Puebla: Best Cemitas in Centro?
We'll soon be making our first trip to Puebla's centro, and would like to try cemitas. Any recommendations in the Centro? We'll be there on December 29th and 30th; leaving December 31th.
While I have your attention, how about how to mid range price restaurants serving comida Poblana? Decor is of tertiary consideration to food quality and service. We prefer to be in the central downtown area.
That's Las Poblanitas in the Mercado del Carmen (longish, quite pleasant stroll from the main plaza). I have written about it in the past. It's certainly the finest of its type anywhere (a man that shared a table with one night at Tacos Arabes El Oriental called these giant cemitas "cemitones") I immediately went into a love/hate relationship with Las Poblanitas when I first encountered it early this decade. It was so over-the-top, so excessive! Las Poblanitas routinely places BOTH jamon and milanesa (you can see it in the picture on the post) and also if I remember correctly, BOTH queso blanco and mounds of the hand-pulled Oaxacan quesillo into their sandwich. The whole thing measures something like 5 1/2 inch altogether (the sandwich is about 3 inches high). But I have since resigned myself to loving these "cemitones/cemitotes" at Poblanitas: they are the finest-constructed of any of the same type in the city (compare for instance with the ones from the diff stalls bearing the name As de Oro-owned by diff brothers-at Venustiano Carranza market: they can be very sloppily -constructed//incidentally, a town in southern Puebla, Izucar de Matamoros also has a tradition of massive cemitas which they call volcanes). For a wonderful example of a more "normal" size of cemitas, try "Cemitas Richard" also in the Mercado del Carmen, a few rows away from Las Poblanitas. I specially love my tocayo's version of the cemitas de pata.
(More on cemitas later//running around like a chicken without a head this morning)
Correction to above: I meant the sandwich is 5 1/2 inches high on a 3 inch high roll (not sandwich). And remember that in Mexico, then interior of the bread (the migajon) is always gouged out first before the sandwich is constructed, so we are talking about at least 2 inches of stuffing here). But more on the construction of the cemita of Las Poblanitas and of other places below. (Before I forget though: the Mercado del Carmen is at 2 Sur and 21 Oriente. If you are on the zocalo facing the cathedral, 2 Sur is the street on one side of the cathedral heading south (away), to your left. It's about a 10 block walk (but there's stuff to see along the way: Sapos etc is in the same general direction), or you can take a colectivo.
THE CEMITAS OF PUEBLA
Every foodie tour to investigate cemitas in Puebla should ideally start with a visit to pay homage to the beautiful shell of the historic Mercado Victoria, which occupies a entire city block in the heart of the city (4 Ote/5 de Mayo is one point of access). This market is where, reportedly, the early forms of the cemita were first sold as early as the early 18th c. The present building dates to the turn of the last century (to the period of the Porfiriato) and was where the most celebrated cemitas stalls in the city could be found before the all the vendors were evicted and the structure gutted and turned into a commercial center in the early 1990s, Today, Mercado Victoria is essentially a shopping-mall-within-the-city, housing smart, upmarket boutiques, little cafes, and even a branch of a home-furnishing chain called, apparently without any irony or tongue-in-cheek, "Suburbia".
The cemiteros of Mercado Victoria have since dispersed to various of the 10 or so other smaller markets of the city. Today, people will talk about the "cemitas of Mercado El Parral (7 Pte./9 Sur)". Or perhaps they will mention the ten or so cemitas stalls at Venustiano Carranza 11 norte/4 Pte.) More often than not, they will talk about El Carmen (without a doubt, thinking of the supersized cemitas of Las Poblanitas). But wonderful cemitas can be found all throughout the city (and even in neighboring towns like Cholula-try Cemitas Conchita in the center of Cholula). Maybe if we have time, we can talk a little bit on this thread about traditions, alternative forms, variations, historical evolution so that instead of proclaiming a "best cemitas", we can reach a better understanding of the range and possibilities, a better connoisseurship of the form. Cities have a way of flattening, and of suppressing the richest sources of their creativity and vibrance. With increasing gentrification, the city of Puebla has also steadily marginalized the most brilliant of its street food forms. The redesign of the areas around San Francisco displaced the vendors of fabled "chalupas de San Francisco", one of the street foods most closely associated with the city. Today, these vendors are also all dispersed, like the cemiteros of Victoria, and one would have to run here and there to opposite corners of the city to get to the best examples.
(to be continued)
*Side note on Cholula (this is for kare_raisu re his trip to Pubela):
Cholula is only about 20 min ride away on a public bus (which one can take at around 6 Pte/7 Nte). In contrast, it took me 40 minutes the other day to make the slow cral on Chicago's red line from Belmont to Evanston. Many of the best examples of delicious food associated with Puebla could be found in Cholula (try "molotes" at the market in Cholula). So it is in a way an extension of Puebla, but also culturally distinct-a proud city with its own rich history and heritage.
"Maybe if we have time, we can talk a little bit on this thread about traditions, alternative forms, variations, historical evolution so that instead of proclaiming a "best cemitas", we can reach a better understanding of the range and possibilities, a better connoisseurship of the form."
Yes please do. Existing vicariously via my friends,
Wow. Ask, and ye shall receive.
Thanks, Richard, Kare and Eat_Nopal for this generous input on cemitas.
We ate at the mercado in Cholula back in '94. I foolishly passed up the cemitas, arrayed on a counter next to the fonda where I pigged out on a huge quesadilla of maíz azul and a bowl of sopa de médula.
For me, the mercado was the high point of our visit to Cholula.
This coming trip to Puebla, our hotel is on 4 Ote. We'll be walking a lot.
Yes, Cholula market is pretty special. Market day is Wed if I remember correctly (with another smaller one convening on Sun). If you keep your eyes open, you can find women sitting on the ground (Marias) selling marvellous prepared food items like tortas de huauzontle or manitas de puerco capeadas, not to speak of unusual produce such as different kinds of new beans (cacamas, etc) or toasted "huesitos de capulin" for munching. But all the neighboring small cities/towns (Atlixco, Huejotzingo, Acatepec, Tonantzintla etc) have distinct histories and cultural identities and are worth visiting for the wonderful food as well.
In general, I get a sense that there is a level of dilution that takes place in the bigger cities and that smaller, more "provincial" ones are better conservers of the best food traditions. It is perhaps for this reason for instance that although you can find sushi or Thai-influenced dishes in Xalapa, better examples of say the traditional art of reposteria could be found in small neighboring towns like Perote, Cuacuazintla, Naolinco. (By the same token, I found stunning Andalucian cooking in Cadiz quite easily on a trip earlier this year, while Seville was generally disappointing.) Similarly, some of the best examples of the food most closely associated with Puebla (city) can be found elsewhere in the state, in places like Cholula etc
I have now fulfilled my cemitas wish. We walked the long walk to Mercado del Carmen, and after reconnoitering this relatively small mercado, wound up at Cemitas Las Poblanitas. Just behind it is the smaller Cemitas Evita.
The activity is astounding. The first thing that calls one's attention is the irregular punding of the 4 or 5 girls pounding and breading milanesas. Next is the visual impact of countless cemitas rolls split and laid out on a long, stone counter, with a sandwich maker opening and spreading avocados on the bottom half. Eyecatching also are the pans of pickled pata de res, chiles jalapeños, chiles chipotles and marinated rings of onion.
At the end of the work area nearest us, 3 guys did nothing but bag up pickled jalapeños and onions, for takeout orders, I suppose.
From time to time, the milanesa pounders would step away from their labors and take a break, after huge plastic bags of milanesas were carried off to somewhere to be fried. (?)
I ordered haphazardly: a cemita of milanesa, jamón (really what we in the U.S. would call pressed ham), and quesillo; aguacate, of course; plus a Sprite. My wife abstained.
The sandwich arrived, sin chiles, sin pápalo and no side plate of pickled coliflor, etc.
(I noted that at the table next us were seated two paramedics, (big guys, too), chowing down massive cemitas. I figured that if trained medical personnel ate there, it must be healthy.)
When the waiter came back, I requested the missing condiments and he soon returned with them.
The pápalo was more subtle than I'd expected. It was something like (although not exactly) a cross between watercress with a touch of cilantro. Peppery, slightly bitter and lemony.
The pickled coliflor was crisp and tart. I skipped the jalapeños. The chipotles were sufficient heat.
I piled the pickled onions and pápalo on my cemita, but restrained the chipotles to only 3.
The sandwich is a masterpiece of excess. It was a great experience, but I seriously doubt I'd order one of that magnitude again. I couldn't finish it, leaving about a third. The milanesa was the least interesting part; better for its chewy texture than its lack of taste.
But, overall, I recommend visiting Las Poblanitas at least once, for the intense visual, auditory, and taste experience it offers.