Pelonas. Molotes. Cemitas. Tacos Arabes. Tacos al Pastor, Chalupas (no, no those taco Bell abominations). Camotes. Conchas. Most of these items are probably meaningless to most of the rest of the world, but in Puebla, they each have tremendous meaning. Each one is a different food product representative of this very food rich region of Mexico. They are a few of the taste treats I devoured during an incredible afternoon walking tour of some of historic downtown Puebla’s finest street food destinations.
Rebecca Smith Hurd is an American journalist who moved to the populous, volcano-ringed city and married a Poblano, falling in love with him and the city. She became enthralled with the city’s culture and history and started a website called All AboutPuebla, which covers all aspects of the city and is an invaluable guide for English language visitors and residents alike. Food is, of course, one of Pueblas greatest cultural treasures and Smith Hurd became an expert on that as well. It shows in her tour, which she started in association with Lesley Téllez and her Eat Mexico Culinary Tours based in Mexico City.
My tour started in Puebla’s central square or Zócalo, where I met Ms Smith in the park-like setting. Many food oriented tours strictly cover just the food, but I quickly discovered that Ms. Hurd is a font of fascinating information about Puebla and much more. This was particularly useful as we traversed a wide swath of this beautiful and fascinating old colonial city center.
The funny thing about Poblano street food compared to most of Mexico is that very little of it is actually served from the street. Most of it comes from little stalls set in facades of buildings. These stalls tend to specialize in one or just a few dishes. Our first stop was at a one of these stalls, located just off the zocalo. Called La Poblanita, the stall staffed by two busy women makes pelonas and molotes and a few other things.
The pelona, possibly the most delicious sandwich that I have ever eaten, is built on a roll that had been deep fried in soy oil. The result was a light, crisp and flavorful roll that left the grease behind. It is layered with refried beans, shredded lettuce, shredded beef, red and a green salsas and crema. Rebecca and I split one. I could have easily have eaten a whole one or maybe two, but we were just starting and still had a lot of food in front of us.
They make a few other things at La Poblanita, all of which tempted. We split a molote with a vegetarian tinga (stew), that had been recommended by one of the women when Rebecca asked her what her favorite was. It was an inspired choice. The molote reminded me of a calzone texturally and in its construction. It consisted of a tortilla that had been folded over the vegetarian tinga (chipotle, thyme, tomato, bay leaf and oregano – no chicken) and Oaxaca style Quesillo cheese and deep fried with crema drizzled over the top. It too was amazing and beckoned me to eat more. Rebecca pulled me away from La Poblanita only with the knowledge of more wonderful bites to come.
Our next destination was a nearby little shop specializing in Tacos Arabes and Tacos al Pastor – El Sultan. Thanks to an earlier immigration to Mexico from Lebanon, both Tacos Arabes and Tacos al Pastor are related to shawarma, but with pork instead of the typical Middle Eastern lamb, goat, chicken or beef.
The Arabe is stacked pork layered with onions and herbs. At El Sultan it was grilled next to charcoal. The Pastor is marinated pork, cilantro and pineapple. At El Sultan it was grilled next to gas. We had the Arabe with pan Arabe, basically wheat based pita and the Pastor with corn tortillas. Either could also have been had with wheat tortilla. Puebla is relatively unique for central Mexico in that, thanks largely to the 19th century influence of the French, wheat still has a tendency to be more prevalent than corn. Though corn tortillas are also used widely in and around Puebla, the City boasts an unusual and amazing array of wheat based breads, with specific breads used for specific purposes, such as the special rolls used for the pelonas, others used for cemitas and yet others used as pita.
I ate the Arabe traditionally – that is with a squeeze of lime, a touch of salt and a bit of chipotle. It tasted of the charcoal fire and was juicy and delicious.
Tacos al Pastor have become famous throughout Mexico and beyond. The one at El Sultan was similar to others I’ve had in Mexico. It was very good. The spice from the salsa and sweetness from the pineapple blended beautifully with the meat’s umami, but ultimately, I preferred the primal aspect of the Arabe with its basic fire cooked meat, salt, spice and bread.
From El Sultan we began our walk crossing through the atmospheric streets of old Puebla into one of the sweetest streets anywhere. The Calle de Los Dulces is a must for any visitor to Puebla, sweet-tooth or not. Rebecca and I stopped in a little store, Dulceria La Central, to sample a few of the incredibly colorful variety of Poblana sweets on offer. From the sweet potato based camotes to the cookie like Tortitas de Santa Clara to the yellowish Mueganos de Puebla, we tried and enjoyed a nice variety of flavors. These were certainly sweet, but each type of candy did indeed have its own personality. The muégano reminded me in flavor of a Twinkie, though not nearly as sweet and much, much tastier. Made only of flour, sugar, egg and water, it had a flavor and textures that seemed beyond its relatively simple composition of ingredients.
We continued our walk, getting some much needed exercise as we headed across the “river” near the Church of San Francisco to try some real chalupas at the place that legend has it, invented them in the late 19th century – La Chiquita. Unlike anything served at Taco Bell, these chalupas are small tostadas built upon fried corn tortillas. The classic green and red chalupas had either salsa verde or salsa roja smeared on top of the tostadas with onions and shredded pork on top. The other two dark chalupas included chalupas de mole (with sesame seeds sprinkled on top) and the “new” chalupas negras with chipotle. The chalupas negras also had pork, but the chalupas with mole poblano had shredded chicken.
From La Chiquita, we crossed over Calle Cinco de Mayo into the old, working class neighborhood of Barrio El Alto to vist El Mercado de La Acocota. This wonderful market will get its own post soon, but our main purpose for visiting was to wend our way back to Semitas “Beto” to sample their Semitas Milanesas, which Rebecca feels are the best in the area.
I may not be the world’s expert on semitas (or cemitas), but I have had a few, and the one I tried at “Beto” was outstanding. I could not refute Rebecca’s opinion. Semitas start with the bread. Baked “del piso”, the bread is cooked right on the floor of the wood fired oven.
The bread at “Beto” was particularly delicious and was made in the style that had wheat germ on the bottom of the roll. The sandwich is specially constructed with fried pork cutlets, avocado, stringy cheese, chipotle, onion and papalo, a special herb of the region with a very strong, unique flavor. Semitas like this and others in Puebla are amongst the world’s great sandwiches. It is full of flavor with great texture. In my mind, as a sandwich, it is only surpassed by the pelona I had eaten earlier that same day. Perhaps if the timing had been reversed, I might have picked the semita over the pelona. In either case, these are amazingly delicious sandwiches.
Leaving the market, we came upon a well known local bakery, Panaderia La Princesa, which had just emptied its ovens of a number of baked goods, including a variety of local favorite sweet rolls called conchas.
The chocolate concha, which was light in color, but redolant of chocolate and cinnamon, was melt in your mouth wonderful, even better than a fresh out of the oven Krispy Kreme donut. This was a perfect way to finish off the tour.
Puebla is a dynamic city, proud of its past, but still very much of today. It has everything for the hungry gastrotourist. This and other tours from Eat Mexico are the perfect way to experience much of the best of what Puebla has to offer. To see more photos from this tour see my Flick’r set.