Last year's Feria de los Moles (or Mole Fair) at L.A.'s Olvera Street drew 30,000 people -- and with good reason. The annual event, now in its fifth year and happening Sunday, Oct. 7, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., celebrates this classic Mexican dish with food, music, dance, workshops, and even a friendly competition. Admission is free.
Mole is so rich, thick, complex and flavorful that many consider it a main dish, ideal with just tortillas or rice. All moles are based on chiles and spices that have been toasted, roasted, ground and cooked; ingredients can range from a couple of dozen to several dozen. But many types exist, beyond the popular mole poblano (Puebla-style) and mole negro (black, Oaxacan-style) that we see most often in L.A. Even from regions other than Puebla and Oaxaca, the two most acclaimed mole makers. Ever try almond mole from Mexico City? Pink mole from Taxco?
Still, this year's Feria de los Moles is all about Puebla and Oaxaca. You can taste moles from 13 vendors, all of whom use "a recipe from generations ago, and an artisanal process of making it from scratch," says event co-founder Lourdes Juarez. Tastings are free, with additional food available for purchase.
From Puebla, expect the traditional mole poblano, and also pipian made of ground seeds. You may also see chiles en nogada -- poblano chiles in a creamy walnut sauce. (Not a mole, but just as complex and quintessentially Pueblan, says Juarez.) From Oaxaca, look for its seven traditional varieties -- negro, rojo, coloradito, amarillo, verde, chichilo and manchamanteles (which literally means tablecloth stainer).
Be sure to try mole from Micaela Cortés, grandmother of event co-founder Pedro Ramos. The 87-year-old known as Doña Kaelita is visiting from Puebla, where Ramos grew up. Since childhood, Ramos observed Doña Kaelita's detailed preparations -- the mix of ingredients such as ancho chiles, bananas and animal crackers, the mesquite-fueled fire to fry spices, and the pots big enough to feed 2,000 people.
Ramos created the event in her honor, hoping to inspire younger generations to keep family recipes alive. Councilman Jose Huizar, Rep. Xavier Becerra, Supervisor Gloria Molina and Dr. Hayes Bautista of UCLA will pay tribute to her accomplishments with a ceremony at 4 p.m.
And on another civic note, Van Nuys is proclaiming Oct. 5 "Mole Day."
Between tastings, learn about the difference between Puebla's and Oaxaca's style of moles at workshops happening at noon, 2 and 3 p.m. outside LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes museum. Then put your knowledge to work and cast a vote for the best state. (The voting booth's open until 4 p.m., and the winner will be announced at 6 p.m.) Also take time to watch folkloric music and dance performances. And don't forget that Sunday is also CicLAvia, and the route runs just a couple of blocks from Olvera Street.
For mole-craving Angelenos, Juarez has a message: Wear comfortable shoes. "Please come!" she says. "You must do your civic duty!"