Puebla, Mexico is a city that I have had my eyes on for several years. Back when Continental Airlines still existed, it posted weekly last minute weekend deals, and Puebla was frequently on this list. However, for one reason or another I never pulled the trigger. Since then, it has been an eternal itch that I needed to scratch.
As far as tourism is concerned, Puebla is mostly a weekend destination for residents of Mexico City, as it is only 1.5 hours away by car. I actually flew into Mexico City on an evening flight, and stayed in an airport hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott. Being located in the terminal was extremely convenient, and made it easy to catch the bus to Puebla the next morning. The bus station is just steps outside the lobby, and buses run every 20 minutes, for a very reasonable cost of 300 pesos, roughly 15 US dollars. Mexican buses are nothing like American ones, they have very comfortable seats with more than adequate leg room. Since there is no decent rail system and many people do not own cars, it is the most popular way to travel between cities. It is also the safest, as bus companies reportedly have agreements with the good and bad forces within Mexico for safe passage.
Puebla is known mainly for two things: food and churches. It is a city full of churches and has possibly the best cuisine in all of Mexico. My first meal was in my hotel, the NH Centro Historico, since served breakfast until 12 PM; this is something unheard of in the hotel world. This particular chain is known worldwide for excellent breakfasts, and this location certainly lived up to that reputation. I went to the area where egg dishes are made to order, and saw a dish on the menu known as huevos divorciados (translation: divorced eggs) that struck my interest. Essentially, it was eggs topped with red and green salsa, with tortillas underneath the eggs. This was absolutely delicious.
However, the dish that Puebla is best known for is mole, which is a chocolate tasting yet beautifully spiced sauce. In any other place that I’ve seen mole, I’ve only seen the regular dark brown colored flavor; however, in Puebla there are numerous flavors of mole. The first dish I had in Puebla was three enchiladas with three different moles: red, green, and traditional brown. The green mole, known as pipian, is made of pumpkin. Of the three, I think this was my favorite one. The restaurant, La Fonda de Santa Clara, is one of the best known restaurants in the city.
After eating, I took a walk a couple of blocks to the main square. Like many Latin American cities, there is a central square, with families congregating along with vendors in an overall peaceful mood. Just across from here is an ornate church. Pictures weren’t allowed inside, but as with many churches it was spellbindingly beautiful.
From the center, there is a pedestrian street known as Cinco De Mayo, or the Fifth of May in English. In the US, Cinco de Mayo is known mostly as a reason to have margaritas, but the significance behind it is actually based on a battle in Puebla. In 1862, on the auspicious date, General Ignacio Zaragoza led his forces to victory against the French. In the long run, this victory didn’t mean much, but it has lingered as a symbolic victory and one that represents Mexican pride.
In the middle of the twentieth century, the day took greater significance in the United States, as Mexican-American students in California chose this day as one to help give meaning to the Chicano Movement. However, as time went on, the day was been totally commercialized by beer and liquor companies, leading to a drunken day no different than St. Patrick’s day.
Back to the Cinco De Mayo street, it is a pedestrian street full of shops, a similar scene to many city centers of Mexico. The true highlight are the food stalls. I noticed one stand with a long line. I took a peek and saw some tortillas with green and red sauces. I asked the women running the stand what the name of the dish was, and she stated chalupas; evidently chalupas are another legendary dish of Puebla. Unfortunately, the thought that immediately ran in my mind was the bastardization that Taco Bell has committed by selling something totally different with a different name. Take my word for it, the real thing is much, much better. Essentially tortillas are lightly fried in oil and doused with homemade red and green sauces. The cost was stunning, only ten pesos for four, roughly half of one US dollar. I probably could have eaten ten of these, but wanted to keep on sampling more food.
Since my stomach still had some capacity, I decided to have another sit down meal at the aforementioned La Fonda. This time I ordered two other local dishes: chile en nogada and mixiote. Chile en nogada is essentially a stuffed giant chile pepper stuffed with meat and topped with a sweet white sauce. Apparently it is a seasonal dish so I was quite fortunate to be able to eat it.
Mixiote is a goat stew cooked while wrapped in a paper. This may be the best food I have ever eaten in my life. Just writing about it makes my mouth water.
After this, it was off to a long slumber in preparation for the next day, to visit the world’s largest pyramid in nearby Cholula.