Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Comida Mexicana-a la Poblana

O.K., so let's talk about comida poblana. As you might already know (or perhaps not) the cuisine in México is quite varied and distinct from province to province, and sometimes even from town to town. The last portion of our trip was spent in Puebla, the capitol city of the province with the same name, it is one of México's oldest Spanish cities, founded in 1531. Puebla is renown for its distinctive colonial architecture, Talavera ceramics (pictured left), onyx crafts, textile industry, and...drumroll please......it's savory cuisine. Just before we left on our trip, I had seen an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, in which Guy goes to Chicago to eat at Cemitas Puebla, whose specialty is the cemita poblana. A cemita, is basically a Mexican sandwich served on a fluffy sesame-seeded egg roll. Additionally, the ingredients are usually restricted to sliced avocado, some kind of meat, white cheese (specifically queso oaxaca), onions, salsa roja, and a kind of bitter herb called pápalo. Needless to say, I was amped up to try a cemita before I even got on the plane. When I did, I ordered mine with ternera (veal), but a wide variety of meats were available for the choosing including carnitas (a type of pulled pork), milanesa (breaded pork), riñones (kidneys), etc, etc, etc. Wow! Amazing sandwich! Quick, cheap and absolutely delicious, this is the kind of snack you would stop to eat two or three or four of on your way home from work.

I already went in to detail about the famous Chiles en Nogada I ate at La Fonda de Santa Clara in a previous post, but I failed to mention what Lissa ordered that night...the legendary mole poblano. Here served over enchiladas, this ultra-rich, spicy, time-consuming, national treasure of a sauce is as emblematic as it is enigmatic. Everyone has a recipe for mole, everyone claims theirs to be the best, and every recipe is distinct in some way. Apparently there are conflicting opinions on the origin of this great sauce, one story being that nuns in Puebla created it for a visiting Archbishop in the 16th century, the other that Moctezuma prepared it for Cortez and his men upon their arrival, thinking that they were gods (specifically Queztalcoatl). I will only make one point here with regard to the dispute so to not go in to detail ad nauseum. In their book The True History of Chocolate, Michael and Sophie Coe claim the Moctezuma legend to be false because "The idea of using chocolate as a flavoring in cooked food would have been horrifying to the Aztecs—just as Christians could not conceive of using communion wine to make, say, coq au vin." O.K., fair enough, but the Aztecs thought they were in the presence of GODS! Christians might not be too worried about slipping some communion wine into their coq au vin were it to be presented to the RESURRECTED MESSIAH. You sure as hell aren't just gunna use 2-buck Chuck! They would probably make some host bread pudding to boot! What would he care, it's his body. I do think the Coe's argument is flawed, but really I just want Moctezuma to get some credit, all he's known for is wreaking havoc and the gi tract of travelers, and the Puebla nuns already get credit for chiles en nogada... O.K., I digress, on to the ingredients. As I said, everyone has their own version, and some recipes have 30 or more ingredients (the original recipe supposedly had more than 100 ingredients!!), but typically mole poblana will contain at least most or all of the following ingredients:
  • mulato chiles, pasilla chiles, ancho chiles (often up to 10 different types of dried chiles are used)
  • vegetable oil or lard
  • cloves, black peppercorns, Mexican cinnamon stick, anise seeds, coriander seeds, sesame seeds
  • garlic
  • raisins
  • almonds, pumpkin seeds
  • tortillas, stale rolls
  • chicken broth
  • Mexican chocolate
I'm exhausted just explaining what goes in it! Hopefully that give you an idea of the flavors that held within this celebrated salsa. If you have the time and the desire to prepare a mole, there are plenty of recipes on the web, but I will not include any here. One day, I will attempt to prepare a mole...and it will likely require, the entire day.

Another rich and complex dish I enjoyed in Puebla (though not as rich nor as complex as mole) was pipián rojo. Here is a (somewhat blurry) photo taken at Mesón Sacristía de la Compañia, one of the cutest Hotel/Restaurants I have ever seen...bright pink and purple walls, with skeletons and angels everywhere you turn, talavera adorning the walls and and as a platter for your food. Alas, I must admit, the chicken was quite dry. The sauce however, was exquisite. Here is link to The Dining Diva, who posted a recipe and her process making red pipián. This night Lissa had the cazuelita poblana, which was truly excellent. Succulent beef simmered in a spicy both with herbs and vegetables, cooked and served in an earthenware pot. If ordering the best dish were a competition, she won.

Now on to something a bit less sophisticated, but no less impressive. Tacos. In particular, I am talking about tacos arabes, or 'arabian tacos'. In Puebla, shawarma was introduced by the numerous Middle-Eastern immigrants, mostly from Lebanon, but also Turkey and Iraq, in the early 1920s. "The traditional spit-roasted meat called shawarma became the filling for tacos arabes, now most frequently made with pork instead of lamb, and marinated in a chile-flavored paste. Rolled in thick wheat tortillas and served with chipotle sauce, they are still clearly recognizable as a version of shawarma, as are tacos al pastor, a variation of tacos arabes in which the meat is roasted with a thick slice of pineapple atop the stack of thinly sliced pork. (The stack of meat is called a trompa, for its resemblance to a toy top, tapering to a narrow bottom.) When served on a corn tortilla instead of pan arabe, they are called tacos orientales" (taken from mexconnect.com).

I had my first tacos arabes at a place called Don Pastor, and then had a couple more at Tacos Tony. Now, I have messed with some tacos al pastor, in fact, a whole lot them, but these are definitely distinct in flavor and then also because of the pita-like bread. They were wonderful. Especially with all of these amazing salsas to drizzle over them. I couldn't decide which one I liked the best. There is no doubt, though, that tacos arabes are some of my favorite tacos now. We only have about 500 taquerias in Santa Cruz, I know there's a poblano in town somewhere, can we start making tacos arabes somewhere please.

Also ingested in Puebla, were chalupas. These were fun for me because I have a sort of history with chalupas, specifically with something called a 'chalupa boat.' The school lunch program's menu offers this 'something called a chalupa boat', and it is basically just beans and ground meat served in one of those two-compartment aluminum lunch trays. My students were rightfully confused and dismayed upon peeling back the foil to reveal refried 'blah' and ground 'bleck' after having their culinary appetites wettened by the alluring title of 'chalupa boat.' So it became a running joke, whenever they would complain about the quality of the school lunches, I would ask, "But what about the chalupa boats?? They're my favorite!" Now, after my travels to Puebla, I can tell them of the wonders of true chalupas. Very simple, yet like so many other items on the Mexican menu, very tasty. As you may be able to make out from the picture, these chalupas (in essence a fried tortilla) are topped with salsa verde or salsa rojo, and shredded chicken, though I read pork is also commonly used.

As with my travels in Veracruz, I did not get to try everything Puebla has to offer. Alas, it was not the right time of year for escamoles (ant larvae). I did get to try lots of great regional food, and luckily for me, Puebla has plenty of it. I love México, and I love Mexican food, so I am sure that eventually I will be eating from a poblano table or kitchen once again. Until then, I will have to be happy with the (mostly) "standard" Mexican fair available to me here in the Cruz. So, I'll see you over at Tacos Moreno, or downtown at Cafe Campesino.el churrero

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