28 September 2008

Mole Festival of Guanajuato

On Saturday afternoon my wife Gina and I took in the mole festival at the Plaza San Fernando in the beautiful city of Guanajuato which is only about twenty five miles from where we live in Irapuato. Mole (pronounced MOH- lay) is probably the most popular but least understood of Mexico's regional sauces. There are several kinds of mole sauces and they even come in different colors. The most famous mole is “Mole Poblano” from the city of Puebla. There is a widely accepted story that Sister Andrea de la Asunción of the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla created it for the first time in honor of a visit by the archbishop sometime during the late sixteen hundreds. She served it over turkey and the dish is popularly known as “Mole Poblano de Guajalote” (MOH- lay pohb-LAHN-oh day gwah-hah-LOH-tay). By the way, the archbishop was pleased and rewarded her with a brand new white tiled kitchen and you can still see this kitchen if you visit the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla. It is a fabulous kitchen and any good cook would feel right at home in it to this very day.

I must confess that I am not a big fan of mole. Perhaps it is because I have eaten so much of it and a lot of it was...well, let's just say that it wasn't all that good. It seems like every affair that I go to serves chicken with mole sauce, rice, and refried beans. This takes into account weddings, birthday bashes, baptism parties, etcetera. During periods when there are a lot of celebrations it seems like I have mole sauce running in my veins. It is very difficult to make good mole from scratch. You need up to forty ingredients to make an authentic mole and most people just don't have the time, the expertise, and access to the proper ingredients. Instead, they buy mole paste in the market and reconstitute it with chicken stock. Finding the good mole paste is the trick. If you don't start out with a good paste you will end up with a dark brown gravy that tastes like burnt chocolate and chiles. In Guanajuato there is a lady who makes wonderful mole paste. Her name is María Isabel L. De Bonilla and she has been making mole the traditional way by grinding the ingredients on a stone called a “matate” (mah-TAH-tay) for about fifty years. Many of the best restaurants in the area use mole made by Doña María Isabel. She was honored at this festival for making the best mole in the state of Guanajuato.

My wife Gina is an excellent cook and she was very interested in this festival because it gave her a chance to sample mole dishes from many different restaurants in our area. I had a good time also but for a different reason. We paid two hundred pesos to get in and that gave us access to all the food that we could eat and all the beer and wine that we could drink. How can you beat a deal like that? We were there for just a little while when to our surprise the Estudiantina Guanajuato entered the big tent to entertain us. They are an ensemble of students and faculty from the University of Guanajuato and they dress in old Spanish period attire and play various stringed instruments ranging from guitar and mandolin to base violin. They put on a great show and many of the people (including yours truly) sang right along with them. There was a tour group there from the Principality of Asturias which is an autonomous community within the kingdom of Spain. They were having a wonderful time but unfortunately, in the middle of the performance, their tour bus driver came and said that it was time for them to go. They all broke into a serenade about saying goodbye and as they filed out while singing a beautiful farewell they waved goodbye to us and we did the same to them. It brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat and I guess you might call it one of those wonderful international moments of Zen. All in all it was a fantastic way to pass a Saturday afternoon. Life in Mexico doesn't get much better than this.


GlorV1 said...

That mole poblano looks so good. I hope that Maria Isabel L. De Bonilla will share her recipe with the world. It looks like you had a great time at the Mole Festival. You people have so many festivals over there and its all about sharing. All your pictures are outstanding. I make my mole from scratch but I know it is no where near the real thing. Thanks for sharing, I was there.

YayaOrchid said...

Bob, that last plate of mole sure does look mighty good!

There you go again making me laugh! That comment about mole running through your veins is funny. I think maybe the reason you're not crazy about it is because you've had too much of it at all those parties you go to. Here we eat mole maybe twice a year. You're right, it is hard to find a good sauce. And forget about making it from scratch. Too time consuming. But I do know a couple of ladies that do it.

I'm glad you had a good time at that feria!

Babs said...

Darn, we never know about stuff going on in Guanajuato! I would have loved to have been there for that......I made mole once with Suzana Trilling from Oaxaca - it takes a village to make mole! And, all day........
The estudiantes are here in San Miguel every weekend and it is so great to watch them work the crowd every Friday and Saturday night.....especially with the mariachis trying to compete! it's wonderful

Billie Mercer said...

Mi Esposo loves, loves mole. If he had known about the fair I'm sure we would have been there.

1st Mate said...

I haven't been here long enough to get tired of mole, but I've found some brands taste more like pipe tobacco than real mole. I would love to taste homemade, that's on my Mexico wish list. Meanwhile I'll dig out the stuff in the jar, I guess.

sfhapa said...

Hi Bob! The description of the festival and the pictures are wonderful. My husband's grandparents are from Irapuato, Guanajuato. He's been trying to replicate the family recipe for a Mole dinner we're throwing in November - Were you able to get Maria Isabel L. De Bonilla's recipe or is there a recipe you and your wife like using? Thanks, Michele

Bob Mrotek said...

María Isabel sells her mole to restaurants and has been for fifty years. Her recipe is a secret. Send me an e-mail with the names of your husband's grandparents. I live in Irapuato and my in-laws may know them. I will also send you a family recipe.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.