Meet ‘Mole’: The National Dish of Mexico With a Unique History
To be considered the “national dish of Mexico,” a country with a rich and diverse cuisine, a dish has to reach legendary heights. Mole does exactly that.
This weird sauce that is poured over chicken, turkey, and enchiladas, among many other types of food, has an incredible history and symbolizes all that is amazing about Mexican gastronomy.
Today, I’ll take you on an interesting journey through the world of mole, its disputed origins, and whether it’s the “national dish of Mexico.” You’ll also learn about the varieties of mole that Mexicans enjoy on a regular basis, their recipes, and my own personal relationship with this delicious gift from Mexico to the world.
What Is Mole?
Even though Mole is the national dish of Mexico, it’s still a “very misunderstood food.” It’s a sauce, but not the typical sauce that you pour over your tacos. Yes, it contains chocolate, but it’s not a chocolate sauce. Besides, there are many different types of mole.
To summarize, mole is the generic name given to an array of different sauces of diverse colors, that contain a combination of nut, fruits, chili, and sometimes chocolate.
However, mole, in its essence, represents a way of life that’s disappearing. An understanding of food and eating as a ritual that could take days in the making and involve many people in its preparation. That’s the secret of mole, that it’s not a dish for our rushing times, and I guess that’s why people love it so much.
A Brief History of Mole
Like most marvelous things from Mexico, mole comes from a mix of cultures. In the ancient Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, the word “molli” or “mulli” meant “sauce” or “concoction,” and it was used to describe a simple mix of chilies and tomatoes.
As legend has it, Moctezuma served mole to Hernan Cortes when he arrived at Tenochtitlan and the Aztec emperor was still thinking that the Spaniard conqueror was a god. If this story is true, that mole wasn’t the same mole we know these days. It surely missed the new ingredients brought to the Americas by the European colonizers.
Another story says that mole was created in a convent in Puebla, as nuns rushed in panic to prepare something for the archbishop that honoured them with an unannounced visit. The problem with this story is that a similar one is used to explain the origin of Chiles en Nogada, too. Convents and nuns definitely played a decisive role in the evolution of Mexican cuisine, but we can’t make nuns responsible for every single Mexican dish.
What we know for sure is that the first written recipes for mole appear after 1810, once Mexico was an independent country. We also know that Puebla and Oaxaca are the two states where it’s most probable that mole originated, although Tlaxcala also claims its creation.
Why Mole is the National Dish of Mexico
The label of “National Dish of Mexico” isn’t an official award and, as such, it’s disputed by several different dishes. However, beside tacos which are not exactly a dish as they can be made of pretty much everything you find around, and Chiles en Nogada, no other dish has grown to symbolize what Mexican cuisine stands for as much as mole.
Mole’s case for being the national dish of Mexico rests on the syncretism between its European and indigenous ingredients, one that reflects that of the Mexican people. At its core, mole is a symbol of mestizaje, a proof of the amazing possibilities created by the mixture of Spanish and indigenous cultures.
Different Types of Mole
You’ll be surprised to learn that the national dish of Mexico isn’t one dish but many, as there are several different types of mole. For your pleasure, I’m adding links to las recetas (recipes) in Spanish for each kind of mole. You’re welcome!
Probably the most famous type of mole. As its name suggests, it originates from the Mexican state of Puebla, and its invention is the center of multiple arguments. Most stories include “divine inspiration” as part of the creative process of this legendary dish.
A variation of this dish was known as mole de guajolote or totolmole and served in indigenous ceremonies as offering for the death. Guajolote is the Nahuatl word for pavo or “turkey.”
Among its ingredients, you can find up to 4 different kinds of chili, cacahuate (nuts), chocolate, and ajonjolí (sesame seeds).
Mole Negro de Oaxaca
The most popular type of mole in the rich cuisine of Oaxaca. Traditionally served during Día de Muertos, it needs up to 30 ingredients to prepare, including 4 types of chiles, burned tortilla, plátano macho (plantain), and pepita de calabaza (pumpkin pip).
Mole Almendrado de San Pedro Atocpan
This little neighborhood hidden in the enormity of Mexico City put itself in the map thanks to the unique and exquisite mole prepared in the community. Making mole in San Pedro Atocpan is a way of life, and locals main income source.
In October, visit this picturesque area of Mexico City and get lost in the National Fair of Mole. The ingredient that distinguishes this mole is the almendra (almond) as suggested by its name.
Originally from the state of Veracruz and also known as pipián verde, this type of mole is famous for its characteristic green color. When you take a look at the list of verduras (green vegetables) in the recipe, you understand where the vibrant verde comes from: chícharos verdes (green peas), nopales, calabacín (zucchini), and chícharos dulces (sweet peas).
My Personal Relationship with the National Dish of Mexico
I’m sure most Mexicans will have a similar story to tell about the national dish of Mexico, but I was particularly touched when I got the opportunity to write about mole. My abuela (grandmother) used to cook the best mole I’ve ever tasted, and it was a whole experience to watch her prepare it for her whole family.
Mole is also my father’s favorite dish, and I still remember all the times my madre (mother) prepared it for him when I was a kid, and how he would stain his shirt every time he ate it at home. We would all make jokes about it, and he had to change his shirt before going back to work.
The White Shirt Challenge
This is a real thing in Mexico. There was even a mole TV commercial about a competition between mole enthusiasts trying to eat it without staining their own white shirts.
There’s something about mole, that seems to attract clean white shirts. So my dad wasn’t the only one who couldn’t keep his white shirt clean.
Is Mole Only for Special Occasions?
Due to the complexity of its recipe and the arduous work required to prepare a good mole, it used to be reserved for special occasions. Nowadays though, industrialization has given us instant mole—which isn’t as good as “real” mole, but it’s still pretty good.
Mole is no longer reserved for special occasions. If you feel like enjoying a delicious thick sauce made of a crazy combination of chiles, chocolate, exotic seeds, and nuts, today is as good as any other day!
Talk About Food in Spanish
Today, you learned a lot about the national dish of Mexico: mole. Learning about food in Spanish is an excellent way to improve your vocabulary. Try reading the linked recipes in Spanish for each type or mole and 10 Interesting Spanish Verbs Related to Food and Drink.
You can also sign up to a free trial class with one of our certified teachers from Guatemala and start talking about mole, Mexican cuisine, and food in Spanish today!
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