Mole Poblano, Chile Poblano… where in the world do these Poblanos come from? I discovered they all came from Puebla.
Again, I was fortunate to be invited to a coffee convention in Puebla, Mexico. Only two hours’ drive from Mexico City, Puebla has a rich history, with its old world charm and traditions very much evident everywhere. The people are warm, courteous, and one of the most helpful I have met in Latin America. (OJO! FYI, Mexico kasi is considered part of North America as it occupies same land mass as US and Canada. )
It is easy to go around the city—whether on a Turibus, an open double-decker bus that takes tourists around the various neighborhoods of Puebla for a whole hour. Or there is Uber and local taxis. The local cabs have no meters so some negotiation must first happen before coming onboard. I found Uber much simpler and dependable, too, even late in the evening.
I was invited to a green park called Parque Ecologico and, together with a group, led to The Italian Coffee Company, an interesting name for a national coffee chain, which is located in a two-storey open structure with a long balcony and al fresco seating outside. We spent most of our first day here, enjoying the company of women in the coffee trade from all over the world.
In the evening, we met the owner of the coffee company and were introduced to Puebla Governor José Antonio Gali, a most charming man who hosted our dinner at the courtyard of the historic Hotel Boutique Casa Reyna. It was a perfect spot for a dinner fortified by red wine and shots of tequila, Mexican corn soup and hot vegetable salsa.
We had time during the five-day summit to go around the city and discover the local fare. Our first adventure was a stop at a public market where about 10 vendors—yes, 10, at least—offered us Cemitas, a national sandwich that originated in Puebla. Our buns were packed high with heaps of vegetables, onions, peppers, our choice of Milanese meat patties, and topped with strands of Oaxaca cheese. I was in awe of the huge one-meter wide, one-foot high bread baskets filled with the special bread. And the cheese! I saw five or six people just working on the wheels of cheese, shredding and detangling them for the string- like portions of the sandwiches. In another corner, three people were pounding the pork cutlets into thinner patties that would go into the Milanese version. As I was too early for lunch, I could just imagine the crowd that would come for this iconic meal.
Our other nice stop was the Centro Historico de Puebla, a typical square with a plaza in the center designed by the Spanish colonizers in 1531, where the governor’s palace and the Puebla Cathedral are located. The site is impressive for the preservation of its Spanish-influenced architecture. and apparently it became the model square that would be replicated in other cities, including Mexico City. All around the square are cobblestone-paved streets that lead to more churches and more branches of the Italian Coffee Company (they have 20 in Puebla and 200 all over Mexico). Souvenir stores abound for Puebla’s famous hand-embroidered blouses, dresses and men’s shirts. Tourists snatch up pottery and ceramic ware—plates and bowls made in typical Poblano style.
Puebla also has a penchant for sweets—familiar sweetened caramelized peanuts and sesame candies, lots of local pastries in bright colors and coffee beans. Our hosts gave us plates of sweets to take home as souvenirs of our short but sweet stay in the historic square.
We had the chance to visit Restaurant El Mural de Los Poblanos to try a Nopal salad, which turned out to be cactus. It is a little slimy like okra, but wonderful to the bite as a salad served with black sesame and rice nachos. I thought those were friendly green peppers in my salad, but was pleasantly surprised to have cactus in my meal. I was curious , too, about mole. So a degustacion of mole (samples) was in order—green pipian, adobo mole, and three more samples increasing in heat intensity or scovills.
Still in El Mural, I surveyed the trolley of mezcal and sotol bottles, different kinds of tequila-like spirits. I learned that all tequilas are mezcals but not all mezcals are tequila. It was also time to try a sotol, another agave liquor. One of the waitstaff introduced it to me slowly. He asked that I pour first a small quantity on my palm, rub it, and smell it. Then he let me decide which 40- proof (40%) drink I would like to try. Interestingly, tequila or good mescal is chased with sangria served in a shot glass beside a shot of the clear spirit.
Another place worth visiting is the Cultura Café, across the Museo Bellas Artes. Here, we were offered an assortment of coffee from different parts of Mexico—Altura, Vera Cruz, or whatever we wanted to try in an espresso, a macchiato or even an iced latte. The third wave café prides itself in promoting coffee they source directly from farmers around the coffee-producing state. It reminded me of our new cafés in Manila staffed by younger coffee geeks who know a thing or two about local coffee.
And, finally, we came to a dining place near our hotel, the Moyuelo on Avenida Juarez. Here, we had a tourist version of Cemita, a nice Lentil soup, and a very good arugula salad with beets and goat cheese. Also rated as one of the better restos in Puebla, Moyuela has an al fresco area and an English-speaking staff, which makes it easy for those struggling with Spanish.
A few days in Puebla had been fun and a food adventure for me. I still will want to go back for Chiles en Nogada, and more of the natural fruits like melon (cantaloupe) and mangoes (the Mexican kind), those sweet and regular potato chips freshly fried and smothered with chili sauce that are sold in small carts along the roadside. The people are warm and hospitable. A few, during our forays in the city, greeted us with “konnichiwa” thinking we were Japanese or with the more popular “ni hao” thinking we were Chinese. We taught them a little Filipino—“salamat” and “kamusta” (which sounds like como estas). We related to them our own journey as a people colonized by Spain in 1521. Mexico and the Philippines have many similarities, indeed.