Destinations & Articles
Mexico City Day Trip: Puebla, a Culinary Capital
Adapted from Moon Mexico City by Julie
City is propitiously located in one of the most densely
populated and diverse regions in the country. From the
capital, you’re within a few hours of impressive ancient
ruins, snowcapped volcanoes, enchanting small towns, and
bustling colonial-era cities. With efficient buses and
well-maintained highways radiating out from the city in every
direction, it’s easy to plan a change of scenery.
The city of Puebla is a popular day-trip from the capital, but
it is nonetheless surprising that this big and beautiful
metropolis remains largely off the beaten track for most
foreign visitors, despite its fine architecture, celebrated
cuisine, and wonderful traditions in art and craftwork. Though
close to Mexico City, it has a very different ambience than
its neighbor to the north. It’s mellower and more
old-fashioned, with a family-oriented downtown district filled
with funky small businesses, a more visibly Catholic
population, and air clean enough to provide intermittent
glimpses of the volcano Popocatépetl rising to the west.
Many people come to Puebla to eat, and with good reason.
Puebla has a remarkable culinary tradition, noted for its
complex flavors and for its use of centuries-old heirloom
recipes. Uniting pre-Columbian and Spanish ingredients and
preparations with a touch of French and Middle Eastern
influence, food in Puebla is delicious, and very much a part
of the cultural experience of visiting the city.
Moles—thick, heavily spiced sauces (often served over
poultry)—are prepared throughout the country, with many
famous versions produced in the state of Oaxaca. According to
legend, however, mole was first created by the nuns of the
Convento de Santa Rosa in Puebla, during the 16th century.
Puebla’s signature version of the dish, mole poblano,
usually combines dozens of ingredients, including chocolate,
dried chile peppers, onion, garlic, peanuts, raisins,
cinnamon, coriander, peppercorns, and sesame seeds. In Puebla,
you’ll find mole piled onto sandwiches, slathered over
turkey, or stuffed into tamales.
Variations on mole are served in restaurants throughout the
city. Pipián, sometimes called mole verde, is a flavorful
sauce made with green pumpkin seeds and spices, ground till
smooth; it is also considered a specialty in Puebla, though
you’ll see it prepared in the traditional cuisine of other
regions, like Yucatán. Pipián rojo is a variation, made with
tomatoes and dried chiles.
Popular throughout Mexico, chiles en nogada are a highly
distinctive poblano creation. Traditionally prepared during
the fall harvest season and served as a part of the
Independence Day holidays in September, a chile en nogada is a
large green poblano pepper stuffed with beef or pork, almonds,
fruit, and spices, which is then bathed in a creamy walnut
sauce and showered with pomegranate seeds. Another rich
regional dish, tinga poblana is slow-cooked shredded pork in a
stew of chipotle chiles and vegetables. It is usually served
with tortillas and rolled into tacos.
Some wonderful quick bites and street foods are also typical
to Puebla. A popular appetizer or snack, chalupas are small,
handmade corn tortillas that are deep fried in manteca (lard)
or hot oil, then doused in spicy salsa and topped with
shredded pork and onions. Puebla’s version of the torta is
the cemita, a sandwich made on a sesame-studded roll also
called a cemita. Cemitas are piled with meat, string cheese,
lettuce, tomato, and onion, then garnished with pápalo, a
fragrant Mexican herb. Another poblano sandwich, the pelona is
served on a soft, lightly fried bun, layered with beans, meat,
and cheese. Tacos árabes are a Middle Eastern-inspired taco
made with spit-roasted meat served in a warm pita and topped
with lime and chipotle salsa.
Puebla is also famous throughout the country for its
traditional dulces (sweets). On the highways outside town,
vendors sell bags of the city’s famous candy to motorists
idling at the tollbooths. Among the most typical sweets in
Puebla are starchy treats made with camote (sweet potato).
Sweet potatoes are cooked, sweetened, and flavored, then
rolled into soft, cigar-shaped tubes. Also typical to Puebla
are macarrones, a type of dulce de leche (milk candy), and
mueganos, a fudgelike cake made with flour, egg, butter, and
unrefined sugar. Sweets made with pumpkin seeds are a regional
specialty; try tortitas de Santa Clara, a small cookie topped
with pumpkin-seed cream, or jamoncillo, a fudgelike treat
garnished with nuts. Many of these sweets (like much of
Puebla’s famous food) were originally created by nuns, who
sold candies and eggnog (rompope) to support their convents,
as they continue to do today.
If you’d like to do more than taste, there are cooking
classes at the Mesón Sacristia boutique hotel and restaurant
(6 Sur 304, http://mesones-sacristia.com).
Puebla has a long and important history in Mexico, founded in
the early colonial era. It’s one of the few cities in Mexico
that weren’t built directly atop an existing native
community, and its beautifully preserved historic center is
filled with some of the most impressive colonial churches,
palaces, and ex-convents in the country, replete with ornate
gold-leaf trimmings, magnificent stonework, and Puebla’s
distinct signature, Talavera tile.
Adapted from Moon Mexico City by Julie Meade. Copyright ©
2018. Available from Avalon Travel, an imprint of Perseus
Books, a Hachette Book Group company.
Click on cover to view published article