Mole: the inspirational icon of Mexican cuisine

31/10/2020

The gastronomic inspiration of the Mexican has its climax in the mole. That's why it is the festive dish par excellence: when it comes to celebrating big, only a mole of turkey is up to the task.

It would be enough to observe the enormous quantity of moles that there are, and those that Mexico has had throughout the centuries, to verify their condition: they are the result of the inspiration of the people. But, in reality, there have been and are as many moles as there are women who cook them. 

And it must be considered: it is almost impossible to copy a mole (even with the recipe), since there are numerous details that each cook resolves in her own way and at the moment. In other words, the mole is an individual and a particular synthesis of gastronomy.

The mole is a perfect representation of the mestizaje of Mexican cuisine, like no other dish. It is the sum of almost five centuries of culinary syncretism and we can observe it in the mole poblano the most famous of Mexican moles.

A more or less usual recipe has indigenous ingredients: four varieties of chiles: ancho, pasillas, mulatos and chipotles, chocolate, toasted corn tortilla, and tomato; Arab ingredients: sesame and almonds; European ingredients: nuts, toasted bread or wheat cookies, anise, raisins, onion and garlic and, of course, it is prepared with lard; oriental spices: clove, pepper, and cinnamon.

There are more than 50 versions of mole poblano and tops the list the recipe of the nuns of the convent of Santa Rosa, followed by those of Santa Monica, Santa Teresa, and Santa Clara, all from the city of Puebla. The common denominator is the four essential chiles already mentioned.

About the black mole of Oaxaca can be said that it is made with a century-old formula of chilhuacle, ancho, and roasted mulatto chili, and is one of the seven moles of that province. The other six are the manchamanteles, the coloradito, the yellow, the green, the chichilo, and the almendrado.

For each person the flavor of the mole is different, not only in terms of the stimulus produced by the balance of its components in the sensory points of the mouth and the sensations caused on the palate by the variety of dozens of ingredients that make it up: it has different emotional and psychic meaning for each Mexican.

The moles or sauces are the base of a good number of strong dishes of Mexican traditional cuisine. Moles have their base and origin in pre-Hispanic cooking. These moles are based on various fresh and dried chilies that are its main spice; they are added to ground tomato and/or tomato.

In the pre-Hispanic era, there were moles (as occurs today) thick or brothy. When they were thickened, corn dough or toasted tortilla, roasted and ground pumpkin seeds, and perhaps peanuts were used. They were seasoned with epazote, holy leaf, avocado leaf, and other herbs of smell; they were also flavored with the toasted seeds of the same chiles and perhaps the Tabasco pepper and cocoa.

To some of these sauces, the cooks were adding, from the time of contact and through a long process, garlic (onion was already here), and, according to the mole, oriental condiments such as clove, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, aniseed and coriander seed, herbs of European origin such as thyme, marjoram, the coriander itself and even lettuce and/or radish leaves. They were thickened with tortilla or dough, but in certain cases were used instead of or in addition to, toast or fried bread. Pumpkin seeds found their equivalent in sesame mainly, but also in almonds, pine nuts, and walnuts.

Although mole poblano with its dozens of variants and with its pairs in other entities such as Tlaxcala, Michoacán, Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Mexico City, to name a few, are of exquisite taste, it is also true that the variety of moles is very wide.

Main botanical ingredients in the preparation of the moles

When we talk about the mole, this word recalls a dish made up of a thick, colorful chili sauce that is accompanied by meat, quelites, shrimp pancakes, and many other ingredients. Perhaps in the past the most common meat was turkey and nowadays it is chicken, but without a doubt, it is a dish to celebrate that decorates the tables on special occasions. These sauces of pre-Hispanic origin were prepared with multiple variations.

The mole is a very popular dish throughout the country, according to the region where it is prepared. The ingredients vary according to their availability, the cook's taste, and the party in question. The varieties of chili change from region to region, some present from the pre-Hispanic time. Most of the varieties and crops used in Mexico belong to the most distributed species: the Capsicum annuum.

As far as its origin we can say that the C. annuum was domesticated in Mexico, from where it was distributed to other regions of the world thanks to the Spanish trade between its colonies.1 However, other popular chilies, among them the apple tree (or rocoto) is original of South America, but it was dispersed towards Mesoamerica by birds, of such luck that at the moment it forms an important part of the chilies cultivated in temperate zones.

Another chile of great importance, especially in the Mayan zone, is the denominated habanero. Also, it is original in South America and the Caribbean zone. Of each one of the botanical species mentioned here a great number of forms, colors and flavors exist. If to this great botanical diversity we add the forms of drying and preparation, we widely multiply the flavors of this main ingredient of the moles.

As far as diversity is concerned, the characters of both wild and domesticated chiles are used in order to understand the role that the different ethnic groups that live in Mexico have played in the selection and use of chiles and their incorporation into their culinary culture.

Wild peppers have small, sagging, erect, and very spicy fruits; most of them are harvested directly in the mountains. They are dispersed by birds, which are not sensitive to the itch. In this category, we have the piquines chiles and the chiltepines (Capsicum annuum, var. glabriusculum).

Domesticated chiles have pendulous fruits that remain on the plant until man harvests them (they depend on him for their propagation); their fruits are larger and less spicy, since they have been selected for their flavor, shape, and color.

As for their form of consumption, some are used fresh and others dried. The drying process gives them certain characteristics of flavor and smell, as well as quality, so the drying is of great importance for their final presentation and acceptance by the consumer.

The botanical ingredients of moles vary from region to region according to cultural preferences, availability, and seasonality. An important aspect is that all these dishes are always being innovated according to personal tastes and availability of ingredients. The most important ingredients of the mole are the chilies, mainly dry. All this makes the mole have particular characteristics and flavors that satisfy all tastes and needs. The mole is a typical Mexican food. They use ingredients from many parts of the world and are an example of the mestizaje of Mexican culture.

Puebla and mole poblano

In order to understand the Mexican, it is necessary to enjoy its ample kitchen. And to enjoy Mexican cuisine is to enter the complex fabric that forms the cultural identity of a people who have made their customs and traditions a way of life. The mole is instead one of those dishes that crown the cuisine of a country and in Mexico, the national dish par excellence is the mole poblano.

Mexican festivals and traditions are linked to its cuisine and we could not understand the great events of Mexican men and women, from their birth to their death, but around a dish that commemorates it. Puebla is the only place in the Republic where the dishes have a date of birth, linked to historical events that identify them. In addition to this feature, Puebla has an important gastronomic variable that makes it attractive to tourism, according to different times or seasons.

If you visit Puebla during Easter Week you will find the romeritos (little pilgrims); from April and May, with the arrival of the rains, you will find the maguey worms; and in June the escamoles, the molotes de cuitlacoche or the pork with cuitlacoche and verdolagas. In August and September, you will find the chiles en nogada; in October, the mole de caderas; and in December, the chipotles rellenos, the romeritos and the ayocotes. But all year round you will find the mole poblano, the green or red pepians, the mole de olla, the esquites, the tinga, the nopales stuffed with cheese, the chalupas, the molotes, the gorditas, the guajolotas, the flip-flops, the pinched ones, the garnachas, the cemitas, the tostadas, the tamales, the poblano soup, the one of flower of pumpkin, the one of nopal with chipotle, the consommé atlisquense, the atoles, and the champurrado.

Important differentiation: mole poblano is a dish, the mole is a sauce that enriches other dishes.

For several decades, in the twentieth century, was the gastronomy of Puebla that supported the tourism sector of Puebla. People did not visit the many cultural attractions of the state, but everyone came to Puebla, even if it was an entrance by way of eating out and, according to tourists and visitors, "to eat very well". More than the language itself, that the dress or the dances, is the kitchen the common root of the Mexican, around their king god, the corn, and its queen, the tortilla. Perhaps in no state of the Republic, there is such a variety of products made with corn dough.

The best places to eat mole in Puebla

Here are six places in Puebla where you can taste a great dish of mole, or a tasting with the different types of moles that are prepared in Puebla.

Fonda de Santa Clara

One of the most traditional restaurants of Puebla's gastronomy. Here you can find different versions of mole poblano: with the traditional piece of chicken and rice, in enchiladas and enchiladas combined with pipian - another type of mole. They have five branches in the capital city of Puebla, with its busiest branches located in the Historic Center of the city.

El Parián

In the surroundings of this famous poblano handicraft market, there are several restaurants that serve traditional poblano food, making it an easy access point for tourists visiting the city. Restaurant el Alfeñique, La Fonda, Comisario, Qué Chula es Puebla and La Típica Poblana are some of the restaurants that offer the traditional dish of a mole in a characteristic poblano Talavera dish.

Mural of the Poblanos

One of the most characteristic restaurants of the poblano capital is the Mural of the Poblanos, in which the mural of the poblano artist Antonio Álvarez Morán stands out with representative characters of the city, besides having very good flavors that are presented in this restaurant. This is one of the restaurants that have a greater variety of proteins with which to accompany the mole: chicken, turkey, pork, and duck breast, also served in enchiladas.

Mercado de Sabores (Market of Flavors)

The Mercado de Sabores de Puebla is a meeting point for the gastronomy of Puebla. In the different food stores of this site, you can order a traditional dish of mole and its different variants.

House of Mendrugo

Located in the heart of the capital of Puebla, the Casa del Mendrugo is a great place to try Puebla's cuisine. It is located in an old building in Puebla and accompanied by live music, chicken is served with the traditional mole poblano or pipian.

La Casita Poblana

This restaurant has received several international awards for the dishes served here, which highlight baroque flavors. In addition to the traditional mole poblano, they offer a variation of the mole de epazote with chicken.