5 (Mostly) Vegetarian Street Foods in Puebla
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.
That 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.
Closely 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 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
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