Galleons with bellies bulging gold sailed from Mexico bound for Spain, but a staggering amount of gold stayed in Puebla de Los Angeles, one of the jewels in Colonial Spain’s crown. When the city was designed by Bishop Julian Garces in the 1530’s, he intended it to be a city where angels could reside.
Whether angels have laid their heads to rest here, or as legends claim, helped to build the cathedral’s bell tower remains a mystery. Resident angels or no, Puebla’s brightly painted streets, located about a two hour drive from Mexico City, pour forth Spanish Colonial splendor in a manner that feels almost European. Some of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial Rococo exist here, and the Capella del Rosario, is not to be missed. It’s also a thriving modern city with a host of luxury hotels, nearby golf courses and shopping.
Even as my more refined senses consider Puebla’s architecture, gold and the Talavera pottery factories, thoughts of mole poblano and chalupas refuse to be ignored. It’s no coincidence that the state’s tourist slogan is Mi mero mole, which roughly translates as the real mole. So have a post-Puebla workout schedule in order before going, because it could be impossible to leave this gastronomic Goliath without gaining a few pounds.
As an introduction to Puebla and its cuisine, I suggest a stroll around the zócalo [plaza]. The cathedral borders one side of the zócalo and it’s a comforting sight at night when the angels, which top each fence post, are lit from beneath. It almost feels as if they are watching over the square. Stop and try the Royalty Restaurant, the menu offers a good introduction to classic Puebla cuisine also called Cocina Poblana at reasonable prices. There it is easy to sit outside, people watch and dive into the mole poblano’s dark chocolate and nut filled layers.
Afterwards, stroll down the zócalo to the tourist information office to see what local events might be happening. There was a folklorico performance of the Ritual of Quetzalcoatl performed at the base of the pyramid in nearby Cholula while I was in town. It was both rewarding and memorable to experience this performance as the sun set casting shadows over the pyramid and the dancers performed clad in costumes that could have come directly off stela carvings. After the event, I attended a reception where two of the folklorico dancers performed a dance for ritual cleansing and then offered individual cleansing to guests. I partook in this, as I am never one to turn down such an opportunity. One of my companions told me I looked fluffier afterwards. It did feel great, but the fluffy part I’m not so sure about. However, I am sure that a visit to the easy to locate tourist office on the zócalo is a worthwhile stop to find out about events that may not be otherwise publicized.
The Calle de los Dulces is within an easy walking distance of the the zócalo. The marzipan candies shaped as skulls, roosters and table top tableaux are fun. Try a sample of borrachitos or drunken candy, which are unique to the area and taste a little bit like a shot of tequila rolled in sugar.
Puebla’s old zócalo, called el Paseo de San Francisco, is located near the river and the new convention center. A row of reasonably priced restaurants line this walk and specialize in chalupas. El Ranchito located at the end of the row claims to be the most traditional vendor of this local favorite, which consists of a deep fried corn tortilla, red sauce or green sauce, and usually pulled pork. I believe the sauce is what makes or breaks this hefty finger food, and the sauce at El Ranchito is good. Don’t be afraid to try a pitcher of the Jamaica tea, which may look a little like cherry Kool-Aid, but tastes nothing like it.
The Convent of San Francisco is located along the paseo bearing its name and is a prime example of Talavera tiles used on an architecturally grand scale. Stroll over to La Purificadora, the new hotel designed by famous architect Ricardo Legorreta for a more refined culinary experience. The restaurant’s menu offers depth that ranges from a pleasant house wine to match local cheese plates, great traditional guacamole, as well as fused and forward tasting sophisticated dishes that for me ended perfectly with a taste of guava crème brûlée.
The cocktail lounge located on the hotel’s second floor is possibly the hippest place to have a drink in Puebla. The lounge has a commanding view of the Convent of San Francisco and an edgeless lap pool that defines, not only the open-air bar’s edge, but the building’s edge as well. It feels dangerous and I imagine it can get pretty steamy when guests decide to plunge in and swim within its clear glass edges. That’s an adventure I chose not to partake in this time around!
While La Purificadora offers a place to see and be seen, the boutique hotels that form the group called Hoteles con Angel are places to sink into thoughtfully restored architecture and of course sample more great dishes. The restaurant at the Casona de la China Poblana envelopes its guests in a warm toned courtyard open to the stars above and serves up a great Sopa Poblana, which is a Poblana variation on squash blossom soup. The Trio de Nieves (Three Ices) I had for dessert introduced me to local fruits I didn’t know existed. It’s possible to take cooking classes at the The Meson de Capuchinas. El Sueño hotel has an intimate martini bar with more than thirty martinis on the printed menu. A picture of Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie from Sex in the City adorns one of the walls along with the quote Ayer tuve un sueno…hoy quiero viverlo or Yesterday I had a dream… today I want to live it.
So if a dream place to visit includes amazing food, weather, architecture and shopping then Puebla could be a place to explore. It’s a blend of Old and New Worlds well planned. Puebla is after all, a city built for angels.