The best-known mole is named after the city of Puebla, mole poblano. The origin of this sauce is disputed and there are two versions of the legend that are most often cited. The first states that 16th-century nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa were worried because they had just found out that the archbishop was going to visit them and they had nothing to prepare for him except for an old turkey in the yard.
Supposedly due to divine inspiration, they began to mix together many of the spices and flavorings they had on hand in the kitchen, including different types of chili peppers, other spices, day-old bread, chocolate, and approximately twenty other ingredients. They let the sauce simmer for hours and poured it over the turkey meat. Fortunately, the archbishop was very pleased with the meal and the nuns were able to save face.
The other story states that the sauce is of pre-Hispanic times and this was served to Hernán Cortés and the other conquistadors by Moctezuma II. The Aztecs did have a preparation called “chilmulli,” which in Nahuatl means “chili pepper sauce.” However, there is no evidence that chocolate was ever used to flavor prepared foods or used in chilmulli.
What has happened is that the sauce gained ingredients as it was reinterpreted over the colonial period. Many food writers and gourmets nowadays consider one particular dish, the famous turkey in mole poblano, which contains chocolate, to represent the pinnacle of the Mexican cooking tradition.
Another famous dish, chiles en nogada, was also supposedly invented here. The story begins with three sisters from Puebla who met officers from Agustin de Iturbide’s Army of the Three Guarantees in Mexico City and fell in love with them. Attempts were made to engage the couples but one problem was that none of the sisters knew how to cook.
Upon returning to Puebla, their mother sent them to the Convent of Santa Monica to learn. The women decided they wanted to make an original dish to impress Iturbide and his officers when they were due to visit Puebla. The dish, chiles en nogada, represents the colors of the Mexican flag, green (parsley), white (the walnut sauce), and red (pomegranate seeds). The dish was served for the first time at a banquet for Iturbide with great success.
Another signature dish in Puebla is the “cemita,” which is a type of well-stuffed sandwich on a bun. The cemita is considered to be the sister of the Mexican torta, the first cousin of the pambazo, the distant cousin of the paste and the sandwich and the precursor to the giant tortas that are now sold in most parts of Mexico today.
This large, meaty sandwich is named after the bread on which it is served, a cemita. This bread is based on a bread introduced by the French during the period of the French Intervention in Mexico (1863–1867), but since then has evolved to suit Mexican tastes, especially in Puebla state.
In the early 20th century, the bread began to be served sliced with a filling of leftovers, generally potatoes, beans, nopal, beef, chicken or pork. The Victoria Market in Puebla became famous for a version with beef hoof, onions, and chili peppers with a vinaigrette sauce. Other markets and food stands soon created their own versions of the cemita with just about any kind of filling combination possible.
During the same time period, it became traditional to sprinkle sesame seeds onto the cemita bread, often with designs of flowers, stars, animals, and other things. While the dish started out as a lower-class meal, it is now enjoyed by people of all social classes in the city as a form of fast food.