Savoring Mole de Caderas (and More) in Tehuacán
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).”
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).
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.