On Saturday is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, popularly referred to and celebrated in the US as “Cinco de Mayo.” But events comprising the month-long celebration of the battle have been underway in Puebla, Mexico since early April, with concerts by the likes of superstars like singers Marc Anthony, Marco Antonio Solis, and Los Tigres del Norte—just to name a few—drawing crowds from around Mexico and the world.
But world-renowned performers and battle reenactments aren't the only highlights of the Cinco de Mayo commemoration. This week, a special celebration focuses on one of the things the state of Puebla is best known for: mole.
The complex dish known as mole poblano is the star of the Festival Internacional del Mole, which will be cooked, talked about, and, of course, tasted, by culinary luminaries from both the U.S. and Mexico. Chef Rick Bayless, writer Mark Bittman, and Mexican chefs Rodrigo Ibañez, Daniel Ovadia, Mónica Patiño, Patricia Quintana, and Marcela Valladolid, among others, will hold talks and cooking demonstrations that are intended to promote Puebla as Mexico's gastronomic capital.
Mole is a cooked sauce that is used to dress many kinds of meats. Known for its numerous ingredients – as many as 30 or 40 in some recipes – the types of mole vary widely, but Puebla, along with the state of Oaxaca, is perhaps best known for its particular style of mole, a dark, thick sauce finished and served with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. In fact, mole poblano and its sesame seeds have given rise to a popular expression: “Eres ajonjoli de todos los moles [you’re the sesame seeds of all moles].” It's a dicho that's appropriate for the occasion.
A lot of people have different mole poblano recipes -- there isn't necessarily one correct one -- but what ties them together is how the dish makes you feel. One bite and you're floating.
- Food blogger Lesley Tellez
Culinary anthropologist Joy Adapon explains the saying in her book, Culinary Art and Anthropology: “Since parties are considered incomplete without mole, and mole poblano is incomplete without its sprinkling of sesame seeds, to say that someone is like the sesame seeds of all moles implies that that someone is highly social and attends all parties.”
Most mole recipes incorporate dried chiles, a variety of sweet and savory spices, fruits, and seeds. In some moles, chocolate is used. The preparation of mole is precise and intense, with each ingredient being ground or prepared in a particular way before being added to the overall mixture.
The history of where it was invented and who invented it is still under debate,” says Lesley Tellez, a food writer whose blog, The Mija Chronicles, has been nominated for best culinary travel blog by Saveur and who is attending the festival.
“The interesting thing,” she adds, “is that everyone in Puebla is still fiercely loyal to it. A lot of people have different mole poblano recipes --there isn't necessarily one correct one-- but what ties them together is how the dish makes you feel. One bite and you're floating.”
Cristina Potters, an internationally acclaimed author and photographer who blogs at Mexico Cooks! said regardless of how you cook it, “mole poblano is what's for dinner in Puebla" but others can enjoy it as well.
“Eat mole poblano in a restaurant, prepare it at home from a paste, powder, or jar, or grind it yourself in a muscle-building kitchen test of your will versus 35 or 40 ingredients,” she says.
Mole is Mexico's national dish and it is always served during celebrations, so it is fitting that mole poblano has its own festival within the Battle of Puebla commemoration.
Julie Schwietert Collazo is a freelance writer living in Havana.