For the last installment of our Semana Santa series, we hope you enjoy some food photographs from Puebla and Cholula, Mexico.
I keep posting photos of esquites because I’m hoping someone in our neighborhood will take it upon themselves to add chile to their esquites recipes.
This vendor even added a dash of the omnipresent Mole Poblano.
- Detail of Esquites Poblanas
In the public square in Cholula, this vendor was serving up tepache, fermented pineapple juice with cloves, cinnamon, and sugar. You can add lime and chile, and while cool and refreshing, the taste just didn’t floor me.
Also in Cholula’s zocalo, we tried a local cocoa drink. It was served cold and with copious ammounts of chocolate foam that had a consistency more like mousse. It may be called popo, (after one fo the nearby volcanoes) but unfortunately, I’m not certain.
Possibly the best reason to visit Mexico soon is the exchange rate. During my visit, the peso was trading to the dollar at about 13-1. Do the math on these prices and take into consideration this restaurants location staring straight at the facade of Puebla’s cathedral and you’ve got quite a steal.
One of the suprise highlights of Mexican cuisine was the taco arabe. A thick flour tortilla is stuffed with meat (in this case al pastor), cilantro, onions, and melted cheese. It’s rolled and served with lime and salsa on the side. I keep hearing rumors of two taco arabe trucks, one on Olympic in East LA and another in Echo Park, but can’t ever seem to find them when I’m in the neighborhood. If they’re half this good, it will be worth the effort.
Just to interrupt the nonstop procession of mole poblano, I tried the pipian and was sorely disappointed. The sauce is typically made with pumpkin seeds and other spices and should give off an earthy, spicy taste. This pipian was bland and about the best compliment I can give is that it tasted better than it looked.
The local panaderia was another supplicant to my “I work for a periodical” ruse. I tasted some pretty good bread free of charge as long as I promised to promote the brand. Per the sign, Panaderia Blanca has been in business for 87 years (or at least 87 years since they remodled their sign).
Panaderia La Blanca
Puebla’s eponymous mole was really the treat of the trip. These enchiladas with mole at La Mural de Puebla were excellent. Nothing in our neighborhood comes close to it (sorry Cinamon and El Arco Iris). Only Moles la Tia in East L.A. is comparable.
Enchiladas with Mole Poblano
Tortilla soup made in front of you was also excellent. Something I’ll be trying for my Cinco de Mayo party is the Tamarind Margarita on the left. It didn’t change my life, but it was a sweet twist on a drink that I sometimes find too bitter.
Puebla’s food isn’t the only thing worth tasting in town. In the foreground, we have a menjul. Essentially, it’s a Mexican mojito (substituting dark rum for light and adding a few minor ingredients). It was a nice change of pace from the lime and salt heavy michiladas.
Menjul and Michilada
Finally, and thank you for your persistence if you’ve come this far, is the cemita poblana. I’d love to say that the classic poblana sandwitch has been inauthentically bastardized in these parts, but the truth is that this cemita was inferior to Cemitas Tepeaca.
I suppose there is something appropriate about opening a vegetarian-friendly restaurant on Good Friday. (I have Catholicism on the mind these days.) Diep Tran opened her new American dinette meets Vietnamese restaurant last week and I finally had the opportunity to go yesterday. Without glorious food photos (but I promise more Mexican food pictures shortly), I’ll keep this review brief. We ordered one lime soda and one orange soda which were good, but probably not worth $3.50 each and also not as quality (think loaded with sugar) as Pho 79 in Alhambra. Since you can currently bring in your own alcohol, I’d go that route instead. For dinner, we ordered the spicy fries, a small order of vegetarian pho, and the curry pot pie. The spicy fries weren’t really spicy but were still very good with basil, garlic, and an Asian dipping sauce. The pho was tasty and on the sweet side. For only $5, it’s a nice deal if you want to dine out but don’t have much of an appetite. The curry pot pie was good but not great. A little more chicken might help, and the curry is topped with a biscuit instead of being surrounded by an entire pie crust. Still, it was spicy enough to have me asking for more water, so that’s a mark in its favor. Overall, the service was excellent, the ambiance was nice, and the food was good. As much of the details of the restaurant are still shaking out, I’m holding out hope they’ll add bun to the menu, but nonetheless, I’m thrilled to have a nice upscale dining option within walking distance. Hopefully, with the influx of overpaid bureaucrats moving into Ed Reyes’ field office/community center next door, our stretch of Figueroa will only see more upscale options along the lines of Antigua Bread and Good Girl Dinette.
Good Girl Dinette
110 N. Ave 56
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Part 3 of our (probable) four part series on the semana santa in Mexico covers three days in Puebla and neighboring Cholula. I chose Puebla and Cholula specifically because the latter was an Aztec religious center before Cortez’s arrival. Hundreds of temples dedicated to the Aztec pantheon were ultimately replaced by the Spaniards with churches (in much the same way that European cathedrals are built over the ruins of pagan holy sites). The result in Cholula was over 300 churches in a city of about 82,000 people. The joke is that Cholula has church for every day of the year.
Puebla, on the other hand, is the 4th largest city in Mexico, and was founded by Spaniards to be city for only Europeans. Architecturally, the result is that Puebla could be any number of European towns. The central cathedral looms large over the town square opposite the government buildings. The city has since spread out into suburbs, but the historic center is very well preserved with sidewalks and pedestrian-only alleys perfect for shopping at markets and snacking at the ambulantes.
It’s difficult to see here but the campanile that is on the left contains bells and is topped with cross represents the New Testament. The tower on the right has no bells which represents the more somber tone of the Old Testament. Interestingly, the lack of a cross on the right is not a theologically motivated architectural decision but rather the result of a lightning strike that hasn’t been fixed. When we were there, the bells were being rung manually, a line was stretching around the block to get into the Good Friday mass, and hawkers were selling T Shirts welcoming the new priest.
Nuestra Senora de los Remedios (Courtesy www.catholicscoop.com)
Cholula, about 25 minutes away, boasts the worlds largest pyramid by volume, which unfortunately is mostly overgrown with plants and burried in dirt so that it resembles more of a scrubby hill. Atop this former temple to the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl sits Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, a none too subtle reminder of the new religion Cortez brought with him. Cholula was also the first time Cortez flexed his military muscle by massacring the natives who had welcomed him in, but subsequently plotted to kill them. To emphasize that the natives were subjects of Spain, and to make a display for Montezuma of European power, Cortez massacred the Cholulans, and enslaved the survivors. The church is attractive but probably best known for the brash statement it’s location makes as well as the stunning view of Popocatepetl, which wasn’t visible on my visit due to haze.
Nuestra Senora de los Remedios
Back in town, the locals were processing into one of the local churches for the Good Friday mass. Figures of Jesus and Mary were carried by parishioners over roads covered with colored sawdust. Only on Saturday did I learn from newspaper headlines that the procession is reenacted with live actors in the eastern Mexico City colonia of Iztapalapa. Up to 1 million take in the spectacle.
Good Friday Procession
Nearby, Santa Maria Tonantzintla has to be the most unique Catholic church this side of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.
Santa Maria Tonantzintla
At the altar, the church was reenacting it’s own Passion play with a local girl kneeling at the feet of Jesus in the role of Mary Magdalene. She was so still, I didn’t notice her for ten minutes.
The inside is colorfully decorated with angels who resemble Native Americans, which is rare in a nation where religious artistsic representations lean towards the European.
Cupola of Santa Maria Tonantzintla
Native Angles Surround the Holy Family
Finally, San Francisco Acatepec was a maybe the best use of the local talavera tile we saw in that part of the country. My advice is to skip the tour of a talavera workshop and its inevitable ending in a pricey gift-shop and instead just enjoy these decorations for free. The church was constructed in the 17th century, and is a nice example of local artisans interpretation of baroque architecture.
San Francisco Acatepec
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