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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Mole de Panza- Puebla, Mexico: The Zen of Menudo
Menudo is another one of those Mexican foods that is best prepared by a specialist. It seems that all Mexican households have someone that keeps the family recipe. In Aguascalientes, it's my cousin Benjamin Romo. He can conjure up a a pot of menudo that can stop conversation a half block away. I've only had it twice, but its scent and flavor shall rest with me in my tomb, along with the congregation of of a lifetime of cherished pleasures.
In Puebla, the cow's stomach soup known as menudo is called mole de panza. The preparation and ingredients of menudo vary from state to state, or region to region. Some parts of the country, menudo is red, others it's white. Sometimes there is hominy, sometimes there isn't. Two states of Mexico with a similar style of menudo, say white, may vary not in color, but in the stomach parts contained in the recipe. The one thing that all menudos have in common is that they are a weekend specialty, and allegedly one of the greatest hangover remedies known to man.
It was just good fortune that led me to the small eatery run by Don Pedro, who makes mole de panza with the same recipe handed down by his Hidalgan father, Antonio Garcia. His mother was Pueblan. The marvelous soup I enjoyed last summer was fashioned precisely as it was fifty years ago.
It is a rule of thumb that when you see guy with just a couple of tables and one pot sitting on a burner, you must abandon your itinerary and have a seat.
Because this is all Don Pedro does, he is open during the week as well, it was a Thursday morning that I happened upon this place.
My friend and driver, Rodrigo, accompanied me on this trip, and recommended I try O-Key soda, a very local beverage that's not found outside of the state of Puebla. I took such a liking to this soda that I begged Bricia Lopez of Pal Cabron to grab some from her suppliers so that I may drop by to quench my O-Key soda lust every now and then.
One striking difference in the ingredients of mole de panza is the use of cilantro instead of oregano. Don Pedro ties a bundle of cilantro in cooking twine and drops it into the pot. The ingredients are minimalist in mole de panza, tomato, garlic, cilantro, dried chiles, beef stomach, and hey...why are you giving me all the ingredients? I didn't want the recipe, just the gist of the dish. Don Pedro just smiled and said, "I can give you the recipe, show you how to make it, even buy you the ingredients, but you can't duplicate my soup."
Out of respect, I asked if I should put any condiment. He said a little lime is fine, but really,it doesn't need anything else. Many people like lots of onion so I put it on the table. This has been the only compromise in the last fifty years, some chopped onions.
Rodrigo and eye dug in, and our eyes met with mutual amazement. "Riquissimo!" The taste of quality elements, a long and slow cooking, and perfection in a half century old sequence of movements. This is the Zen of menudo. A culinary life dedicated to meditation, and introspection about a single practice, a single bowl of out-of-this-world soup.
Mole de Panza Don Pedro
500 block of 6 Poniente, near 5 Norte
Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico