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Mole Poblano


Mole Poblano, a traditional dish of Mexico, is long ingrained in the history of the region we today call Central America.  Mole Poblano is a dark red-brown sauce usually served with turkey or chicken.  Although it contains approximately twenty five ingredients, Mole Poblano can be prepared in nearly infinite numbers of ways.  Of the many different ingredients found in the dish, the main ones are chili peppers, chocolate, plantains, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon sticks, anise, and cloves.  These eight ingredients are among the most interesting ingredients found in Mole Poblano, not only because they are essential to the dish, but because they have long complex histories that date back to the ancient, pre-Columbian empires of Mesoamerica.

The origins of mole poblano may be found in the sophisticated thousand-year-old Persian cuisine which was adopted by Moslems in Baghdad and subsequently spread to other Moslem cities, flourishing from the eighth century onward. A southern portion of the Iberian Peninsula, termed al-Andalus, also came under Moslem control in the eighth century, resulting in the spread of many non-native foods and crops to the region. Over hundreds of years popular dishes from al-Andalus were adopted by nearby Christian Europe, sometimes substituting one ingredient for another within recipes. As Spain gained territory in America during the 16th century, their cuisine traveled with them, including that which had originally been adopted from the Moslems. Among these was what would become mole poblano, created through the replacement of some of the usual Spanish ingredients with ones native to America [1].

In addition to its possible Persian origins, there are a number of myths and legends surrounding the creation of mole poblano,  One such legend claims that in the 16th century, the archbishop made an unannounced visit to the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla de los Angeles.  Panicking, because they had nothing to serve him, the nuns prayed for an angel to inspire them for a dish.  They mixed various types of chiles with spices, day-old bread, nuts, chocolate, and approximately 20 other ingredients.  After hours of boiling, this concoction reduced to the rich mole sauce we are familiar with today.  The nuns killed an old turkey, which was the only meat they had, and poured the sauce over it.  Ignorant of the circumstances surrounding the dishes creation, the archbishop fawned over the plate in front of him [1].  

Chef and author Diana Kennedy, on the other hand, asserts that it was 16th century monk Fray Pascual who was preparing a banquet for the archbishop, when a sudden gust of wind swept a tray of spices over turkeys that were cooking in cazuelas over the fire [2].

Rachel Laudan, however, points out that after the Mexican Revolution in the 20th century,, politicians and intellectuals turned to food as a formative national tradition to create a sense of national unity [3].  They concentrated on the Nahuatl roots of the word mole, which stems from the Nahuatl word “milli,” meaning “sauce” or “concoction” [1].

Mole is ubiquitous in modern day Mexico. Though mole comes in numerous varieties, varying in color from white to yellow or green, the dark brown mole poblano features alongside turkey in mole poblano de guajolote, the national dish of Mexico. While mole may be eaten on ordinary days for any meal, many Mexicans serve it during holidays and special occasions, like Día de Muertos and weddings [4]. In Puebla, the dish is a symbol of regional pride. Every year on Cinco de Mayo, the commemoration of the Battle of Puebla, Poblanos celebrate Mexico’s victory over Napoleon III’s French army with a feast that includes mole poblano. In much the same way as the victory, the dish remains a source of regional and national unity [5].

When analyzing the recipe of mole poblano, it is quite evident that at the surface, this concoction of different spices, herbs, and delicacies is a defining cultural staple of modern day Mexico. However, upon deeper inspection, one can visualize the diverse cultures that each of the ingredients in mole poblano represents. Yes, the combination of the ingredients is unique to Puebla despite its disputed creation and origin, but each ingredient is quite the opposite. Each ingredient is a symbol of  the culture of the civilization that produced it and can be used to trace the influence of these societies across the globe. It is quite miraculous that ingredients found on opposite sides of the world could come together to eventually become the national dish of Mexico.  


[1] Mole Poblano: Mexico’s National Food Dish.  Web.  8 Nov. 2014.

[2] Kennedy, Diana.  The Essential Cuisines of Mexico.  New York: Harper and Row, 1972. pp 199-200.  Print.

[3] Laudan, Rachel.  The Mexican Kitchen’s Islamic Connection. Saudi Aramco World.  Aramco Services Company.  May/June 2004. 8 Nov. 2014.

[4] Barclay, Eliza.  “Mexican Mole has Many Flavors, Many Mothers.” NPR. National Public Radio, Inc., 18 Jan. 2013. Web. 8 Nov. 2014

[5] Graber, Karen Hursh.  “Demystifying Mole, Mexico’s National Dish” Mexconnect. 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 8 Nov. 2014

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