san pedro atocpan
I'm still not an expert at making corn tortillas without a press, but I was in awe of this woman at the Mole Festival in San Pedro Atocpan. Her name is Bertha Reyes Romero and she was the quesadilla-maker at one of the restaurants. Her hands worked so fast that I asked if I could take a video, and she said yes.
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.
I'm friendly with the guy who sells me chiles and mole paste at Mercado Medellín. Over the years we've talked about me visting him in San Pedro Atocpan, the village where he lives, about 90 minutes southeast of the city center. San Pedro is part of the delegación de Milpa Alta, which, along with Tlalapan, makes up the southernmost area of the Distrito Federal. (Think about that. You can ride a bus for 90 minutes in this city and you're still within the city limits.) A few weeks ago I finally had a weekend free, and so Crayton and I and our friend Chris rode the pesero out to San Pedro early one Sunday morning. The bus took us through Xochimilco, and then on a windy, two-lane road lined with cactus and corn. San Pedro is known for its mole, so I figured we'd check out a few markets and then have mole for lunch. I didn't count on being completely hypnotized by the food. The Milpa Alta Market Once arriving in San Pedro, we took another pesero to Milpa Alta, a slightly larger city nestled in the hills. The produce there was even more gorgeous than in Xochimilco. At a tianguis in front of the market, vendors sold local bluish-red corn, rabbits, herbs I'd never seen, quelites, and piles of wild mushrooms. This was just on the sidewalk. Erik, my friend, ushered us inside the market and vendors were selling wild mushroom tamales. I've never seen or heard of a wild mushroom tamale in three years of living in Mexico City. It was divine -- picture meaty bits of mushroom, soaked in a green chile sauce. A home-cooked meal in San Pedro Atocpan I was happy just having gone to the tianguis in Milpa Alta. But Erik and his family had prepared a big spread for us at his house, with several local foods: mixiotes, esquites, fava bean salad, three types of mole. Everything tasted just as good as it looked. When in San Pedro Atocpan... try the chicharrón There was a bowl of chicharrón on the table at Erik's house, and I'm telling you, it was the best chicharrón I've had, ever. It was this deep-brown caramel color, and thick and crunchy, not like the wimpy beige stuff I usually see in the markets where I live. I asked Erik why it was so good and he said: "It's homemade." I thought all chicharrón in Mexico was homemade? If anyone out there knows the difference between the two chicharrónes -- the beige, more mainstream variety and the rustic dark-brown stuff -- I'd love to hear about it. I'm planning another visit out there hopefully in the next few months. If you're interested in visiting yourself, San Pedro Atocpan is hosting a mole festival through the end of October.