Virtuoso Traveler 2018 December Puebla: Mexico's Kitchen

Puebla: Mexico's Kitchen

Puebla’s Temple of San Francisco Acatepec.
Puebla’s Temple of San Francisco Acatepec.
Photo by Susanne Kremer/Huber Images/Estock Photo 
With its intricately worked silver doors, opulent gilded churches, and brightly hued baroque buildings, Puebla looks good enough to eat. But the illusion matches reality: Mexico’s fourth-largest metropolis, some 85 miles southeast of Mexico City, has long been celebrated by in-the-know epicures. Puebla “truly is Mexico’s kitchen,” says Fort Worth, Texas-based Virtuoso travel advisor Tiffany Figueiredo. “You’ll be surprised and delighted by the depth of culinary offerings here – whether you’re grabbing tacos al pastor and chapulines (roasted grasshoppers) from a street cart or enjoying a mole tasting at a high-end restaurant.” Mauricio Hanna, a Virtuoso advisor from Austin who frequently visits Puebla, loves its blend of past and present foodways. “The city’s traditional recipes date back centuries,” he says, “and many are now being reinterpreted by emerging chefs. It’s time to share that bounty with the world.” Ready for a taste? Follow our lead.

Candy Land

Take a tour through Puebla’s Museo Internacional del Barroco, and you’ll discover that baroque – a seventeenth- and eighteenth-century artistic movement originating in Europe – was the stuff of elaborate dreams. Under the ruling Spaniards, the ornate, dramatic style found its way to Mexico and pervaded Puebla culture – from fashion to art, music to architecture. On the city’s renowned Calle de los Dulces (Sweets Street), in the UNESCO World Heritage- listed city center, baroque manifests not just in the colorful historic buildings, but also in the fanciful snacks being sold. True to its name, Sweets Street is home to a bevy of family-owned bakeries and candy stores, brimming with beautifully curated, handmade goods. Choose from caramels, coconut confections, waxy skull candies, and camotes, Puebla’s signature treats, made from sweet potatoes. And be sure to collect a cache of tortitas de Santa Clara, a frosted shortbread cookie found in nearly every shop.

<em>Camotes</em> for sale on Sweets Street.
Camotes for sale on Sweets Street.
Photo by Eye Ubiquitous/Alamy

Tacos With a Twist

As eclectic as baroque itself, Puebla’s populace hails from a range of cultures. Immigrants from the Middle East exhibit their legacy in various ways, not least in the culinary scene. Melding Mexican flavors with cooking techniques brought from Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon in the nineteenth century, tacos árabes might seem unexpected to tourists, though they’re undisputedly the city’s favorite fast food. Made with lime- and chipotle-seasoned pork that’s roasted on a spit, the gyro-fashioned tacos are wrapped in pita-style bread, rather than tortillas, and can be found in family-owned restaurants across town. Start at one of the first venues to serve them, Antigua Taquería La Oriental, which opened in 1933 across from the Puebla Cathedral. Though no longer in its original location, the taqueria has outposts in a number of city spots, including a popular, centrally located address just off Puebla’s main zocalo (plaza).

Puebla’s colorful Callejón de los Sapos (Alley of the Toads).
Puebla’s colorful Callejón de los Sapos (Alley of the Toads).
Photo by Diego Grandi/Alamy

Cantina Capers

According to local lore, if you haven’t been to La Pasita, you don’t really know Puebla – the city center’s oldest cantina has been drawing imbibers for decades. Nearly 60 years ago, the owners invented a sweet, potent raisin liqueur, purportedly to help drum up business. Served in a shot-size tequila glass known as a caballito, the ever-popular drink, called pasita (“little raisin”), costs just a few dollars; you’ll find it garnished with a cube of pungent cheese and a raisin. The bar also pours a variety of artisanal drinks, whimsically divided into three categories: beginner, intermediate, and professional. Don’t leave without a sip of rompope, conceived by the (supposedly) teetotal nuns of Convent Santa Clara. Made from a varied recipe of ground almonds, eggs, rum, cinnamon, milk, and sugar, the drink ranks as a Pueblan favorite for holidays and celebrations.

That’s the Sauce

The Puebla area boasts some 365 churches; in them, convents once flourished, and cloistered nuns dedicated themselves to cooking to pass the time. According to popular belief, mole (as well as many of Puebla’s other most esteemed recipes) originated in the nunneries, the result of sisters hoping to please their superiors. Prepared from a slew of ingredients as seemingly contradictory as chocolate, ancho chiles, peanuts, raisins, and sesame seeds, each version of mole is a chef’s treasured secret. Taste some of the city’s finest at El Mural de los Poblanos. Offering traditional mole atop turkey or chicken (plus many other dishes), the buzzy eatery also excels at variations such as pipián verde, a green mole made with pumpkin seeds. “I ate some of the best enchiladas I’ve ever had at El Mural,” says Hanna. “If you can’t choose a favorite mole, order the restaurant’s mix-to-taste option with three flavors.”

Casareyna’s mole medley.
Casareyna’s mole medley.
Photo by Adam Wiseman

Patriotic Plate

Red, white, and green, chiles en nogada resembles the Mexican flag and reigns as the country’s most nationalistic dish. Typically a seasonal offering, it begins to appear in restaurants in July, coinciding with the start of walnut season, and lasts until at least September 16, Mexican Independence Day. Comprising a poblano pepper filled with picadillo (minced meat, which often includes dried fruit), the dish is then smothered with creamy walnut sauce and topped with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and parsley. Sample a family recipe dating back generations at Casareyna, located in a historic building and widely considered one of the best places to eat in all of Mexico. You can also learn to cook chiles en nogada yourself at the Rosewood Puebla hotel, which offers a variety of set and bespoke culinary classes.

Puebla pride: Chiles en nogada.
Puebla pride: Chiles en nogada.
Photo by Adam Wiseman

Stay 

Culinary pursuits at the 78-room Rosewood Puebla include chef-led market strolls and Mexican wine and tequila tastings. At the hotel’s four culinary venues, Veracruz-born chef Jonathan Alvarado Jiménez sources locally, offering Mexican recipes with an international touch learned during his tenures at Mexico City’s Pujol and abroad. Nightcaps come in the form of premium mezcals at Bar Los Lavaderos and meticulously made margaritas paired with views of Puebla and its surrounding volcanoes at the Rooftop Bar.

Premier King accommodations at Rosewood Puebla.
Premier King accommodations at Rosewood Puebla.
Photo by Rosewood Puebla

Explore

Your travel advisor can work with one of Virtuoso’s on-site tour connections, Journey Mexico, to craft a private Puebla journey tailored to your interests. Recommended insider experiences range from cooking classes at Meson Sacristía de la Compañía and ceramic hand-painting workshops at Uriarte Talavera to expert-led looks at Museo Internacional del Barroco and the nearby Great Pyramid of Cholula.

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