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.
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!