Mole xiqueño — it’s worth the trip to Xico, Veracruz

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September 1, 2011Travel19 Comments

Mole xiqueño at El Campanario in Xico, Veracruz

The first time I had mole xiqueño — mole that’s made in the style of Xico, a town in the state of Veracruz — was at El Bajío in Polanco. I didn’t know much about it, so I had expected something heavy and sweet, like a mole poblano. The dish ended up being more complex: delicately sweet like a slice of fruit, and slightly bitter, with hints of smoke and ash.

When Crayton and I decided to take a trip to Xalapa, I told him we had to go to Xico. I really wanted to try this mole at the source.

Roy drove us from Xalapa. Coffee plants and banana trees lined the road. We pulled over at a little factory that advertised homemade mole, and they gave us a scoop of paste stuck to the end of a tortilla chip. It was delicious — a mix of chiles, spice and dried fruit.

One of the jars I bought to take home.

We entered Xico proper a few minutes later. We’d happened to arrive during the Fiesta de la Magdalena, Xico’s biggest yearly festival that celebrates the town’s patron saint. Strands of papel picado hung between the streets. The town looked like it ran directly up into the mountains — behind all the buildings, you could see them there in the background, covered in thick clouds.

Before we could get to lunch at El Campanario, the restaurant I’d painstakingly chosen as my primary mole xiqueño experience,
a woman on a side street waved us over. She was selling toritos, a milky drink full of a boozy, rum-tasting liquor. She gave us little shots through the passenger-side window: piña colada, strawberry, peanut, coconut. At this point I was loving Xico.

Then, finally, we arrived at El Campanario for lunch. While we mulled over the menu, the waitress dropped off a plate of fresh corn tortillas, drizzled with melted lard and a scoop of chunky tomato sauce.

We ordered a few of the house specialities: sopa xonequi, made with a wild green that grows in Xico, and of course the mole.

Then the food came…

An airy Veracruz-style gordita.

Sopa xonequi

Enchiladas de nata, filled with pork, apples, plantain, almonds, raisins and tomato.

A shrimp molcajete

The mole wasn’t like anything I’ve ever tasted. It was much fruitier than the mole I’d tried at El Bajío, with these lingering hits of apple and banana and blackberry-ish chile ancho. And it had texture: you could feel the spices under your teeth. The last thing I got before swallowing was a sense of balance — it was tangy, toasty, sweet, charred. I wanted to keep eating more, just to see what else I could detect.

Thinking about it now, I should’ve tried to interview some of the restaurant staff to find out how they make it. Instead we left the restaurant happy, and off to wander Xico. We caught part of a procession as we were walking.

There are several restaurants that specialize in mole xiqueño — the ones that were on my list, but I didn’t try, were El Xicoteco and El Mesón Xiqueño. If you’re planning a trip and you want to eat well, I also found Karen Hursh Graber’s MexConnect article on Xalapa, Xico and Naolinco super helpful.

I’ll post the rest of my Xico pictures in the next post!

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19 Responses to “Mole xiqueño — it’s worth the trip to Xico, Veracruz”
  1. Alicia

    Love your post, the food looks so delicious! I will definitely stop by next time I’m traveling the state of Veracruz.
    Ah, and I don’t know if I already recommended it, but you should take a little trip to Tepoztlan on the weekend just to try the famous “Tepoznieves” and to eat tacos de cecina at the mercado and in the restaurant “Los Colorines”… you’ll love it, especially the restaurant serves such great food!
    Un abrazote,
    Alicia

  2. Juan Benigno Garcia

    Wow, great looking mole. Growing up eating my mothers homemade mole I’ve always been fascinated by the richness and variety of cooking styles. I’ve always heard about the the Vera Cruz region and now I have a reason to venture soon. By the way, love the name of your blog I use Mija with my daughter along with Mi Reina.

    Mil Gracias

    Juan

    • Lesley

      Hi Juan: My grandma calls me “Mi Reina.” :-)

  3. S@sha

    Yum! That all looks delicious, especially the soup.

  4. Platanos, Mangoes & Me!

    I alway say that I travel through your posts. It has been so long since a trip to Mexico querido….you do such a wonderful job in describing everything and your posts are always so interesting.
    Mil gracias!

  5. Mary Royers

    Oh my goodness. That mole. *so jealous*

  6. Don Cuevas

    All those dishes look wonderful. They are selling mole de Xico at the Gourmet Show, now in progress at The WTC, México, DF.

    I wonder if blogger John “Calypso” and his wife, Anita, have seen this Mija post? They live part of the year in Xico.

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

  7. Liv

    My goodness, you are making me miss Mexico!!! I haven’t had good mole in ages.

  8. nmaha

    Sounds and looks a lot like Indian food – rotis, pooris, tomato and onion paste and sweet,spicy,sour fruit chutneys.

    • Lesley

      Yes, they do have a good amount in common. Strangely, people here don’t like Indian food very much — there’s only a handful of restaurants in the city. I think someone’s going to make a fortune off of Mexican-Indian fusion someday, though.

  9. juan tenorio

    mija….y almost tasted the mole with that nice description……yummmmmiii

  10. Tom Landa

    I absolutely love Mole Xiqueno. I first tried it when I lived in Xalapa for a couple of months, and like you, made the pilgrimage to the town of Xico. Before trying Mole Xiqueno, I thought Oaxacan moles were the best, but I agree that the delicate balance of fruity sweetness and mellow spice is unlike any other mole. It is not over-spiced or over-herbed (I think I just made up a word there)

    I live in Vancouver now and always ask folks to bring it back for me when they are in Mexico. If you are ever in Seattle, you must check out a restaurant called ‘La Carta de Oaxaca’. By far the best mole I have ever had other than Xico.

    Thanks for your post on this. I enjoyed reading your blog.

    Saludos,
    Tom

    • Lesley

      Thanks Tom. I’m glad you liked the post. I think I’ve been to La Carta de Oaxaca — is it in Ballard, or Fremont or somewhere? I have good friends in Seattle and they took me there last year. My only complaint was that the tequila was $12 a shot. (It was more of a culture-shock complaint than anything else.) In Mexico you pay half that, or less!

  11. Ben

    Thanks for the suggestion. You are right: the mole at the Campanario is absolutely wonderful. They sell their mole paste too, in case you return. I just got myself half a kilo, which I’m taking back to DF. I might be persuaded to part with some of it, but only if it’s a real emergency…

    • Lesley

      Glad it worked out for you! I should’ve picked up some paste when I was there — would love a pot of bubbling mole xiqueñno right about now.

  12. Suzi

    Lesley,
    Thank you for this wonderful post. My Aunt Lucila was given a gift of Mole Xiqueno from friends when they came from Vera Cruz. She never cared for Mole before, but this drove her nuts! She told me about it, and ever since, I’ve tried to find it for her here in Los Angeles, with no luck. Do you know whether they export it, or am I just wasting my time? I’ve had lots of fun looking, I must say, but I’d love to surprise her if it’s available.
    Thanks so much.

    • Lesley Tellez

      Hi Suzi: I haven’t seen it anywhere but in Mexico. I’m guessing it would only exist in a city where Xiqueño immigrants lived — and I don’t have any leads on where that might be. (Maybe Google does?) Maybe I will have to open an imported foods shop so you can buy some! :-) I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help, and wish you the best of luck with your search.

  13. Patricia

    I somehow missed this post when it came out, and I also missed the food in Xico when we went. We were staying in Coatepec and went to hike in the mountains. Lovely. There are ecotourism tours there, and along the way we wound up giving rides, which curtailed our exploration. At any rate, I found that part of Mexio off the beaten path and definitely different in many ways from where we had been in the west, center, and south. The locals told us that there were lots of tourists in Coatepec, but I didn’t see any other gringos on the plaza or in the markets thanks for this. So sorry I missed the mole!

    • Lesley Tellez

      Hi Patricia: Me too! It really is worth the trip. Glad you had a good time in Coatepec, and thanks for sharing your experience.

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