The Mexican state of Puebla, located in the country’s east-central area, is home to the eponymous, magical city of Puebla. It’s largely off the tourist trail (for now) yet home to some of Mexico’s richest gastronomical and archaeological treasures — not to mention gorgeous ceramics. Recently invited on a trip to Puebla by the Mexico Tourism Board*, I was thrilled to discover a town where there is so much to eat, see and buy.
When it comes to eating, possibly Puebla’s most famous dish is mole poblano. (BTW, mole rhymes with “olé,” so don’t worry: you aren’t eating a small, furry creature with huge hands and tiny legs.) It is a dish with complex flavours but with an equally complex list of ingredients and instructions.
Mole [pictured above] can be intimidating for the home cook, both because of the list of ingredients and the time involved. (You can also buy jarred versions of mole sauce). In Puebla, I took a cooking class with Chef Alonso Hernández at Mesónes Sacristía de la Compañía [pictured below], where we learned a much faster version of mole sauce. Chef Alonso Hernández makes it so much more accessible than any recipe for mole I have seen. His secret? A blender! Three different types of chilis are blended with tomatoes, onions and garlic, as well as a “secret” mix of spices, almonds, raisins and, of course, Mexican chocolate. The characteristic dark brown colour of the sauce comes from a salsa made of burnt tortillas and fresh plantains.
Mole aside, Mexican cuisine is famous around the world for its distinctive ingredients, rich heritage and incredible diversity. Traditional Mexican cuisine was one of the first cuisines or national foods to receive UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status. Two of my favourite dishes on this trip were chilaquiles [pictured below] and chalupas. The former are lightly fried corn tortillas topped with green or red salsa or mole, and simmered until the tortillas start to soften; pulled chicken, avocado, cheese (queso fresco), Mexican sweet cream (crema) and beans are served on top of the tortillas and sauce. The latter are tostadas (deep-fried masa corn fritters) topped with red or green salsa and filled with beans, shredded chicken, beef or pork, chopped onions and sometimes queso fresco.
For a fine-dining experience, I recommend El Mural de los Poblanos, in the centre of Puebla. Featuring striking murals by Antonio Álvarez Morán [pictured below] and located in the courtyard of a 17th-century mansion in the historic city centre, El Mural proudly offers traditional cuisine from the Puebla region. Its two specialties are escamoles — fried ant larvae served with corn tortillas and spicy salsa — and gusanos — grubs. Really! El Mural also boasts a fine selection of mescal, tequila and wine from all over the world.
Another elegant dining experience can be found at Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía, again as much for the gorgeous courtyard setting as the food. I also recommend the hotel Casa Reyna; I particularly suggest the sopa de esquite (corn-on-the-cob soup). With a combo of chili flakes and mayonnaise dropped in at the last minute, it packs a flavour punch.
Mesónes Sacristía de la Compañía
6 Sur 304, Centro Histórico
72000 Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza
+52 222 232 4513
El Mural de los Poblanos
6 De Septiembre 506
01 222 242 0503
Hotel Casa Reyna
Privada 2 Oriente 1007, Centro Historico
72000 Puebla, Mexico
01 222 232 2109
When you’re in Puebla, you must not miss the Calle de los Dulces (Candy Street!), where you’ll find all sorts of tasty treats like borrachitos (“drunken” fruit jelly candies), camotes de frutas (soft, flavoured caramel-type candies [pictured above]) and rompope (an eggnog-like drink, infused with flavours such as coffee, pecans, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, pine nuts or berries [pictured below]). All excellent souvenirs!
If you still have room left in your bags for other souvenirs after visiting the Calle de los Dulces, check out the Talavera ceramics [pictured below], which have a special designation because they meet specific government requirements and are produced only in the state of Puebla. The Talavera process starts with a mixture of clay, which is washed, matured and decanted then rolled into tallas, which are worked with the ceramic artist’s feet before being put on a pottery wheel. Once shaped, the ceramics are left to dry, and are then fired, at which point they are ready for glazing and decorating, then glazed one final time. Since all the work is done by hand, some larger pieces can take up to 6 months to produce, and no two pieces are ever the same.
Talavera Santa Catarina
Prolongación 14 oriente 1402
4 Poniente 911
San Pablo de Los Frailes
Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza
If you need a little fresh air after all that shopping and eating, set aside a day to visit La Casa del Sol, the Cantona archaeological ruins [pictured below, and top of post], about an hour and a half’s drive from the city of Puebla. A large site (around 12km sq.), Cantona was, at one point, a very active commercial centre with a population of around 80,000 people between 600 and 1000 CE, then mysteriously abandoned after AD 1050. Re-discovered by Henri de Sauserre in 1855, excavation of the site did not begin until the 1990s. Even today, despite how large Cantona appears (a complete tour around the site takes about 3-4 hours on foot), only limited archaeological excavation work has been done (between 1-10%, depending on your source) on its roads, stone walls, patios and ballgame courts. Note that you can only get there by taxi or rental car — there is no public transportation to the site. A taxi (return) costs around 500 pesos (approx. $35 USD), and takes about 90 minutes each way. Entry fee is around 50 pesos per adult. The under-construction visitor centre can provide you with a guide who speaks English. The site is open from 10am to 6pm daily. My advice: Bring lots of water, snacks and sunscreen. (Actually: good advice for Mexico, period!)
*Disclosure: My trip to Puebla, including transportation, accommodation and all meals, was sponsored by the Mexico Tourism Board. I was not required to post about this trip and was not compensated for doing so. All opinions are my own.
Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time writer, cook, baker, photographer and traveller. She blogs at eat. live. travel. write., where she chronicles her culinary adventures near and far.