As a result of my visit to Puebla, I discovered some of its rich heritage and left with a longing to return and discover more.
Puebla is the 5th largest city in Mexico as well as a state. In 1987 UNESCO declared Puebla a World Heritage Site due to its baroque renaissance and classical architectural styles. This city is home to more than 5,000 colonial buildings which are mostly baroque in style and constructed during the 16th century.
When going to visit Puebla, I was initially drawn to its reputation as the gastronomic capital of Mexico. Its cuisine is a combination of pre-Hispanic, Arabic, French and Spanish influence. Two of its world-famous dishes are Chiles en Nogada (stuffed poblano chili peppers bathed in walnut sauce) and mole poblano (a regional mole dish).
Known as the City of Angels, Puebla lies 84 miles (136 km) from Mexico City. It does have some direct air service, but I flew into Mexico City and took a bus service (new Mercedes with air conditioning) directly from the airport for a 90 minute ride. A bus departs every 30 minutes so it was quite convenient.
I had only planned five days and I should have planned 10 days in order to experience some of the smaller cities and towns in the state of Puebla.
Arriving in the late afternoon, I was tired and had an early dinner at Sacristia De la Compania Hotel where I was staying.
Staying at this hotel was a good choice on my part. It is one of the Hotels Con Angel group of boutique properties. These are all small hotels in residences over three centuries old that have been remodeled and renovated. Each of the hotels have a Talavera Angel Wing where you can experience the handicrafts of Puebla which are known worldwide.
I loved picking out one of two rooms for my stay. It was a difficult choice as each one was completely decorated with breathing antiques. In fact, the entire hotel was decorated that way.
Having dinner early, I retired to my room, opened my balcony shutters, and stepped out to view the events on the street below. As the evening grew on, the activities increased. It was fascinating.
The next morning after breakfast, I was ready to venture to Cholula to visit the archhelogical zone with the world's largest pyramid, San's Gabriel Convent where they have the original mole kitchen, Holy Mary Tonantzinta, Royal Chapel and the food at the Center of Cholula.
The pyramid was a surprise. Going underground through its tunnels showed the building skills prevalent at the time. Walking the perimeter let me experience the sheer size of this structure which was built layer upon layer by later civilizations.
After visiting Cholula, we drive back to Puebla to enjoy a late lunch with some tourism representatives. They took me to Fonda De Sta Clara which has been fine dining in the Pueblan tradition since 1965. Since it was still the season for Chiles en Nogada, that was my choice.
I learned the legend of the dish from the Historic Counsel of Puebla City: In 1821, three centuries of Spanish domination came to an end. It was called the year of three colors … the three colors of the Mexican flag. Historical character Agustin de liturbide y Aramburu, and the city of Puebla, would swear freedom for the first time. This freedom established three guarantees: religion, union, and independence.
Agustin was to be gratified and the poblans nuns encouraged by the enthusiasm of a "new Mexico" decided to prepare a dish that included the three symbolic colors of the flag. Their skilled hands created the dish know as Chiles en Nogada, "to symbolize the pure and symbolic spirit of patriotism and nationalism.
The recipe is made from the season's ingredients and the secret resides in the combination of flavor from the "Castilla nuts," sauce, "Corona grenades and vermilion," chili and parsley. The stuffing includes the fruits of August.
The formula is simple, and includes careful preparation and delicate spicing. It's performance is parallel to that event that wrote pages in the gold book of Mexican gastronomy, and the platinum volume of poblan kitchen. Again, this is a legend. If any of you readers would like the recipe to the Puebla Mole or Chiles en Nogada, just send me an e-mail.
After our wonderful luncheon we stopped at other small hotels along the way so I could see the abundance of accommodations along the well known chains. Each hotel had its own distinctive charm and the personalities of its owners shown through.
After returning to my hotel, I decided to explore the streets surrounding the hotel as well as walk back to the square. The square was alive with activity as well as the nearby streets. The furniture and pottery drew me like a magnet. It's a good thing I do not have room for more furniture. It was so tempting as the craftsmanship was magnificent. Oh how I wished I would have planned to be there for the weekend so I could experience the markets.
The next morning it was time for cooking school. I've attended many cooking schools, classes, demonstrations, etc. and Executive Chef Alonso Hernández leads the small hands-on classes with comfort and ease. His English is very good, a wonderful sense of humor, and is a fine teacher. He takes great pride in having you understand and learn Mexican cooking. There is also a translator to explain subtleties as you learn the most traditional Pueblan and Mexican dishes. You'll also learn about most kind of chiles, by using pre-Hispanic and home-made cooking techniques in Mexico. The goal of the school is to share culinary secrets and have attendees have a memorable and wonderful time.
Our class started off by walking from the hotel to the market to shop for the ingredients for our mole. As we picked out Mulato chilies, Ancho chilies, and Pasilla chilies, Chef Alonso explained the various chilies and the level of capsaicin the makes them hot.
The market was overwhelming with all of the fresh produce. I could not help myself, I purchased a stick of cinnamon that was 1 in inches of diameter and approximately 14 inches long. I've never seen cinnamon sticks so large and aromatic. It did wonders for my suitcase.
Chef wanted us to experience a fresh sandwich from the market. I shared one and my half was huge. The number of sandwiches this fresh counter turns out is amazing.
After we fished our marketing, we went back to the hotel kitchen for our class.
If you visit hotelesconangel.com/ you can find out about the hotel and the cooking school.
If I had more time in Puebla, I would have gone back to the market and spent several hours. It was fascinating.
After learning to make Mole, it was time for a tour of the city of Puebla. First came the Cathedral with its 14 chapels of various styles and many works of art. The main façade is baroque. Its 228 foot (69 meter) towers are the tallest in Mexico. The choir area has exceptionally crafted benches with inlays of ivory, onyx and wood and ornamental Arabic bows. It is also home to two organs which were donated by Carlos V.
La Concordia y el Patio de los Azulejos is considered to represent local architecture with its hewn stone, baroque-style façade and marble images of saints.
The building I found fascinating was Biublioteca Palafoxiana. This is a library museum that was designated a historical monument by presidential decree due to its extensive book collection. It is home to over 43,000 volumes in numerous languages including Hebrew, Latin, Sanskrit, Chaldean and Greek. The subjects include philosophy, theology and canon law as well as other themes. It has valuable texts, such as the Nuremberg Chronicle, which dates 1493. It is also home to the Christian Doctrine, Ortelius Atlas and the Polyglot Bible. There is quite a bit of art work including one of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The craftsmanship in the onyx inlaid tables and sculpted bookcases are worth seeing.
Puebla has more historical buildings than I can begin to describe. They show the vibrancy of the area now and in the past. Its museums are equally impressive. You can visit visitmexico.com and search for Puebla. Then you will discover a great deal more about Puebla.
After returning to the hotel, my friend Lily and I went for a walk locally. She wanted me to experience a local drink made in Puebla. The owner has been approached to make his prize product on a large scale. He says, "no." He makes as much as he wants, opens and closes when he wants, stays busy and enjoys life. I bought a bottle to bring home.
That night it was time to pack. I new I would miss some of my newly made friends. I also knew we would stay in contact and I may see them again some day as I do plan to return to Puebla.