Mexican food is incredibly varied and each region has its own particular dishes and specialties. As one of Mexico's foremost foodie destinations, the state of Puebla offers a variety of gastronomic delights. The state's unique combination of indigenous, Spanish and Arab influences has resulted in one of Mexico's most compelling cuisines.
Nuns from Puebla's convents played an important role in the development of several of Puebla's most iconic dishes during the colonial period. Poblano cuisine was perfected in these convents, as the nuns frequently entertained civic and religious personalities of the Viceroyalty.
The photo above is of the kitchen of the former convent of Santa Monica, where Chiles en Nogada originated. The ingenious sisters combined a variety of ingredients, some indigenous and some of European origin to come up with this delicious and quintessentially Mexican dish.
Mole is a smooth, rich sauce prepared with ground chiles and other ingredients. The word mole, pronounced "MOH-leh" may come from the Nahuatl word “molli” which means mixture. The Spanish word moler (the verb to grind) is also very similar and may be related. Mole is most often served as a sauce over turkey or chicken, but may also be used in the preparation of enchiladas or as a filling for tamales.
There are many different types of mole, but mole poblano, the version from Puebla, is one of the standards. A basic mole poblano recipe contains a variety of different chiles (mulato, pasilla, ancho), as well as tomatoes, bread, tortilla, onion, garlic, chocolate, chicken stock, banana, lard, almonds, sesame seeds, salt and spices such as pepper, clove and anise. In general, mole is a time consuming and labor intensive dish to prepare and requires many ingredients, many of which must be peeled, toasted and ground by hand with a grinding stone. Nowadays mole paste can be purchased at the market and reconstituted with chicken stock, although purists maintain that the flavor does not compare to a freshly prepared version.
Tradition says that mole poblano was originally created in the kitchen of the Santa Rosa convent in Puebla by Sor Andrea de la Asunción who prepared it for a visiting bishop in the 1680s. The combination of New and Old World ingredients makes this a truly mestizo dish.
Pipián is another type of mole made in Puebla. It includes ground toasted squash seeds. There are both green and red variations: pipián verde and pipián rojo.
Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en Nogada is a traditional dish of the state of Puebla. Legend has it that it was created by nuns of the convent of Santa Monica on the occasion of Agustin de Iturbide's visit to Puebla in 1821, as he traveled back to Mexico City from Veracruz after signing the Treaty of Cordoba which granted Mexico its independence. The dish contains the colors of the Mexican flag: red pomegranate, white walnut sauce and green parsley as a garnish.
Chiles en Nogada are generally served only from mid-July through the end of September when the ingredients are in season. It is a favorite dish for Mexico's Independence Day celebrations.
Chalupas are one of Mexico's popular street foods, but you will also find them served in some of Puebla's more upscale restaurants. They consist of small thick tortillas covered in red or green sauce topped with shredded meat (either pork or chicken) and chopped onion and then fried in lard. They are generally consumed as a snack but sometimes served as an appetizer.
In Spanish, the word chalupa can also refer to a type of boat or barge. Possibly the name comes from the fact that chalupas look like little boats when they're frying.
Cemitas and Pelonas
Cemitas and pelonas are similar to what would be called tortas or sandwiches made in buns, but there are some differences. The type of bread used for each is quite different.
Cemitas: The cemita poblana is a sandwich so big you can hardly get it in your mouth. The bread used to make cemitas is covered with sesame seeds. Cemitas are usually prepared with sliced avocado, string cheese, white cheese, onions, salsa, and choice of different types of meat: milanesa (breaded cutlet), beef, ham, or carnitas. An essential ingredient in cemitas is a local herb called pápalo which give cemitas their particular flavor.
Pelonas: The name is a slang term which means "baldies" and unlike the bread used to make cemitas, pelonas have no sesame seeds, thus "bald". The bun is lightly fried before it is cut and filled with ingredients: first bean paste is spread on the bun, then it is filled with lettuce, shredded meat, chipotle salsa, and a dollop of cream.
The taco árabe (arab-style taco) is made with meat grilled on a vertical spit (usually pork loin) and served in a flour tortilla called pan arabe which bears some resemblance to pita bread. It is likely that immigrants from Iraq began the custom of serving tacos árabes, but they have caught on and are very popular throughout the city. The chain Antigua Taqueria La Oriental claims to have served tacos árabes in Puebla since 1933, but they can be enjoyed in many locations throughout the city.
When you've filled up on Puebla's savory offerings, it's time to satisfy your sweet tooth, and you'll have no problem doing so in Puebla. A number of traditional sweets and candies are made in this Mexican city. On a stroll along 6 Oriente Street, affectionately referred to as la calle de los Dulces (Sweets Street), you'll find a number of shops where you can sample and buy a wide variety of traditional candies.
Here are a few dulces tradicionales you should be sure to try:
Tortitas de Santa Clara
One of Puebla's most distinctive sweets was created in the Convent of Santa Clara during the time of the Spanish colony. It is said that a nun was looking for new uses for the recently created dulce de pepita, a sweet cream made with ground pumpkin seeds, and she decided to use it on a cookie. The cookie base is baked and afterward, the creamy concoction is added on top, which solidifies when it cools, making a delicious cream-colored topping.
Dulces de Camote
These candies are made with pureed sweet potatoes mixed with sugar and a variety of flavorings. They are hand-rolled and wrapped in wax paper. Dulces de camote also date back to the colonial period in Puebla.
Jamoncillo can refer to a few different types of traditional candies. One kind is similar to fudge and prepared with milk and sugar, and may contain cinnamon and vanilla for flavoring and pecans as a garnish. Jamoncillo de pepita is made with pumpkin seed paste and usually comes in a bar form with a red stripe.