Sample mole poblano, chalupas, tacos árabes, chiles en nogada, traditional sweets, and much more in the culinary heart of Mexico.
Come to Puebla to eat — anything and everything you can sink your teeth into. Its regional cuisine is a strong contender, alongside that of Oaxaca and the Yucatán, for being the best and most iconic in Mexico. “Puebla [has] a culinary richness that carries serious weight throughout the Republic,” write the authors of the cookbook series Mexican Cooking for Newlyweds, which presents national recipes by state. “A good meal should be prepared carefully and, in Puebla, they’re true experts in this area. For example, take mole poblano, which simply through the act of preparing it, becomes a cause for celebration.”
And mole is only the beginning. From casual market stalls to elegant restaurants, Puebla’s cooks and chefs serve up a impressive array of deliciousness, from classics like tinga (a chipotle-laced chicken or beef stew) to seasonal specialties like escamoles (ant eggs). Whether you’re a picky eater or an adventurous one, you’ll find plenty to satisfy your taste buds.
Beyond Mole: Other Must-Try Regional Fare
Chiles en nogada. This rich, savory-sweet entrée features a Poblano chile pepper stuffed with picadillo (ground or chopped pork, beef, or lamb cooked with locally grown apples, pears, and peaches). The chile is then dipped in an egg batter, deep-fried, and finished with a walnut cream sauce, parsley leaves, and pomegranate seeds. The white, green, and red toppings represent the colors of the Mexican flag. The seasonal dish is widely available from late July through September, when its ingredients are at their peak.
Pipián verde. Pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, fresh chile peppers, and various leafy veggies give this spicy, nutty sauce its lovely green hue. Try the rojo version, too, which usually features dried chiles. Both pipianes are typically poured over roasted poultry or meats. If you order chicken, many restaurants offer a choice of pechuga (breast) or pierna (thigh/leg).
Chalupas, cemitas, and tacos árabes. Puebla’s street food is distinct from that of any other, much of it influenced by early and more recent immigrants. Chalupas date back to Colonial times, when Spanish settlers spent a good part of their days washing clothes by the Almoloya (San Francisco) River. It’s said that the women carried soiled garments to the river in wide-mouthed but relatively shallow wicker baskets called chalupas, after which they’d rush home and quickly fry up corn tortillas in lard, top them with leftover salsa, shredded pork, and bits of onion — and call it a meal. Today, chalupas are usually served as an antojito, or appetizer. Meanwhile, cemitas and taco árabes (Arab-style tacos) were likely influenced by cooks from the Middle East. Cemitas, which the state government calls “part of the gastronomic identity of Puebla,” are a sandwich served on a sesame-seed roll. The featured protein varies — common choices are pork milanesa and pata de res — but it’s nearly always accompanied by onion, avocado, cheese, rajas or chipotles, and pápalo (summer cilantro). Tacos árabes pile slices of spit-roasted pork on pita-like flatbread, to which diners add a squeeze of lime and salsa to taste.
Camotes and tortitas de Santa Clara. Visitors with a sweet tooth will not want to miss trying some of the local desserts. Camotes are yam-based candies flavored with various fruits (lime, strawberry, orange, etc.) that come wrapped up like cigars. Tortitas de Santa Clara are a round, shortbread-like cookie topped with a sugary pumpkin-seed icing. To try both, head for Calle de los Dulces, or “Sweets Street” (6 Oriente between 5 de Mayo and 4 Norte), which is lined with shops selling all sorts of treats.
Puebla’s cuisine should make you forget everything you thought you knew about Mexican food, which is not, as U.S. comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes, all the same. In restaurants, do not expect to be served a giant basket of tortilla chips — unless, of course, you decide to dine at the local Chili’s franchise — or to dig into an entrée that’s being pushed off the plate by a heap of rice and refried beans. You’re more likely to receive bread accompanied by salsa and a dollop of beans on the side. On the street, do not expect to find a burrito the size of your head. Tacos are the standard fare in Puebla, and they usually consist of grilled meat wrapped in small corn tortillas or pan árabe. If you want a flour tortilla and cheese, you’ll have to order a gringa. No kidding. Oh, and as you’ve probably gathered, pretty much everything Taco Bell’s talking chihuahua (may he rest in peace) told you about chalupas was a lie.
Tips for Vegetarians
Despite sharing a border with the cattle-loving state of Tlaxcala, Puebla is relatively veg-friendly. If you eat eggs and dairy products — and speak a little Spanish — you should not have a hard time finding sustenance. Some suggestions: Order breakfast, where available, all day long. Huevos a la mexicana (scrambled with tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños) is a popular choice. Ask for enchiladas without any filling or substitute panela cheese for the meat. Request a plate of arroz blanco or rojo (white or red rice), which often incorporate corn and peppers or carrots and peas, topped with slices of fresh banana. Eat street foods; elotes and esquites (corn on and off the cob) and quesadillas with huitlacoche (corn smut) or flor de calabaza (zucchini blossom) are all vegetarian, as long as they’re cooked in oil and not lard. You can find tasty meatless meals at La Zanahoria restaurant, which features freshly squeezed juices, three-course fixed-price lunches, and a la carte items at its two locations (5 Oriente 206 and Avenida Juárez 2104-C). The organic eateries Green Me (Circuito Juan Pablo II #1751, Col. La Noria) and Sattva Chai Bar (3 Norte #414, San Andrés Cholula, atop Amma Yoga) offer ample vegetarian items, too. If you’re vegan, you’ll have a tougher go of it, but Shanti Roots in San Andrés Cholula (10 Oriente at 6 Norte) offers inexpensive Mexican and Middle Eastern-style vegan dishes.
How to Avoid Getting Sick
Many visitors to Mexico fear Montezuma’s revenge, but most gastrointestinal problems can be avoided by using some basic traveler’s common sense. Tap water nationwide is typically non-potable, so don’t drink it, even if the sign above the sink says it’s OK. (If you’re paranoid, don’t brush your teeth with it, either.) Beware of any raw foods that may have been washed in unpurified water, such as vegetables, fruits, and herbs, particularly chopped cilantro. (If you’re paranoid, order street food to go, then disinfect the garnishes in your hotel room. Bottles of Microdyn, a nontoxic colloidal silver, are available at any grocery store.) Keep in mind that eating lots of spicy or fatty foods can cause digestive distress, even when they’re prepared properly, especially if you wash them down with alcohol. Take it slow — and pack reflux meds and some Immodium AD. Choose restaurants and street vendors that do steady business: There’s a reason people flock there, and lots of customer traffic usually means fresher ingredients. If you’re paranoid, eat only in places that bear the Distintivo H seal of approval, which signifies that the establishment meets the state’s highest-quality hygiene standards.
Page updated May 4, 2014