My mom had been wanting to go for the past 30 years, but for some reason or another we always missed it. Last Monday one of my students told me he had gone over the weekend and that it had been amazing. I texted my mom and asked her if she and my dad would like to go this year and she immediately replied that yes, they’d love to go on the weekend.
We made plans to meet Sunday morning and drive several miles into the most rural part of Mexico City where La 34ava Feria Nacional del Mole (34th National Mole Fair) is taking place until next Sunday. The town where it is held every year is called San Pedro Actopan and it is a small rural town in the municipality of Milpa Alta. We decided to go early because my dad had work in the afternoon and the fair receives a lot of visitors during the weekends and getting there and back is a nightmare (getting everywhere in this city is a nightmare, traffic is just too much. That’s why I try to use the subway as much as I can).
After 45 minutes (we took an “alternative” way) of driving through hills and picturesque towns we finally arrived. The entrance and welcoming sign were not the most elaborate or… nice… for such a popular event, but our expectations were still very high. We paid the 5 pesos per person to get in and walked on a gravel path that took us to the first part of the fair, the Mexican arts and crafts.
I really love my culture and everything that our artisans make. But I’ve been here for a couple of months already and I’ve seen a lot of beautiful work. Not that there wasn’t any at the fair. To the contrary, I was amazed by the crafts and the materials used to make them, wood, granite, black mud, volcanic rock, etc. But we went all that way there for one thing only, mole.
As we continued walking we ran into a huge (80-foot tall, at least) metal post and a very unique music that I immediately recognized. With excitement I told my mom: Look, voladores de Papantla (Papantla Flyers). My mom and dad confessed, to my surprise, that they had never seen them live. I had seen the performance in front of the Anthropology Museum before. But this was a first for my parents (I still can’t believe it was their first time).
The rite started with the traditional music and dance at the foot of the pole, and then the long climb began.
Once the 5 dancers were on top of the pole and the rope tide around the reel, the one dancer with the flute and drum stood up and danced on the very top of the pole without any protection or safety measurements on a space no bigger than 12″ x 12″.
When the little dance was over the other 4 dancers began their descend.
It didn’t take them more than 5 minutes to reach the ground. But for me, those 5 minutes are the most spectacular of pre-Hispanic Mexico. I am glad that this millenarian tradition has been kept alive by our indigenous artists.
After the performance we continued walking towards the other end of the fair grounds and finally came to the part we were looking for the whole time, the mole expositors pavilion.
My heart started to beat faster when I saw the first moles arranged beautifully in pottery bowls (the bowls where Mexican food should be cooked). There were so many kinds and looked so delicious that I started to take pictures like a madman. Here are just some of them:
And the best part was that as you walked in front of the expositors’ booths they gave you samples of their delicious creations. I ate so many of them that I ended up with a little bit of heartburn (and I very rarely get one!)
After walking in front of all of the mole vendors we were ready to sink our teeth in some delicious mole dishes so we went into one restaurant where we saw some beautiful tortillas being made by hand at the entrance. We learned that what gives these tortillas their bright colors are the fruits of the nopal they add to the the corn masa and different types of corn they use, red and blue corn.
It didn’t take us very long to decide what we were going to eat. My parents ordered the Mole especial (extra almonds and sesame seeds) with a turkey leg and I ordered a chicken thigh in fruit mole and a Negra Modelo. A few minutes later our plates started to arrive.
After the first bite everything made sense in my life. You see, I’ve been having some hard time adjusting back to life in Mexico. I miss my family, friends, house and life in general back in Ohio. But when I started eating that delicious mole, all the real and imaginary problems of my home country didn’t matter anymore. In my mind there was only one thought: “This is the reason you are here. This amazingly delicious food is why you came back. This is the Mexico you love, the one you want to explore and write about. This is our culture and our food. And just to experience it makes all the sacrifices worth it.”
So we enjoyed our lunch with handmade tortillas, Mexican beer and mariachi music along with many other happy sounds. And when I thought it couldn’t get any better we walked a couple of booths over to have the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted in my life, period.
Cremeria Chalco is a company that has been making ice cream for several decades. However, they don’t sell it to the public. They only sell this decadent ice cream for special events and restaurants. But just look at the presentation. The one on the left is tequila ice cream (the one I had) and the other two are pineapple and coconut ice cream. Isn’t that gorgeous? Fortunately, they told me that a restaurant close to where I live carries this ice cream so I will be going there very soon just to have dessert. They could make a fortune if they sold it retail.
After dessert we slowly made it back to the exit taking in all the delicious aromas, bright colors and happy sounds of the Mexican culture. How come we’ve been missing this for so long? I kept wondering. But that didn’t matter anymore. Neither did the crowds that were pouring in as we left, nor the traffic that we encountered on our way back to “civilization”, nor the obvious signs of the problems of the country. At that moment we were happy because our bellies were full with delicious food, like that wise Mexican saying goes: Panza llena corazón contento (a full belly makes the heart happy). Our hearts indeed were very happy that day.
La Feria del mole is held every year during the month of October in San Pedro Actopan in Mexico City. Please contact me if you want more information about this delicious celebration of Mexican food.