Holy Mole Poblano!
Legend has it — and nearly everything in Mexico has a legend — that the rich, savory mole poblano for which Puebla is famous dates back to the 18th century, when nuns at the Santa Rosa convent prepared it for a visiting archbishop. The savvy sisters combined no fewer than 20 indigenous and imported ingredients, including chocolate, garlic, and various peppers, to make the sauce, which they then poured over cooked meat (probably turkey). The result was delicious, and the dish helped to establish Puebla as a destination for good eats.
Fast-forward 300 years, and nearly every cook in the state has developed his or her own recipe. Some moles are made from scratch; others are based on a paste purchased in a market. Their flavors vary wildly. In the mountains, more chiles tend to be used, intensifying the mole’s heat, whereas in lower-lying areas, more fruits are added, making the sauce sweeter, says Alonzo Hernández, executive chef for Mesones Sacristía, a trio of boutique hotels in the city’s Colonial center. Hernandez offers semi-private classes in his kitchen and inspired regional fare in his restaurants. “We want to change, to do what is practical, but it’s also necessary to save the original recipes,” he says. His mole poblano ranks among the best — a thick, mild, slightly fruity version that’s served over chicken breast or thigh and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Many of Hernandez’s dishes, including his signature cazuelita poblana, arrive at the table in traditional clay pots.
“If I couldn’t eat in my restaurant, I’d eat at Meson Sacristía de la Compañía, because it has good food and good moles,” says Luis Javier Cué de la Fuente, who runs El Mural de los Poblanos (16 de Septiembre #506), a cozy restaurant just two blocks from the zócalo. He suggests that travelers who’d like to compare mole poblano with pipian rojo and pipian verde sauces order the three-mole enchiladas at El Mural. The dish is typically prepared with chicken, but vegetarians may substitute fresh cheese. Adventurous diners will also find seasonal local delicacies, including escamoles (ant eggs) and huasmole (goat bone stew), on the menu.