Holy Mole in Mexico

Mole poblano — a complex mixture of chocolate, chilies, nuts, and spices — is among the most revered dishes in Mexican cooking. Nearly every grandmother in Puebla, the dish’s hometown, has her own rendition of the semisweet, earthy sauce, typically made with more than 20 ingredients.

Mole poblano’s disputed origins may date to either a 17th-century nun at the city’s famed Convent of Santa Rosa de Lima or to the pre-Columbian Aztecs, whose Nahuatl word for sauce is molli.

The purest experience of this classic fare is the most traditional: in an abuela’s kitchen, ladled over a roasted turkey drumstick.

But for those without a poblana grandmother, the best alternative is the no-frills Fonda La Mexicana, a 56-year-old institution in Puebla’s downtown, where a single chicken leg is served with rice, radishes, and a lake of dark mole poblano sprinkled with sesame seeds. On weekends, families sit beneath paper flags as waiters deliver cold cervezas and extra tortillas for sopping up the sauce.

Contemporary chefs are showcasing mole poblano in the country’s inventive haute cuisine. Try the four-course tasting menu at El Mural de los Poblanos, which has one of Puebla’s best mescal liquor selections. Better yet, let the restaurant’s chef, Liz Galicia, teach you to make your own mole poblano.

For a deeper education, take Eat Mexico’s mole tour, which includes a trip to the market.

This piece, written by Freda Moon, appeared in the May 2013 issue of  Traveler magazine — but there’s a lot you can’t get online. To see all we have to offer, subscribe to the print edition for just $12 a year