Colorful and cultural, the city of Puebla in the heart of Mexico was voted one of the best places to visit in 2012 by both the New York Times and Lonely Planet. With its safe, small town charm and warm, relaxed hospitality, Puebla belies the fact that it is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country with close to 2 million residents.
The famous Battle of Puebla was fought in the city in 1862, marking the Mexican army’s proud defeat over the French. Americans recognize this day as Cinco de Mayo – and this year celebrated the 150th anniversary of the victory. Few traces of battle devastation remain. Instead, dozens of architecturally magnificent cathedrals have been preserved in Puebla for centuries, along with other structures displaying the city’s signature azulejos, the festive ceramic tiles.
For Chef Richard Sandoval, the city of Puebla is rich with the culture reminiscent of his childhood, an intricate tapestry of people, food and history. A native of Mexico City, the young Sandoval would join his grandmother in the kitchen as she prepared authentic Mexican feasts from scratch. Through his grandmother and her tales of the family generations before, he learned to respect fresh, authentic ingredients and to create the vibrant flavors that turned family dinners into celebrated events.
The people of Mexico’s ancient centuries built the layers of flavors into its national dish- mole poblano, a complex sauce with humble beginnings. Legends speak of 16th century nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla. Upon learning of an unexpected arrival of the archbishop, and with meager supplies on hand, they began roasting and grinding spices, nuts, chiles and chocolates to create a special touch to a simple meal. The resulting mole was a taste sensation that was coveted and copied. Mole poblano became the Mexican national dish for feasts and holidays.
There are as many variations as there are years since mole originated. Ingredients vary amongst recipes, but the extensive number of them remains a constant. There are often 30 or more items required to make a mole – “But that is half the fun,” laughs Chef Sandoval. “Shopping the markets of Puebla, the colorful baskets of chiles, the fragrance of spices, the bartering with vendors…. It’s all part of the experience that brings the dish to life.”
Visitors to Puebla can participate in a hands-on class to learn to make mole poblano at the charming and very rustic Mesones Sacristia. This hotel / restaurant / antique store offers packages catering to the whims of the traveler. The mole poblano class instructs the authentic technique of grinding the ingredients in traditional molcajetes. Students create four different moles, and enjoy tasting them over a relaxed lunch with wine pairings. Following lunch, a visit Mesones Sacristia’s antique store offers many delightful mementos of the inn. Complete the afternoon by discovering the local candy stores, famed for handcrafted nut and marzipan treats in surprising shapes and sizes – we loved the marzipan chickens!
This sounds like fun, but where’s the beach? True, Puebla and its charms are land-locked. So head west, towards Puerto Vallarta to a tiny peninsula called Punta Mita and check in to the oceanfront Four Seasons Resort. Join Richard Sandoval’s Bahia restaurant chefs on their morning trip to the wharf to seek out their favorite fisherman. Back to the resort, where the chefs will engage you with a ‘catch of the day’ cooking class on the beach, the inspiration fresh from the sea.
Can’t get to Puebla any time soon? This delicious recipe will make you feel like you are dining with the locals. Enjoy!
- 1 cup Achiote paste
- 2 ½ cups Orange juice
- 1 ½ tbsp Garam Masala
- 1 ½ tbsp Cumin toasted
- 4 tbsp Chopped fresh garlic
- 5 each Chile guajillo seedless and roasted on the grill for 10 seconds
- 1 cup olive oil
- To taste Salt
- To Taste Pepper
Blend the achiote paste with the orange juice, tomato sauce, garam masala, cumin, garlic in the blender. Add olive oil with blender running till emulsified. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
2 fish, 2lb each. Whole red snapper cleaned, boneless opened butterfly.
Season the red snapper with salt, fresh ground black pepper and olive oil. With a brush cover the fish with the zarandeado sauce, place the fish on a grill basket. Cook the fish on grill with charcoal and wood.
12 medium size flour tortillas
1 each Chayote peeled
½ each red onion
1 each carrot peeled
1 bunch cilantro leaves
1 each lime, juice only
Salt and pepper
Cut all ingredients in fine Julienne, in a bowl tossed ingredients with lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
TACO PREPARATION Place tortillas on the grill to warm up, take a portion of zarandeado snapper on each tortilla and garnished with the chayote slaw.