Puebla is perhaps the only place in Mexico that celebrates Cinco de Mayo. The day honors the Mexican Army's victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. For this Cinco de Mayo, I wanted to share more about the food in Puebla, which is some of the best in Mexico. All of these photos come from my own archives, meaning I took them myself. Maybe someday we'll see some of these snacks on American Cinco de Mayo menus. #1: Poblano Chalupas Poblano chalupas are crispy tortillas doused in red and green salsa, and drizzled with hot fat. They're simple and delicious. #2: Pelonas Puebla is a mecca for snacky sandwiches, each made with its own particular kind of bread. This crispy-fried pelona, stuffed with shredded meat, came from an antojitería downtown. #3: Crystalized Fruit Crystalized fruit, cooked for days in sugar and calcium hydroxide, is a typical dessert across Mexico. This stand -- outside a market in Atlixco, Puebla -- offered a particularly stunning array of colors. From left to right, the vendor is selling sweet potatoes, candied squash (calabaza en tacha), tejocotes, figs, and chilacayote squash. #4: The Nuns You can't talk about food in Puebla without mentioning the nuns, who had a huge influence on the city's culture and gastronomy. This is the kitchen from the ex-convent of Santa Mónica, where chiles en nogada were supposedly invented. The nuns are also credited with inventing... #5: Mole Poblano Mole poblano is Puebla's signature sauce, which contains, depending on the recipe, chocolate, dried chiles, raisins, plantain, toasted or burned tortillas and spices, among dozens of other ingredients. (Obligatory Mole Police addendum: while mole poblano contains chocolate, not all moles do.) Mole pots are still made by hand in Puebla. At this workshop in an older section of downtown, men load the pots into large kilns. Neighborhood mills like this one in Cholula still exist in Puebla. Residents can grind pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, nuts and spices for pipián, a typical mole dish. #6: Fresh Baked Bread Bread, as I mentioned before, is hugely important in Puebla, tracing back to the Spaniards who grew some of Mexico's first wheat there. Vendors still sell all sorts of bread daily. Bonus points if you can tell me what each of these breads are called. #7: Tlacoyos Tlacoyos, a popular street snack in Mexico City, are a big deal in Puebla, where they're often stuffed with alberjón, a type of garbanzo bean. On the streets they're cooked on the comal until crisp. And they may not be called tlacoyos, either; some regions refer to them at tlayoyos. #8: Molotes Molotes are oval-shaped balls of masa, stuffed with cheese, huitlacoche, potato or other fillings, and fried. They are the bomb. #9: Cemitas Perhaps Puebla's most famous sandwich, exported to cities across the States, cemitas popularly contain a fried, breaded steak topped with a tangle of cheese, chipotle or jalapeño strips and avocado. The bread is also very important -- my favorite kind, sold at the Puebla market stand above, is slightly sweet and crunchy. #10: Chiles en Nogada Traditionally offered in July through September only, the baroque chiles en nogada -- comprising a chile stuffed with sweet-and-savory meat -- is one of my favorite Mexican dishes. (Again, thank the nuns.) Happy Cinco de Mayo.
a small town known for its bread, with my family every summer. There was a bakery on almost every corner. My favorite was the pan de Acámbaro, an oval-shaped loaf of bread that is similar in characteristics to Jewish challah -- slightly sweet and a little dense, with raisins. We ate it with fresh butter and a little bit of sugar sprinkled on top, or nata. My passion for Mexican food eventually led me to do my master’s thesis research on culinary tourism in Oaxaca. Last summer, I traveled to Oaxaca and worked with five cooking school instructors to learn about their individual enterprising skills in promoting Oaxaca as a culinary destination. I took more than 15 classes, learned new dishes and returned home with a love for indigenous Mexican cuisine. Here are five Oaxacan cooking schools I particularly enjoyed visiting. Each one provides a hands-on experience for travelers interested in exploring a new culture through food. 1. Alma de Mi Tierra, with Nora Valencia Alma de Mi Tierra’s cooking classes are $75 and promote authentic dishes of Oaxaca, and recipes passed down from Nora’s grandmother as well as some of her own creations. They begin at 9:30 a.m. and end by 3:00 p.m. Classes are hands-on, taught in English or Spanish in her quaint home kitchen, and include printed recipes, a local market tour, a mezcal tasting, and a four-course sit-down meal. Menus typically consist of a salsa, an appetizer, a soup, a main entrée, an agua fresca, and a dessert. Highlights:From Lesley: Today I'm running a guest post from Dolores Wiarco Dweck, whom I met in Oaxaca last year. She really impressed me with her passion for Oaxaca's cuisine and culture, and the research project she'd created to specifically learn about local cooking classes. Here's more from her. *** My love affair with Mexico’s culture and cuisine began in early childhood when I visited Acámbaro, Guanajuato,
- Nora’s friendly nature, bubbly personality, and historical insights allow students to learn about Mexican food, mercados, and the origins of various ingredients in a fun and interesting way.
- The cozy Mexican-style home kitchen offers an intimate experience for small groups.
- Family recipes (green mole) and Nora’s own creations (Khalua gelatin dessert) are an absolute treat.
- Oscar provides great explanations of different ingredients during the market tour, providing insight into the ceremonial uses of herbs and other products.
- Classes are relatively short, which leaves time for other afternoon activities.
- While the classes are quick, the variety of salsas and other menu items made is expansive. The menu typically includes several appetizers, at least four salsas, a main entrée, homemade ice cream, and agua fresca.
- Pilar offers a different perspective given her background as a food scientist-turned chef – plus she’s a master when it comes to squash blossom soup and desserts.
- While the menus are set and based on different moles, Pilar emphasizes the importance of improvisation depending on fresh and seasonal ingredients found during the market tour.
- The class includes an intimate and educational mezcal tasting and explanation led by Pilar before the meal.
- Reyna’s calm demeanor can put anyone at ease in the kitchen, and it's wonderful to learn from someone in the Zapotec community.
- The market tour in Teotitlán del Valle offers insights into Zapotec village life.
- The outdoor kitchen is great – students use traditional tools such as a clay comal (flat griddle used to roast ingredients), a metate (large stone tool used to grind maize, chocolate, or dried chiles and spices for mole), and a molcajete (stone pestle and mortar) to make salsa.
- Susana’s approachable personality and larger group classes offer opportunities to socialize and meet new people interested in cooking.
- This beautiful and spacious cooking school is located in the open countryside and has a good mix of modern and traditional cooking tools and appliances.
- The Etla market tour is incredible – students taste a ton of regional foods such as nicuatole (pre-Hispanic corn and sugar dessert), egg bread, hot chocolate, various tamales, ice creams and desserts that they might not otherwise taste while in Oaxaca.
Rebecca organized an excursion to Huaquechula and Atlixco, two towns not too far from Puebla city. Rebecca had gone to Huaquechula a few years earlier, and she'd had the kind of experience that you'd hope to have on an intimate holiday like Day of the Dead. Locals had invited her into their homes to view their altars, and to eat and drink a little something. Festival organizers had created a map of the neighborhood, so visitors could walk from house to house and peek in open doors. Somehow the place wasn't overrun by tourists. The Huaquechula festivities didn't start this year until at least 2 p.m., so beforehand we stopped in Atlixco, a pretty, quaint city known for its flowers. Here are some photos from the day. Rebecca said Huaquechula's festivities had grown considerably from the last time she visited. I admit I wasn't as interested in sitting around the center of town, which had carnival games, blaring music, food stands, and huge cups of beer edged in chile salt. The neatest part of the day was wandering the empty streets and greeting everyone with a cheerful "buenas tardes." And of course seeing the amount of beauty and detail that families had put into their altars, and the warmth they extended to strangers. Hope you had a meaningful Day of the Dead celebration this year, too.Due to a quirk in my travel schedule, I was able to spend this year’s Day of the Dead in Mexico. My friend
baba de nopal. When we took sips, little slimy strings stretched from our lips to the glass. It tasted slightly sour. Kinda funky. (Kinda like... rotting food?) The guava flavor was better. And the celery, even better: like a fresh, bright jugo, accented with heat from the chile-encrusted rim. From then on, my love affair with pulque didn't grow, but pulque culture fascinated me. This drink, made from fermented maguey sap, contained thousands of years of history -- priests drank it in pre-hispanic times for ceremonial purposes, and it rode a boom of popularity through Mexico's viceregal years. Pulque was currently booming now with young chilangos. I wanted to know: how was pulque really made? Where did pulque come from before it arrived at the bar? Finally, in early July, with the help of my friend Mojdeh (she runs a wonderful Mexico City-based tourism company called Journeys Beyond The Surface), my Eat Mexico guides and I were able to take a trip out to Tlaxcala. Mojdeh arranged for us to visit Nanacamilpa, a town in eastern Tlaxcala state whose agave farms supply at least one pulque bar (Las Duelistas) in Mexico City. It’s also home to a large operation that exports to the United States, although we didn’t end up visiting them. We left Mexico City, bleary-eyed, at 6:30 a.m. A few hours later -- after some windy highway roads, a dirt road through a forest, and a short, steep, rocky incline -- we arrived at a small farm. The place was beautiful. Fields of corn stretched into the hillside, and neat rows of agave splayed their wild medusa hair in all directions. The men here made pulque for local consumption only. They also planted quelites, apples, potatoes and fava beans. One of the workers there, Don Miguel, graciously attended us. He was a rough-hewn man in a leather jacket and rubber boots. (A bunch of wild herbs peeked out of one of his pockets, which we later found out were for his favorite type of tea.) He showed us around, explaining which agaves were ripe for harvesting, and how he’d eventually cut out a small piece of their core and scrape the inside, so the plant would start to secrete its own juices. This juice would be transferred to a large fiberglass bin, where it would mix with a bit of the pulque starter, and then left to ferment. The liquid turned into pulque after about four hours, Don Miguel said. It would generally last up to eight days. There were no other chemicals or additives involved. We wandered among the apple trees, the fruit dappled with dew in the chilly morning air. We met a few of the pigs. (From afar.) Don Miguel offered us a taste of lenguas, a type of quelite that grows like a weed on the farm. They reminded me a little of chivitos. At the end of a few hours, he gave us some more small souvenirs: a gorgeous wild mushroom, known locally as "yema de huevo," and a fresh mixiote, or the papery skin of the maguey leaf. The latter is used to steam meat or vegetables in Mexican cooking, and is usually wrapped around some sort of guisado. To peel the mixiote, Don Miguel first climbed inside a maguey plant -- literally; they're that big -- and then searched for the proper penca. He saw one and then gently tugged on its papery outer layer. Of course, we couldn't leave without trying the pulque. I'd hoped it would be the best pulque I'd ever tried, but it wasn't. It wasn't bad, either -- just the same thick, viscous, sort of tart drink I'd had before. This one, however, didn't smell bad. It smelled like plants and yeast. I drank about half a water bottle's worth (there were no cups there), and Don Miguel promptly filled up my bottle again for a second helping. I'm not sure if it was the cold air or the fact that I hadn't slept, but finishing up the pulque, I was, as they say in Mexico City, "happy." We ended our visit to Nanacamilpa with lunch at a local fonda, which had been arranged by Mojdeh's friend Gloria. There was only one table, so we crammed together in a spot not too far from the comal (which is actually the best seat in the house). Two women made us plates overflowing with tlacoyos, filled with alberjón as is typical in that area of Mexico, and various guisado-filled quesadillas. I'm already thinking about going back. We spent half the day there and we didn't see the market, or visit the larger pulque manufacturer who exports to the U.S. Next time! And next time I'm going to Hidalgo, too -- there's another pulque world that I haven't explored.My first pulque experience happened at La Pirata, a pulquería in the Escandón neighborhood where locals go to drink and play dominoes. My friend Jesica had warned me that pulque was an acquired taste, but I didn’t realize how much. The drink was thick and viscous, like
went to Tulum three years ago, and we loved it so much we decided to spend five days there this year. The beach is still spectacular, but the town didn't feel like the same place. New pricey hotels and restaurants lie along the beach road. There’s a Tulum aesthetic now: hand-painted signs meant to look weathered by the sun, open-air restaurants with lights hanging from the trees, bars with chalkboard menus that sell artisan mezcal and fresh-juice cocktails. It’s charming until you realize that it all looks the same, and the prices, for middling to below-average food, are double, triple and quadruple of what you'd pay in Mexico City. (This is along the beach -- you can still find cheap taquerías and street stands in town.) I know I sound nostalgic, but I liked how solitary the Tulum beach felt on our last trip. I liked the mix of casual and cool and rustic, and I liked that it still felt like Mexico. Of course everyone else did, too, which is why there are now more people than ever. Here's quick run-down of our trip, in case you're headed there anytime soon. TULUM LODGING & TRANSPORTATION We stayed at the Secret Garden hotel, the same place in town where we stayed last time. We paid about $63 USD per night for a room with air conditioning and a kitchenette, which I still think is a good value for your money. The hotel provides fruit and cookies for breakfast, and free tea and instant coffee. We made breakfast in our room a few times and ate in the garden, which was nice. We rented a car for fairly cheap through Budget at the Cancún airport. Usually we decline extra car rental insurance, as our credit card provides basic collision coverage. But the rental agent insisted that according to Quintana Roo law, we had to pay for third-party liability insurance, meaning any costs if we injured someone else in an accident. This cost an extra $20 USD per day. We asked him to show us the law, and he pulled up a page on the Internet that appeared to reinforce what he said. Anyone else ever have to deal with this? WHERE TO EAT Usually Crayton and I skimp on lodging so we can spend more money on food and sight-seeing. My favorite upscale restaurant -- worth every penny and then some -- was Hechizo, a small place with only three nightly seatings located at the end of the beach road. Chef Stefan Schober, who owns the restaurant with his pastry-chef wife, sat down at our table and recited us the menu, which changes daily depending on availability of ingredients. We ordered shrimp curry and steak, and ate every last lick of sauce, and every grain of rice off the plates. Another favorite in town was NaturALL, a cheery spot for a cheap Mexican or American-style breakfast. I liked the banana pancakes (expats in Mexico know how hard good pancakes are to find), the eggs with chaya, and the chewy, crisp toast. Good coffee and orange juice too, and they've got WiFi. For a heavier lunch or dinner, I loved the mole veracruzano at El Tábano, one of the older beach-road restaurants. (Tip: Bring bug spray when you're going out to eat, or ask the restaurant to lend you some.) We also liked Hartwood, an outdoor restaurant owned by two Americans (former New Yorkers). Crayton had a succulent grilled arrachera, and I had a spicy, peppery grilled fish served in a jícara with beans. The vibe is quirky and chill, like so much of Tulum now, and the cocktails were excellent. BEACH TIME Because our hotel wasn’t on the beach, Crayton and I had to choose a hotel or beach club to visit every day, or pick a section of public beach. Coco Hotel, one of my favorites, didn’t have beach-side drink or food service, but it did have hammocks and a covered area, which is good for people like us who aren’t sun-worshippers. The hotel restaurant, Juanita Diavola, also had decent pizza -- thinnish crust, not too much cheese. Better than a lot of places in Mexico City. My other favorite beach to laze away the afternoon was Zazil Kin, located just south of the Tulum ruins. You can rent beach chairs for 50 pesos per person, and a little cabana serves beer and potato chips. You could also snag a section of the public beach directly in front of them for free. We sat under a palapa all day and then walked down the beach for a late lunch at Mezzanine. I'd like to go back to Tulum, but I realized on this trip that I really want my own kitchen, and I want to be further away from the trendy masses. Have you found your own attitude about travel changing? How many trips does it take to really get to know a place?Crayton and I
We're here through Monday night. So far my favorite place to eat has been Hechizo, a quiet restaurant at the end of the beach road. (Thank you Liz for the recommendation.) The chefs, husband-and-wife team Stefan Schober and Hui Thai Low, source their ingredients daily, so the menu depends on what they find and like. I haven't had a meal where I've sent back nary a crumb in I'm not sure how long. If you are in Tulum, GO THERE. More of a full report to come sometime later, when I've gotten through my backlog of blog posts, and I'm back in the swing of things in DF. Hope you're enjoying the holiday season!
Mochomos, a fancy Sonoran fusion restaurant. It was the best steak I've had in a long time -- velvety, peppery and oozing bits of juice. The only hassle was trying to tell them I wanted the steak "medium rare"; apparently such a term doesn't exist in Ciudad Obregón. We settled on "entre término inglés y medio." I didn't get a picture of the steak because I ate it too quickly. But I did get a photo of Crayton's arrachera, so you can see what we're dealing with here: 2. Chile caribe stuffed with marlin. I didn't know the chile caribe until it came on the side of a hot dog we ordered at the Ciudad Obregón ball park. It was a squat, pale yellow thing, served simply, charred and unpeeled. The chile tasted buttery and spicy and almost sweet -- I loved that it wasn't overloaded with vinegar like the chiles encurtidos in DF. (Granted, I love me some chiles encurtidos, but sometimes you need a break.) At Los Arbolitos, a famous seafood restaurant chain throughout Sonora, the chiles caribes came stuffed with smoked marlin and rolled around in what tasted like bacon fat, all while lying in a little lagoon of soy sauce. It was umami overload. I wanted to squeal. 3. Hot Dogs. I had heard about the famous Sonora hot dogs before I visited, and in fact it was the only thing I told the bride that I needed to try. On our first night in Ciudad Obregón, we visited the local baseball stadium, where of course we ordered a dog, known as a "dogo" locally. It was a bacon-wrapped monster, wedged in a fluffy bun and drizzled with various toppings. (This is the hot-dog equivalent of a torta.) Stadium food in Mexico is usually middling to sub-par, but this thing was worthy of several rapturous Tweets. The salchicha's meaty flavor! The sweet burn of the chile caribe on the side! The bacon, the cheese! We had one more hot dog in Hermosillo, thanks to a taxi driver who shared his recommended spot with us. These buns were kept in a little metal steamer tray, and they tasted better than the ones at the stadium. They were soft and sweet, like a puffed-up version of the packaged hot dog buns we used to buy when I was a kid. On my next trip I want to try the sobaqueras -- flour tortillas so large you can swaddle a baby in them, and so thin they're nearly translucent. (Here's a neat sobaquera video, so you can get an idea of what they're like.) What else did I miss? Please share!A few weeks ago we were in Sonora for a wedding. It was only a four day trip, and most of the time we were busy with wedding activities. By the time we had to leave, though, I felt like my eyes had been opened. "Norteño food!" I wanted to shout from the rooftops. "NORTEÑO FOOD!" Sonoran food, in my brief experience, included excellent cuts of meat; seafood with the occasional Asian influence (soy sauce and whole chiles, anyone?) and interesting salsas, some with charred tomato, others with cucumber. Here's more about I loved the most from my quick trip: 1. The steak. I'm not a big red-meat eater, but I couldn't resist ordering a rib-eye at
tasajo. This was different. The smoke enveloped you, and lurking behind it all was some sort of savory flavor that I couldn’t identify. We first tried to get more information on carne de Chinameca at the Coatzacoalcos market. A row of young girls sold piles of the deep-red colored meat, and they waved floppy pieces at Janneth, Martha and I, with their hands sheathed in plastic grocery bags. “Pásale guerita!” they called, shaking the meat. We stopped and asked the girls about the marinade. They shrugged, saying the meat was brought to them directly from Chinameca. A woman at the end of the row overheard us and said, “Tiene achiote and pimentón.” Annatto seed and paprika. We wanted more information, so the following afternoon we drove to Chinameca, about 30 minutes from Coaztacoalcos. I sort of expected to see a Texas Hill Country-type thing, with smokers parked on the roadside. It wasn’t like that -- Chinameca turned out to be a collection of well-kept single-story houses, a pharmacy, a taquería. The only sign that it was a barbecue paradise were two open-air stands on the outskirts of town, both of which appeared to be smoking meat. The first stand, an open-air wooden shack with a cobbled-together roof, had an obscene cluster of longaniza draped over the grill, dripping and smoking and hanging like a fresh pile of entrails. The owner, a friendly woman, explained that the marinade contained chile guajillo, achiote and pimentón. She first cooked the longaniza on the grill and then smoked for it two to three hours, using pine, nanche or mango tree branches. (That's when I realized: that flavor I couldn't identify probably came from the wood.) She told us about the other woman in town who made carne de Chinameca too. But when we drove over there and Janneth yelled in the window and that lead dried up, we found ourselves back at the friendly woman's stand, gently prying for more information. She let us observe her two young charges, teenage girls, who stood with their arms dunked halfway into a big plastic bucket, a stew of achiote and raw pork and water. One of the girls, who wore big hoop earrings and a beaded necklace with a saint's face dangling off the end, removed her hands and rubbed an almond-sized piece of achiote paste into her palm, almost like soap. Then dragged her pasty red hand across the surface of the ground pork. This would eventually become longaniza -- the pork stomach casings lay nearby. "You have to scrub the achiote like this, because if you just toss it in with the meat, it won't dissolve and you'll just have a little ball in there," she said. Janneth and I nodded knowingly. I wanted to take pictures but thought that would be too invasive. So we purchased a kilo of meat and said goodbye, the teenagers with their hands in the buckets still when we left. At the next stand, only 30 feet away at most, another family grilled reddish-orange filets at a grill set back from the street. We asked the young woman at the rustic counter if we could go back for a closer look, and she gave us a curt nod. About a half-dozen people stood around the grill, and they all sort of stared at us. Janneth, as usual, explained. “We just wanted to see how the carne de Chinameca is smoked.” No one said anything. A young girl of about 10 wore a taquería apron that was too big for her, and she helped an older man cut a huge slice of pork, holding back raw pieces of fat and skin back so he could make a clean cut. We looked for a few seconds more and went back to the counter, where we bought a kilo of gorgeous, reddish-black, fleshy ribs. In the end, I didn't get a recipe, but that’s not exactly what I wanted. We learned the basic elements of the marinade. We learned that you've got to get your hands and forearms in there, and that handmade achiote paste -- the basic stuff, without any seasonings -- is a key ingredient. We learned that the kids start young. And, because it's Mexico, that people will usually answer your questions even if you're a stranger knocking on their door. Someday when I have a backyard, I might make my own longaniza and suspend it over the grill, letting it drip its own fat down into the kindling. I'll rub the achiote with my bare hands, and I’ll remember being in small-town Veracruz and searching for a secret.It was one of those only-in-Mexico moments: my friend Janneth, yelling into the open window of a stranger’s home. “Señora!” she called. The living room on the other side of the screen was dark. But an older woman’s voice answered back, from somewhere in the depths of the house. “What do you want?” Janneth replied honestly. “We want to learn how you make your carne de Chinameca! They told us it’s very good.” (Important fact: in Mexico, no one ever asks who “they” is.) We waited a few seconds. Then came the woman’s muffled reply: “I’m busy.” We had ended up there because we’d become a little obsessed with finding out the secrets of carne de Chinameca, a type of smoked meat that’s popular in Southern Veracruz. I didn’t even realize that barbecue -- American-style barbecue -- existed in that area of Mexico. Carne de Chinameca reminded me a lot of what norteamericanos might eat on the Fourth of July: a smoky, crispy-grilled meat that tasted like coals and campfire and being outside. I had first tried it on a picadita in Catemaco and it was a jolt to the brain. This wasn’t the salty, cured taste of
Coatzacoalcos for months, ever since she came back from Coatza one day and started telling me about all the things she saw there that didn't exist in Mexico City -- tubs of small freshwater fish, crackery tortillas, and puffy, airy quesadillas called empanadas, which were served covered in shredded cabbage. Crayton and I finally had some free days in September so we decided to take a long weekend. Coazta isn't usually where folks stop in Veracruz. It’s an oil town along the state's southern edge, and nobody really goes there unless they work for Pemex or they know someone who works for Pemex. There is a beach but no one swims in it. One person commented on my Instagram feed that I should visit other cities in Veracruz, because Coatza was bastante “feíto.” (Ugly.) Coatza has nothing in the way of cool architecture or museums -- a reviewer on Trip Advisor called their Museum of Olmec Culture "a pirated version of Epcot Center" -- but it’s got good food, which makes it a perfectly reasonable destination in my eyes. After this trip I’m more convinced than ever that good food can be found anywhere in Mexico, even the most feíto towns. The best of Coatza: gorditas and markets Janneth grew up in Coatzacoalcos (her dad retired from Pemex), and she graciously offered to not only drive, but let us stay at her parents' house. Our first morning there we drove to La Picadita Jarocha for breakfast, a bustling cafe open to the street. She insisted we try the balloony sweet gorditas, made with masa speckled with anise seeds and stuffed with mole. They arrived liked little bubbles, and then we cut them open to reveal the mole underneath. I cannot tell you how good these things were. Afterward we wandered around Coatza's market with Janneth’s mother Martha, a wonderful cook and local food expert. She pointed out more things I’d never seen: black camarones reculones, called as such because they walk backward; little nubs of homemade achiote paste, and hoja blanca leaves used to wrap tamales. She also showed me the cracker-like totopos that came from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where she’s from. I'd seen them before outside the 20 de Noviembre Market in Oaxaca, but they seemed to be more prolific here. Then we made a quick stop at Janneth's aunt's restaurant to watch the staff make tamales de masa colada. I'd never actually seen masa colada up close -- it's a tamal dough made from nixtamalized corn that's cooked almost to a Cream-of-Wheat consistency. A team of two women worked fast on the back patio, laying down an hoja blanca leaf, a banana leaf, a heaping spoonful of masa colada and then chicken, epazote and red chile sauce. Then they wrapped everything neatly and tying the tamal with a little knot. I tried to make one and the sauce oozed out one end. We ended the day at an open-air restaurant with a dirt floor called Tio Chon, located off the old two-lane road to Minatitlán. Janneth instructed us on the proper Coatzacoalcosian way to eat camarones enchipotlados -- place the whole shrimp in your mouth, suck off the sauce, then dip it in more sauce when no one is looking. (Her mom immediately told us, don't do it that way, she's wrong.) The Minatitlán market Crayton was not exactly enthused to visit another market, but he was powerless against the trio of Janneth, Martha and I, who could together probably spend eight hours talking to vendors and scribbling down recipe notes. We visited another market -- the Mercado Popular Campesino -- in Minatitlán, a small town about 20 minutes from Coatzacoalcos. The heat was stifling even at 10 a.m. Ladies in checkered smocks, their faces shiny with sweat, sold various vines and fruits and vegetables, some of which I hadn't seen at the Coazta market the day before. We tried pópo, a beverage made from toasted cacao beans, rice, cinnamon and a vine called asquiote. One vendor was selling asquiote, too, which excited all of us to no end. "Look, it's asquiote!" I told Crayton. He just looked at me and continued checking his Blackberry. I loved the tortillas de frijol, a crispy plate of a tortilla -- sort of like a tlayuda -- made from masa mixed with beans. Martha said you eat it with cheese and very hot salsa. I bought one and munched on it while we shopped. There was one more food-related activity -- hunting down the famous carne de Chinameca -- but I'll save that for the next post. After only a few days together, I told Janneth and Martha that we should plan another trip together, to Martha's hometown in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in 2013. If we do go... sorry Crayton, you're not coming.Janneth and I had talked about me visiting her in
San Pedro Atocpan is a little town about an hour southeast of Mexico City, nestled in the foothills near Milpa Alta. It's actually closer to the state of Morelos than it is to the Centro Histórico, which is sort of crazy. I like it there. The town is quiet and charming, and some of the streets are cobblestone. I kid Crayton -- or am I kidding? -- that I want a country house there someday. Every year, San Pedro hosts a sprawling, colorful mole fair on the outskirts of town. This year I was finally able to go. The fair is worth a visit if you're in the city and don't mind the hike getting down there. San Pedro Atocpan's Mole Fair We arrived at 10 a.m., a little too early for the weekday. Most stands weren't open and the morning air felt too chilly for my flimsy sweater. Within an hour, things were bustling. Vendors sold clay pots, wool sweaters (bought one), embroidered wool ponchos and jackets, and a hearty, nutty drink called atole de novia, a mix of toasted red corn, cinnamon, hazelnuts and almonds. (I scribbled down the recipe and hope to give it a try once I'm in town for more than four days.) The mole lay in another huge section of the fair. (Tip: definitely bring walking shoes, because the roads are dirt and uneven.) Young people held out tastes of mole paste on plastic spoons, and plastic tubs overflowed with mole paste arranged in various artistic formations. One tub of mole was studded with what looked like Jordan almonds, and I asked the woman whether they came with the paste. She looked at me, sort of annoyed. "It's a decoration." More than a dozen pop-up sort of restaurants sold a variation on the same thing -- quesadillas made on blue, green and pink colored tortillas; mole with turkey, and in some cases, chile-rubbed rabbit. The stands' rustic, open-air look reminded me of the ones you see crossing over the mountains into Puebla. My friend Ruth and I ate breakfast and wandered through the fair, buying a few goodies but no mole since I already have too much paste at home. It was a great way to spend an afternoon. How to Get There The Feria Nacional Del Mole runs in San Pedro Atocpan through this Sunday, Oct. 28. It's located on the edge of San Pedro, just off the main road, on the right-hand side if you're driving south. (You can't miss it.) Driving there is easiest, but you could also take the Tren Ligero to Xochimilco and get a cab. My friend who lives in San Pedro told me yesterday (10-24-12) that the Milpa Alta pesero is temporarily out of service, because it struck a pedestrian a few weeks ago. To drive, you'd want to arrive to Xochimilco and take a right on the road that says "Milpa Alta" just after the Centro Deportivo de Xochimilco. From there you'd follow the Milpa Alta & Mole Fair signs all the way to San Pedro. Google Maps also has accurate directions.