine, from humble street foods to elegant restaurant fare, crafted by talented cooks and chefs from around the state. I wish that I could eat so well on a regular basis, but alas neither my waistline nor my pocketbook would support it. That said, for one glorious, mouth-watering week, I ascended to gastronomic heaven in Puebla de los Angeles, the original city of angels.

What made it so great? Everything from preparing mole poblano on a traditional metate with cookbook author Mark Bittman to savoring the contemporary dishes of chefs Angel Vázquez and Pablo Salas paired with small-batch Mexican wines. My schedule was jam-packed with eating, drinking, cooking, listening to experts, and having close encounters with a few of my favorite food bloggers and celebrity chefs.

Want the juicy details? Proceed with caution. This post is likely to make you hungry.

Backstage at the International Mole Festival with Pablo, chefs Lopez and Bayless, and Adam GoldbergThey had all convened in Puebla for the first International Mole Festival, one of the many festivities commemorating the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo. Indeed, my culinary bliss was made possible, at least in part, by the state’s international affairs office, which recruited me last fall to help organize and promote the event. Unlike previous mole festivals in Puebla, this one not only celebrated Mexico’s most iconic dish, but also demonstrated its influence on a global scale.

My role in the mole festival was relatively modest, but being involved left a big impression on my mind, my heart, and my stomach. So, I thought I’d share the highlights of my week’s worth of good eats — and food-related activities — in Puebla, in the hopes of enticing others to visit and attend future events.

Sunday

April 29, 3 p.m.: My in-laws and I descend upon Texas B-B-Q (29 Sur 722, Col. La Paz) to celebrate my husband Pablo’s birthday a day early, given the busy week ahead. Although foreign visitors may bristle at the thought of eating brisket in Puebla, carnivorous locals can appreciate meat cooked to fall-off-the-bone perfection, Lone Star State-style — and this is arguably some of the best barbecue south of the Texas border. The restaurant, which opened in early March, marinates its brisket in a special dry rub, smokes its own sausages and beef and pork ribs for hours, and makes its own secret barbecue sauce. It also carries a nice selection of imported beers (although, sadly, not Shiner Bock). We capped off our meal with an off-key rendition of “Las Mañanitas” and passed a complimentary Texas-shaped waffle, topped with berries and whipped cream, around the table. Our stomachs were primed for the rest of the week!

Monday

April 30, 7:30 p.m.: Angelica Bravo Gutiérrez, owner of La Casita Poblana (41 Poniente at 16 de Septiembre, Col. Huexotitla), arranges for a special tasting menu of some of Puebla’s more exotic delicacies at her restaurant. She and I had previously chatted about the fact that I often want to try certain dishes but feel too ashamed to order a huge plate of something that I may not enjoy. As an alternative, she serves up small plates of what seems like half her menu: gusanos de maguey (edible caterpillars), escamoles (ant larvae), tacos de sesos (pig brains), tostadas de pata de res and tinga (pickled cow jelly and chicken stew, respectively), guajolotes (sandwiches of fried-bread and shredded beef), huazontles capeados (deep-fried greens similar to goosefoot weed with panela cheese and an egg coating), chalupas (fried tortillas topped with salsa, onion, and shredded pork), sopa de médula (bone marrow soup), huazontles en salsa roja (the same goosefoot smothered in a tomato-based sauce), huitlacoche (corn smut), pipían verde con pechuga de pollo (chicken breast in a green pumpkin-seed mole) and, of course, the house mole poblano. Whew! Angelica paired each “course” with various Mexican wines, our favorite being a 2009 bottle of Equua, a blend of Grenache and petit Syrah from Baja California.

Tuesday

Mark Bittman takes a turn grinding ingredients on the metate.May 1, 10 a.m.: I return to La Casita with writer Mark Bittman. Mark, a featured speaker at the mole festival, was putting together a new presentation for Puebla and wanted to make mole poblano the old-school way. I tag along as his Spanish interpreter. We meet with veteran cook Doña Ramona in the kitchen. Flanked by a small team of helpers, she explains and demonstrates the process of charring, toasting, and/or frying various ingredients. She then slowly, laboriously begins grinding everything to a smooth, glossy paste on her metate, a 45-year-old slab of volcanic rock that her family in San Pablo del Monte uses to make everything from basic masa for tortillas to elaborate sauces like mole and pipián rojo. Mark and I take turns learning to press the well-seasoned mixture of fruits, nuts, and chiles into a fine paste, which is later brought to a boil and finished with chicken stock. Our version comes out a bit spicier than the restaurant’s recipe. Although this probably has to do with the chiles, I imagine that somehow the fire in Popocatépetl’s belly (which long ago created Doña Ramona’s kitchen stone) has somehow ignited our dish.

Wednesday

May 2, 9:30 a.m.: I pick up celebrity chef Rick Bayless — who’s traveled overnight from Chicago to get to mole festival on time — at the Mexico City Airport. He’s accompanied by Amado Lopez, his chef de cuisine at Xoco in Chicago. As if Rick’s culinary prowess and love of Mexican cuisine hadn’t won me over long ago, I become a fan for life during the two-hour car ride to Puebla when we start chatting about politics and agree that Jon Stewart should moderate a U.S. presidential debate. I’m further impressed when he spends what little time he has in Puebla (like 15 hours) visiting a friend’s new bakery, eating tacos árabes, and tweeting about a street vendor’s five flavors of potato chips. Later, during his talk, he shares personal notes that he took during his first visit to the state capital decades ago.

Salsa de chicales with pork, a specialty in Pahuatlán2:15 p.m.: I’m hungry. I wander among the International Mole Festival food stalls operated by cooks from 10 different municipalities around the state, from Chignahuapan to Huejotzingo. Everything looks and smells divine, but I gravitate toward the Pahuatlán booth. This small town is Puebla’s newest “pueblo mágico,” known for its natural beauty, artisanal goods (such as papel amate), and salsa de chicales (giant ants ground up with chiles served over pork). How could I resist? I’m so glad I couldn’t, because the spicy, savory dish was to-die-for.

Thursday

May 3, 10 a.m.: A series of talks about mole poblano by Puebla-based chefs begins, with Alonso Hernandez and Rodrigo Ibañez discussing its origins, Liz Galicia and Carlos Zorrilla sharing its traditions, and Angel Vázquez and David Fuentes tackling innovation. For me, this is the most exciting part of the festival. After all, it’s said that Poblanos are among the most talented cooks on the planet — and we’re finally getting to hear from some, on their home turf. They explore the legends surrounding the dish’s invention and subsequent evolution, agreeing that conflicting stories merely add to its allure. “No one has the ‘authentic’ recipe,” notes Carlos (a.k.a. Zorri). “Everyone can vary the ingredients.” Alonso refers to mole poblano as “the king of all sauces,” one versatile enough to combine with anything from beef ribs to lasagna, which Angel and David later underscore by passing out a chocolate truffle with mole poblano ganache that leaves festival attendees begging for more (see Friday).

“The best mole is the one served in my house. Right, Mom?” —Chef Liz Galicia

5 p.m.: A group of foreign friends and restaurateurs are interested in a market tour, so we head off on foot to Mercado de la Acocota in Barrio de la Luz. En route, we stop at a molino to see where busy cooks (who don’t have time to use a metate) go to get their masas and moles processed in large batches. We stop at a grocer to buy chiles and find cured goat preserved from last fall’s traditional slaughter in Tehaucán. We search for a lady inside the market who makes a mole with this meat but come up empty-handed. We console ourselves with a sandwich from Cemitas Beto and a pineapple soda.

7:45 p.m.: We cap off a spectacular day with dinner at El Mural de los Poblanos (16 De Septiembre #506, Col. Centro). After admiring the brand-new Cinco de Mayo-themed painting in the entrance hall, we sit down at a table for nine to enjoy a flight of mezcal (with expert tasting notes from foodie Lesley Tellez), a couple bottles of Barón Balché, grilled panela cheese, and assorted salads and entrees, including an exquisite ensalada de verdolagas (microgreens mixed with local cheese, tomatoes, nuts, and avocado) and arrachera (flank steak) grilled to perfection and served with crispy sweet-potato chips. Tip: You know you’ve picked a good restaurant when Mexico City-based chef Monica Patiño and her entourage are dining a few tables away.

Friday

May 4, 3:30 p.m.: Pablo and I head over to foodie Adam Goldberg’s part-time digs in Cholula, where he’s promised to make us “the perfect cup of coffee.” Adam is a connoisseur of the caffeinated brew and owns the gear to prove it (which he lugs all over the world). No kidding: His coffee-making rig is worthy of a how-to article in Wired. It comprises tools for calculating, measuring, and testing whether any given beverage has the proper water-to-coffee ratio. Or something like that. In any case, the man knows how to whip up a strong, well-balanced cup of joe at high altitude (7,000 feet)!

Lesley and Gloria make mole truffles with chef Angel Vázquez5 p.m.: Back to those mouth-watering mole truffles. When the chef himself offers to teach Gloria Dominguez, a California restaurateur, how to make them and then invites you to join the class — and bring a few friends — how do you say no? You don’t. So, I turn up at Intro Restaurant (Calzada Zavaleta #5624, Col. Zavaleta, San Andrés Cholula) with my other half and foodies Lesley Tellez and Kate Blood. We watch Angel Vázquez deftly put together a chocolatey ganache filling with mole mixed in, and then we get our hands “dirty” while piping, rolling, and dusting the chocolate-coated candies with pulverized baked tortillas. We sample our work with a bottle of Aborigen winery’s Tinto de la Casa.

Saturday

May 5, 8:30 p.m. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, we could have attended the free concert by Marc Anthony at Cuauhtémoc stadium. But rather than fight the elements and hordes of people, we opt to splurge on the special menu back at Intro Restaurant, where Angel Vázquez and visiting chef Pablo Salas put together a contemporary six-course dinner with Mexican-wine pairings just for the occasion. The experience is world-class. Carp-roe tacos with cilantro foam. Snapper sashimi with fava-bean purée, warm butter, crispy artichoke bits, and preserved lime. Pork “meatloaf” with almonds, raisins, and epazote. Oxtail with cactus paddle, cauliflower, and grape tomato salad. Braised beef rib in mole poblano with a bean tamal, baby carrots, and chayote.

Did I mention that I died and went to foodie heaven? Many thanks to all of the cooks, chefs, friends, and colleagues who made my week so unbelievably delicious.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Why Puebla Is Mexico’s Place to Go in 2012

Friday, January 6th, 2012

While beach-loving tourists plan “end of the world” trips to the Mayan Riviera in 2012, savvy urban travelers — particularly history buffs and foodies — are heading for the city of Puebla. Why now?

The state capital, officially known as Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza, has been steadily racking up travel-related accolades over the past nine months. First, the San Francisco Chronicle called out Puebla as one of the five safest places in Mexico for travelers. Then the Matador Network, an independent journalism site that celebrates travel culture, highlighted Mexico’s fourth-largest metropolis as one of nine safe and awesome places to travel in Mexico. Next, National Geographic Traveler chose Puebla and nearby Huaquechula as one it’s best fall trips (for Day of the Dead). Then the readers of the Lonely Planet travel guides gave the city a Best in Travel 2012 nod, voting it one of this year’s ten hottest destinations worldwide. And now The New York Times has picked Puebla as one of its 45 places to go in 2012.

The widespread recognition of Puebla as a list-worthy travel destination is long overdue.

Young poblanos pose as Colonial-era soldiers on a Cinco de Mayo parade float (2011).Of course, Puebla has been “safe” for a long time, and Day of the Dead happens every year. But 2012 also marks the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, which in Mexico is a state holiday that commemorates the David and Goliath-esque Battle of Puebla in 1862. In the somewhat miraculous military manuever, local forces managed to fend off French troops for several days, despite the fact that they were grossly outnumbered and outgunned. As news of their victory spread, via telegraph and Spanish-language newspapers, its impact on Mexican emigrants in California was profound, historians say. This helps to explain why Cinco de Mayo matters today in the United States.

For this year’s milestone May 5, Puebla officials are planning numerous public events, to which they’re inviting residents, visitors, and dignitaries from all over the world (including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). The activities will include a massive Cinco de Mayo parade and the first international mole festival. The parade, marshaled by President Felipe Calderón, is destined to top the 2011 affair, which featured 26,000 students and schoolteachers, 5,000 military and public safety personnel, and more than 50 decorative floats from communities statewide. The route traditionally follows 5 de Mayo Boulevard from Plaza Dorada/Juarez Park to the Loreto and Guadalupe forts where the historic hilltop battle took place. However, this year officials may alter the course in order to showcase one of various newly completed public works projects: a series of bridges (two of which are elevated) dedicated to General Ignacio Zaragoza.

A float in Puebla's 2010 Cinco de Mayo parade depicts the traditional preparation of mole.The mole festival, slated for May 2 and 3, will celebrate Puebla’s influence on world cuisines through its most iconic dish, mole poblano. Poblano, by the way, means “from Puebla.” Chefs from third-generation moleras to U.S. celebrities will offer two days of mole-related talks, cooking demonstrations, and tastings. Artisans will sell handcrafted kitchen wares, such as embroidered aprons, wooden utensils, and talavera ceramics. (Full disclosure: I’ve been working with the state office of international affairs and CANIRAC Puebla, the festival’s key organizers.) As additional Cinco de Mayo events and details are announced in the coming weeks, I’ll strive to update this post accordingly. I hope to see you in Puebla in 2012!
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Is Puebla on your 2012 bucket list? Check out our hotel and transportation pages for helpful trip-planning information. If you’re interested in hiring a local, English-speaking tour guide, contact us.

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Chiles en Nogada Season Arrives in Puebla

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Chile en nogada, by Mesones de la SacritíaChiles en nogada are so important to Puebla’s gastronomy that their arrival each year draws an impressive crowd. The official 2011 season kickoff, held July 14 by the national restaurant association at Hotel Camino Real, attracted scores of restaurateurs and various dignitaries, including Mayor Eduardo Rivera Pérez, celebrity chef Patricia Quintana, and a Mexican archbishop (the dish was invented by nuns). Nineteen different restaurants served their takes on the traditional recipe, sales of which are expected to bring in 10 to 20 percent more patrons into dining rooms statewide between now and the end of September. The state secretary of tourism says Puebla is allocating 7 million pesos for the promotion of regional cuisine.

It’s been a tough year for cultivating two of the dish’s key ingredients, walnuts and Poblano chile peppers, in the state of Puebla. Bad weather (hail, frost, landslides) and competition from importers have cut supplies and driven up prices. However, purists continue to use only local products, and restaurateurs remain optimistic and anticipate diners will consume some 3 million chiles en nogada, or 25 percent more than they did in 2010.

Dignitaries at the 2011 season kickoff included the mayor and celebrity chef Patricia Quintana.Visitors to Puebla can sample chiles en nogaga at eateries all around the state and its capital city, including these official purveyors promoted by the restaurant association. Expect to pay 100 to 350 pesos per plate. In addition, at least two festivals that celebrate the nearly 200-year-old dish are scheduled to take place in the neighboring towns of San Andrés Calpan (August 12 to 14) and San Nicolás de los Ranchos (August 6 to 29). To learn more about the history and preparation of chiles en nogada, check out All About Puebla’s previous post, “Puebla’s Patriotic Dish: Chiles en Nogada.”

Sources: Intolerancia and Milenio newspapers

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7 Places to Dine Like a Poblano in Puebla

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

This huge entree at Fonda La Mexicana includes chalupas and mole poblano enchiladas.You haven’t really experienced Puebla until you’ve eaten the food here — and lots of it. From quick bites prepared curbside to slow-cooked meals elaborated in formal kitchens, the region’s gastronomy is an integral part of state and national culture. One dish, mole poblano, is so important to Puebla’s identity that restaurateurs recently began lobbying to have its ingredients and production regulated and, like tequila, given protected status.

The ideal place to try the local cuisine is in somebody’s home, because family recipes lovingly passed down for generations are likely to trump the restaurant experience every time. If you ask the average Poblano where you can find the best mole, his reply is likely to be “En mi casa,” which means “At my house.” Visitors who aren’t fortunate enough to have relatives in the area can instead buy meals at one of the dozens of restaurants in the capital city that specialize in comida poblana.

There are so many inviting places to chow down around town that we have yet to try them all — but we’re working on it! The list below features our top seven picks of late, in no particular order. We chose each restaurant for its varied menu, overall quality and consistency, and generally pleasing customer service over the course of our visits.

La Casita Poblana

16 de Septiembre #3912, Col. Huexotitla, (222) 243-2210
It’s hard to resist ordering everything on the menu at La Casita Poblana. The house mole poblano, which won an award as “tastiest fast feast in Latin America” in 2014, does the dish proud, striking the perfect balance between spicy and sweet. When available in the spring, the huauzontles en caldillo de jitomate are a must-try: The broccoli-esque wild greens are served relleno-style in an onion-infused tomato broth. Adventurous eaters should also try the sopa de médula (spinal cord soup), tostadas de pata (pickled beef cartilage on a fried corn tortilla), and escamoles (ant eggs) and gusanos de maguey (fried caterpillars) in tacos.
Open daily, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

Fonda La Mexicana

3 Poniente #316, Col. Centro, (222) 242-2837
Stick-to-your-ribs home-style cooking served in a casual, family-style atmosphere makes Fonda La Mexicana stand out. The extensive menu includes all the typical must-try farechalupas, mole poblano, and pipián verde — plus a few more exotic and seasonal dishes, such as cecina (dried beef), mixiotes de carnero (lamb in parchment), and chiles en nogada (pork and fruit stuffed peppers in walnut sauce). Entrees typically cost 70 to 160 pesos; expect huge portions, like those a Mexican mom might heap on your plate whenever you start looking a little too thin. If 3 Poniente is packed, head for the restaurant’s other location nearby at 16 de Septiembre #706-A, which opens at 10 a.m.
Open daily 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

Los Manteles

Calzada Zavaleta #3913, Col. Zavaleta (222) 130-9899
It’s hard to find a tastier, less expensive full breakfast in town than Los Manteles. For 40 to 55 pesos, you can order plates of, say, huevos a la Mexicana (eggs scrambled with pico de gallo), huevos enmolados (eggs over easy in mole poblano), or a three-entree combo accompanied by café de la olla (coffee with cinnamon), freshly baked bread, and orange juice or a fruit plate. After 1 p.m., Los Manteles serves a menu of the day that usually includes three soup or pasta choices (11 to 18 pesos) and five traditional main dishes (33 to 52 pesos), from arrachera (flank steak) to pipián verde (chicken in pumpkin seed mole).
Open daily. Breakfast, 8 a.m- 1 p.m.; lunch, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. Cash only.

Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía

Callejón de los Sapos, Calle 6 Sur #304, Col. Centro (222) 232 4513
Nestled inside a Colonial-style boutique hotel, Mesón Sacristía takes diners back in time. Its indoor patio and intimate dining rooms are appointed with traditional pottery and antique books, statues, and furniture. The moderately priced menu features everything from popular street foods, such as chanclas (a small sandwich smothered in a sausage-tinged salsa) and zucchini-flower quesadillas, to formal fare, such as mancha manteles (pork in a spicy, fruity, tablecloth-staining sauce) and milanesa de res (chicken-fried steak). Save room for dessert: Mesón Sacristía offers a mouth-watering selection of sweets, including cremitas estilo La California, a tribute to a legendary local establishment’s pudding-like indulgences.
Open Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

Mi Ciudad

Avenida Juárez #2507, Col. La Paz (222) 231-0277
Although this mid-range chain operates in several locations, we prefer the Avenida Juárez restaurant, which features a colorful mosaic of local cathedral domes and does the best job of separating smoking from nonsmoking diners. You’ll find all of the poblano entrees you’d expect on the menu, as well as a wonderful selection of fish and seafood dishes. When in season, the whole huachinango al mojo de ajo (red snapper in garlic and spices) is fabulous and worth every peso. The shrimp molcajete (served in a hot stone vessel) is tasty, too. Like almost everywhere in Puebla, the service here can be a little slow, so order another tamarind margarita and chill out.
Open Mon.-Thu., 1 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 1 p.m.-1:30 a.m.; and Sun., 1-7 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

El Mural de los Poblanos

16 de Septiembre #506, Col. Centro, (222) 242-0503
El Mural de los Poblanos initially lured us in with its wide selection of Mexican wine, tequila, and mezcal. The upscale restaurant keeps us coming back with its excellent cuisine and customer service, such as accommodating vegetarians. Whether preparing escamoles (ant eggs fried in butter), huasmole de caderas (goat stew) or enchiladas de tres moles (cheese or chicken, with three different sauces), the kitchen takes tremendous pride in its original recipes, artisanal cooking techniques, and use of regional ingredients. The cozy dining room, which occasionally hosts live music, is typically a tranquil space, with a working fountain on one wall and a giant mural of local historical figures on another.
Open Mon.-Sat., 1-10 p.m.; Sun., 1-6 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

Nevados Don Hermilo

Andador Pasaje del H. Ayuntamiento #1, Col. Centro, (222) 211-0624
For nearly century, this family-run operation has drawn locals to the city’s historic center with tasty regional fare. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its namesake adult beverages, or nevados, which come in more than a dozen flavors. (Our favorite is the Iztaccíhuatl, which combines tequila, pomegranate, and hibiscus liqueurs with a tiny scoop of lime sorbet.) Don Hermilo’s wide selection of tortas (sandwiches) and platters of decoratively cut cheeses and cold cuts are also wildly popular.
Open daily. Credit cards accepted.

A couple of dining-out tips: The wait staff is unlikely to bring you the bill until you ask for it (say “La cuenta, por favor”), and a gratuity of 10 to 15 percent is appreciated. If you’re pressed for time, we suggest heading for the Mercado de Sabores Poblanos, where you can sample the handiwork of myriad cooks in one convenient location. What this food court-esque site lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in authentic, affordable good eats. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Puebla? Please tell us where you go for mole and more in the comments section below!

Post updated May 3, 2014

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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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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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Eat Like a King, Donate Toys for Epiphany

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

The navitity scene in the zócalo of San Pedro Cholula.While most folks north of the border are packing up Christmas decorations and kicking dried-up trees to the curb, many Mexican families — three in every four of which are Catholic — are preparing to celebrate Epiphany this week. The holiday, known as el día de reyes (day of kings), commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem on January 6, twelve days after the birth of Jesus. Melchoir, Caspar, and Balthasar essentially follow in Santa’s footsteps, bringing gifts to children who’ve behaved themselves the previous year.

Waiting for the Wise Men

Pablo, my other half, recalls his childhood experiences fondly. “The night before, we put one shoe — usually the ones we wore to school — under the tree with a note for the three kings asking for toys,” he explains. “Sometimes, if we’d recently lost a tooth, we put it there, too. My brothers would leave a cookie for the kings, too, but I never did.”

While he and his brothers slept, los reyes left unwrapped toys next to each one’s shoes to be discovered on January 6. “I remember being so happy and excited, waking up in the morning and running for the tree to see what they’d brought me. One year, I got an Atari, and my dad and I stayed up playing it all night.” The family’s tradition continued every year until Pablo was about 12, he says, when he realized that his parents were the Magi.

Cutting the Cake

A king’s cake decorated with dried fruits.As part of the festivities, Mexicans typically also share a rosca de reyes and a beverage, such as hot chocolate or atole. Americans who live in the southeast (or have been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans) are probably familiar with king’s cake, a large crown-shaped pastry decorated with colored sugar that’s eaten throughout the season of Carnival, from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. In Puebla, you can find various types of roscas, including a light brioche-like cake and a denser one with nuts and a frangipane-like filling. Both are often topped with strips of dried fruit. It’s customary for the baker to hide a tiny plastic baby inside, which represents Christ.

Whoever ends up with the figurine is charged with hosting the next fiesta: a tamale dinner on Feb. 2, or Candlemas, the church festival commemorating the presentation of Christ in the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.

Locals and visitors alike can take part in public cake-cutting events on Jan. 5 at Angelopolis mall and on Jan. 6 at the BUAP Cultural Complex. If you’d rather buy your own rosca de reyes, La Flor de Puebla (3 Sur #104, Centro Histórico) and Panificadora Roldán (8 Norte #1005, San Pedro Cholula) sell among the best in town. If you’d prefer to make your own, Mexconnect.com offers this poblana recipe. ¡Buen provecho!

Spreading the Joy

Antonio Prado and the good folks at the Spanish Institute of Puebla are collecting toys for the less fortunate kids in Puebla. You can help! Drop off donations of new or slightly used toys at the school (11 Oriente #10, Centro Histórico), from January 3 to 7 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The toys will be delivered on Sunday, January 9, by adults dressed up as the Three Wise Men.

“We go to the outskirts of Puebla, where there is no running water or electricity, and when the poor kids see us dressed as the Three Wise Men, they call their friends and normally within twenty minutes we will have about fifty young kids there,” Antonio says. “Once we give them toys we will drive another mile or so in the dirt road and do it again until we run out of toys. What has always amazed us is that once the kids see us instead of asking for toys they go running away to call their friends. …It is amazing the happiness these kids have from receiving these very simple gifts.”

Tríangulo las Animas is also collecting toys for charity as part of a city-sponsored campaign called Divertón. In addition, the mall will give children an opportunity to send their wishes to the Three Wise Men on Jan. 5 by tying cards to helium balloons.

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New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Puebla

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Our New Year’s Eve dinner in Puebla, Mexico (2008)Like so many celebrations in central Mexico, ringing in the new year is typically a family affair — and the traditions here are reminiscent of those in Spain. In Puebla, many people gather with their loved ones for a late dinner that lasts until after midnight. The main dish is often salt cod (bacalao a la vizcaína) or roasted pork leg (pierna al horno), although what gets served in any given household varies with individual tastes and pocketbook sizes.

It’s also common to wear a new pair of red underwear to bring yourself good luck, particularly in love, and to eat a dozen grapes, one at each stroke of midnight, while making wishes for the coming year. Toasts with cider (sidra), sparkling wine, or another festive beverage follow — as do after-parties, often at another location. Some people also believe that, for a fresh start, sweeping your house is a good omen and, barring that, at least you’ll have a clean floor, right?

If you’re visiting Puebla this week and don’t have a home to go to on Friday night, here are a few restaurants and bars that plan to roll out welcome mats:

Galería Arte & Vino, Alta Vista Plaza, Calzada Zavaleta #130, Second Floor (across from Italian Coffee). Enjoy three-course meal, music by singer Javier Flores González, mulled wine, grapes at midnight, and more. 9:30pm. MX$350 per person. Reservations accepted through Dec. 29 at (222) 890-6822.

The Grand Hotel, Calzada del Bosque #12, Colonia San José del Puente. Moët & Chandon hosts a party at the old Hotel de Las Bodegas del Molino from 10:30pm on. MX$100 per person includes a bottle of champagne for every table. For reservations and more information, click here.

The Loft, Osa Mayor #2706, PLaza Platinium, Colonia Reserva Territorial Atlixcáyotl. The Loft offers a buffet dinner, live saxophone and DJ music, and a champagne toast and the traditional grapes at midnight. 8:30pm. MX$399 general; MX$499 open bar. For more information and reservations, call (222) 409-0300 or 409-0400.

La Purificadora, Callejón de la 10 Norte # 802, Paseo San Francisco, Barrio El Alto. This trendy downtown hotel serves up a New Year’s buffet for MX$800 per person (MX$250 for kids under age 12). The price includes live music and a glass of cava and grapes at midnight. Open bar costs MX$450 extra. For dinner time and reservations, call (222) 309-1920.

Ming Lounge, 14 Oriente #420, San Andrés Cholula. After midnight, head for Ming Lounge, which promises a no-cover party for revelers who want to continue celebrating into the wee hours. For details, call (222) 409-5568 or 409-5569.

The Tavern Pub & Grill, Blvd. Luis Sánchez Pontón #608, Colonia Anzures. Dress up in your best medieval duds and head for this pub after 6pm for dinner and live music. The top costume wearer wins a prize. Tickets available in advance on-site; for reservations, call (222) 211-6473.

Sources: TodoPuebla.com and GoPuebla.com

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Burning Man Meets County Fair in Cholula

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Conquering a continent isn’t easy, especially when its indigenous people do not subscribe to your belief system. Back in the 16th century, the Spaniards decided that the best way to overcome religious dissent in the New World was to dismantle or diminish important indigenous structures. In Cholula, one of the oldest continually occupied sites in the Americas, Cortes and his cohorts built a Catholic church on top of the Great Pyramid and started honoring their own patron saint (in this case, the virgin of the remedies) on the same day that the locals paid homage to their most revered gods.

Fast-forward a few hundred years and ancient and modern beliefs have fused into a single, glorious celebration. The festivities begin a week prior, when Cholutecans from various neighborhoods lead a midnight procession through town, bearing lanterns and images of the virgin. Much to everyone’s relief, we imagine, the practice of sacrificing a local resident to Quetzalcoatl or another pre-Hispanic god on Sept. 8 — now the virgin’s feast day in Cholula — has evolved into an entirely symbolic gesture. After the final Mass celebrated at the church, worshipers today burn a chubby paper-mâché doll with fireworks instead of offing a real person. This human stand-in, called el panzón for its big belly, is stuffed with apples that fall out as the doll goes up in flames.

A vendor sells regional breads at the Cholula street fair.

“The annual fair of Cholula is a sample of the folklore and the way of life of the people from this area,” city officials say.

People from all parts of Puebla and adjacent states travel to Cholula to pay their respects to the virgin and the ancient religious site. The market that centuries ago naturally occurred at the base of the pyramid, as the result of so many merchants and farmers coming to town, in 1950 evolved into an annual regional fair. The 2010 Feria Milenaria runs through Sept. 16 in San Pedro Cholula. The line of street vendors literally stretches from the pyramid, up the main drag, to the zócalo. Visitors can sample all sorts of regional specialties, from pan de nata to pulque, purchase arts & crafts and household wares, and enjoy carnival-style thrill rides. The city’s tourism chief told local press that he expects 100,000 people to attend this year.

Photo credit (El Panzón): Isabel Muñiz Montero, 2007

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Puebla’s Patriotic Dish: Chiles en Nogada

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

An enormous chile en nogada served at Mi Ciudad restaurant.From late July to early October, all forks in Puebla seem to point toward one entree: chiles en nogada. This labor-intensive dish, an icon of local gastronomy, consists of a poblano pepper that’s stuffed with ground pork and dried or fresh fruit, batter-fried, and then covered with a walnut cream sauce, pomegranate seeds, and parsley leaves.

The first recipe for chiles en nogada was developed at the Santa Monica convent by Augustinian nuns (although some historians credit the Claristas). Whatever their religious leanings may have been, the sisters got caught up in the fervor surrounding the Mexico’s independence in 1821. When Agustín de Iturbide — the liberator who co-wrote the peace treaties signed by Spain and later became Mexico’s emperor — passed through Puebla, a huge banquet was held. The nuns, seeking to demonstrate their national pride, presented Iturbide with an entree they’d concocted to display the red, white, and green colors of the new national flag.

“It is a very patriotic dish, because it has the three colors of the Mexican flag: green from the chile [and the parsley], white from the walnut sauce, and red from the pomegranate,” Luis Alberto Martínez Álvarez writes on the state’s website. “August arrives, and with it the typical chiles en nogada, which each year you can find in every home in Puebla.”

Chiles en nogada means peppers in walnut sauce. The word “nogada” comes from “nogal,” or “walnut.”

Although some people serve the rich, sweet-and-savory dish served at other times of the year, most chefs prepare it when its key ingredients — apples, pears, peaches, walnuts, and pomengranates — are at their peaks. In Puebla, both seasons coincide with el mes patrio, or the patriotic month, here in Mexico. Independence Day is Sept. 16 and, with the nation celebrating its bicentennial this year, kitchens all over Puebla are churning out chiles en nogada in epic proportions.

Of course, most locals will tell you that the best chiles en nogada they’ve ever eaten were made by one of their family members. Tip: They’re always right. But you’ll also find tasty renditions at nearly every traditional eatery in town. Try chiles en nogada at Mi Ciudad (Av. Juárez #2507, La Paz), Fonda La Mexicana (16 de Septiembre #706-A, El Centro), or any of these 13 local restaurants, which have devoted a website to the dish.

Want to make your own? Try this step by step recipe from Lesley Tellez, who runs a culinary tourism business called Eat Mexico.

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