5 Eats in Puebla, Mexico
About two hours’ drive southeast of Mexico City is a dramatic valley known as Puebla de los Angeles (the city of the Angels). It is said that when the early settlers arrived and saw the region’s towering white-capped mountains, they felt they saw heaven.
While the views around Puebla remain unsurpassed, it’s the cuisine of this Spanish colonial city that’s the talk of the town now. Renowned for its local gastronomy, Puebla’s culinary scene is a melting pot of international influences, from Arabic to the tried and true of Mama’s cocina.
Let’s hit the pavement to suss out some of the five favourite Poblano foods you don’t want to miss.
Chapulines: Smokin’ Hot Grasshoppers
My first encounter with these six-legged bugs, roasted in salt and spices, was at a local market in downtown Puebla. At first glance, these buggy corpse mounds looked more akin to a little kid’s critter collection. But when an amiable vendor held out a free sample I happily complied. With eyes shut tight, I chomped down on a few of the fried salty ones and swirled around the pulpy bits for a few seconds. Crunchy? Yes. Tasy? I think you need to acquire a taste for this local delicacy. You’ll find chapulines everywhere in Puebla.
Cemitas from Mercado de Sabores Poblano
In the city’s west end there’s a lively food court that looks hum drum and drab at first, but as you begin to explore the more than 130 stalls, it quickly turns into foodie heaven, crowded with hundreds of noisy patrons. Unassuming chefs prep their fresh ingredients for hungry lunch crowds waiting to order some of the biggest draws in the market. One of my favourite delicacies are the cemitas. This mega sandwich comes with a sesame-topped crusty bread layered with fresh avocados, Oaxacan cheese, chipotle peppers, onions, papalo (an herb somewhere between mint and cilantro), olive oil and your choice of beef, pork or chicken. Healthy appetites are recommended.
The Mayans immortalized chocolate and chilli in their daily lives. Fast forward to the 21st century and their descendants in this majestic hill town insist every traveller needs to try mole poblano, pronounced mo-lay. You can’t leave Puebla without feeding on this signature staple. This decadent oh-so-rich sauce is a fusion of flavours, made from melted dark chocolate, chilli spices, cinnamon and other secret ingredients. Heavy clay pots on hot stoves carefully keep the mole ready for drizzling over chicken, turkey or beef. My decadent mole feast happened at the Casa de la Munecos by the historic Zocolo town centre.
These corn tortillas doused in green and red salsa (verde and roja) topped with onions, shaved chicken breast, melted cheese and a squeeze of lime are mouth-wateringly good. My heavenly encounter with a chalupa was at the Casareyna Hotel in the historic city centre. This boutique hotel has a courtyard restaurant specializing in traditional Poblano dishes. The calm setting surrounded by tropical flowers and shady umbrellas makes it ideal for whiling away the hours.
Camotos de Santa Clara
There’s a street in Puebla dedicated to sweets. The hole-in-the-wall shops along Avenida 6 Oriente, dubbed Calle de los Dulces (Sweets Street), have quick sweet snack boosters. I headed to Centro de Talavera Poblana at Avenida 6 Oriente #11 for some Camotos de Santa Clara. These cigar-shaped delicacies made from sweet potato come in a variety of flavours from pineapple to coconut. This famous confection gets its name from the Convent of Santa Clara, where the nuns apparently discovered the treat while working with sweet condensed milk, newly introduced from Spain.