While some of our blogger brethren headed down south this weekend to celebrate the regional cuisine of Baja California, those who hung tight had the opportunity to taste distinct moles from Oaxaca and Puebla. Over 30,000 people turned out for Sunday's Feria de los Moles at Plaza Olvera, where snaking lines waited to sample each regions' black gold.
The event sprung out of a friendly argument between co-founders Gabriel Cruz of Oaxaca, and Pedro Ramos of Puebla. Each contended that their region's mole was superior, but they wanted to let the public decide. Thus the Feria de los Moles was born.
Although the event's organizers labeled it as a "gastronomical showdown," the Feria is more of a friendly exhibition where eager eaters could discover the nuances of each state's unique mole.
"It's not about competition. The goal is to let the young people experience the culture through mole, and to instill pride in them," says Cruz.
The dish dates back to the pre-colonial times in Mexico, where a Nahuatl sauce called "molli" was common. After the Spanish conquistadors arrived, cooks in Puebla added ingredients like cinnamon, cloves, pepper and almonds, making what's known today as mole poblano. Because of this, Puebla is regarded as being the birthplace of modern mole. Their mole poblano is known for being a more fiery blend than its Oaxacan counterpart.
Oaxaca, however, is where the most varieties of mole exist. There are seven main categories of mole that are recognized in the region: negro (black), rojo (red), colorodito (brick red), mancha mantales ("table cloth staining," which contains tropical fruits), verde (green), amarillo (yellow) and chichilo (made with beef stock). We also spotted a mole alemendrado (almonds) at the festival, and according to Saveur, there are countless other variations as you wander out into Oaxaca's countryside. Not to mention the mole offerings from other states in Mexico.
In fact, chef Juan Mondragon, who hosted a booth at the Feria, serves 11 different moles in his Baldwin Park restaurant, Juan's Restaurante. Madragon brings an almost macrobiotic ideology to his cuisine, using grape seed oil instead of vegetable oil, and nopales in his handmade tortillas and agua frescas. (His sister is a cancer survivor, and he believes that nopales helped with the healing.) Perhaps the most interesting of his dishes, though, was the huitlacoche (corn fungus) mole. So if you missed this year's festival, maybe head over to Baldwin Park.
Follow the author on Twitter @kristasimmons