The cemita poblana is one of Puebla's culinary treasures. It consists of a sesame studded cemita roll, various meat options, papalo(summer cilantro),onion, quesillo(Oaxacan string cheese) or queso blanco(white cheese), sliced avocado, and chipotle or pickled red chile serrano.
But, it was a long journey of ingredients and invention to arrive at this delectable sandwich.
The cemita roll is a cross between a Spanish bizcocho de sal(a long and firm bread) and a galleta hueca, like a French roll. It developed as a unique bread roll during the colonial period, where the original cemita poblana was very different than it is today. Back then it was filled with potatoes,beans, and cactus, since meat was out of the economic reach of Spain's subjects.
The first home of the cemita poblana artisans was in the Mercado Victoria. Many of the sandwich makers experimented with fillings but a new sandwich with pickled cow's feet, onions, papalo, and serrano or chipotle peppers was a smash hit. Other meats were used and other styles of cemitas poblanas developed like in Izucar de Matamoros,Puebla, where carnitas are the filling of choice. There they are known as semivolcanes.
In 1913, the sandwich was given its trademark sesame seed decor.
Today, the Mercado Carmen in the city of Puebla is a popular place for cemitas poblanas as well as the Mercado Venustiano Carranza. Backed in August of 2009, I stopped by the Mercado Carmen entranced by the thunder created by rolling pin armed women pulverizing milanesas into cardboard thin steaks. But, I wasn't quite ready for this heavy lunch after taking in some other Pueblan delights.
After a bit of a stroll I entered the Mercado Venustiano Carranza for my first cemita poblana in Mexico, excited?Yes. A lot came of this little day excursion to Puebla.
There were plenty of fondas to choose from, all sandwich specialists. I looked at Antojitos Lupita and As de Oro, which my friend Javier Cabral dove into earlier this past year. So many cemitas poblanas, so little metabolism.
I settled on Super Cemitas Alex, with ham,foot,chicken,milanesa, pork leg in adobo, pork leg, head cheese, and barbacoa all screaming for their chance to be a part of my first cemita on Pueblan ground. The cemitas of the Venustiano Carranza Market are big, super cemitas!
This fonda had all the right stuff, a tempting tray of pickled cow's feet, and high quality cheeses. They've doing this for thirty-one years.
The butterfly herb,papalo, a pungent flavored green, is that guest at your party that's a bit funky, but you'll never throw another soiree without him.
Chiles don't come with your cemita poblana, they are a table condiment for you to choose your spice profile. Smoky house made chipotles or pickled serranos are both full of fruit and snappy heat.
But, the sandwich maker? He is an artisan that constructs the sandwich day in and day out, relying on a blueprint that has been rehearsed and perfected. He uses Reed avocados, and the bread? Only one bread maker supplies the bread for all the stalls in the Mercado Venustiano Carranza, the Dominguez-Bastran family, and they've done so for more than 30 years.
A woman named Guadalupe and her sisters carry a family ritual that has continued for more than thirty years. They bake in a community bakery nearby each day, fresh, and fashioned in Pueblan tradition.
The cemita poblana is beautiful, in harmonious design. Much more elegant than its street wise Chilango(from Mexico City) brother, the torta. The construction is essential, the sandwich maker crafts your flavor experience with ingredients and precise placement.
The top roll is made thin by tearing out the insides, great for making migas,a Mexican bread and pork spine soup .
Making a great sandwich requires an sandwich specialist, the best common ingredients, and an artisanal bread maker. It's affordable because it's the food of the working class, a mid-afternoon caloric windfall for the hungry masses. In Puebla, the cemita poblana has been shaped by and standardized by the soul and ingenuity of the Pueblans. They aren't as good outside Puebla, and a novice can merely make a decent sandwich, or a home version.
My cemita poblana of tender milanesa at Super Cemitas Alex, deftly fried, perfect give of bread, and the forward flavors of bright cheese was marvelous. The extra richness of the Reed avocados and pack of acrid papalo are sensational, all ingredients working together perfect unison. My friend Rodrigo who came with me on this trip from Mexico City laughed how good it was.
Superior sandwich making belongs to the artisans that preserve those traditions, whose lives are pledged to a single task. The torta, the torta ahogada, the pambazo, the pastrami, the choripan, the croque-monsieur, and the banh mi.
We can all make a good or even great sandwich, but Puebla and in the spirits of poblanos artisanos(Artisanal Pueblan sandwich makers) is where the cemita poblana shines.
Super Cemitas Alex
mornings and until the market closes, around 5PM.
Mercado Venustiano Carranza,227
Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza(Puebla City), Puebla