I’ll admit that it took a food stall at Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s weekly food market Smorgasburg, Cemita’s, to introduce me to the cemita, the Poblano version of the Mexican torta, or sandwich. It was all the inspiration I needed to make a side trip to Puebla during a recent visit to Mexico City.
Cemita Basics: The standard version of the cemita, which is considerably bigger than the typical Mexican torta, places beef milanesa on a sesame seed egg roll and tops it with many other ingredients such as cueritos (pickled pig skin), shredded soft white cheese such as quesillo or panela, a heady herb called papalo, onions, peppers, and avocado. Said to be developed 200 years ago by vendors in Puebla’s Mercado Victoria, until the 1990’s, all of the best cemita makers could be found there. When the market was hollowed out and rebuilt as a sort of modern shopping center the cemita makers dispersed to many smaller markets. The cemiteros can now be found in every corner of the city.
Here are my recommendations for eating cemitas in Puebla, Mexico:
Las Poblanitas: In the off the beaten track Mercado Melchor Ocampo (also called Mercado El Carmen), this is, at least in my opinion, the best cemita in Puebla. The large, flashy food stall pumps out a made to order, over-oversized version of the cemita that takes a ten-person assembly line with Ford Motor Company efficiency to create. Each employee works on a different ingredient or part of the process: someone slices the bread, others prepare the dozens of ingredients ranging from pickled cauliflower to layering the ham to pulling apart the cheese, and several put everything together. They even add a slice of deli ham. It’s huge. Even with two hands it’s difficult to eat.
Mercado de Sabores Poblanos: This 73,000-square-foot, $4.1 million market-cum-food court that opened recently has more than a dozen stalls selling cemitas, as well as other Poblano specialites like chiles en nogada (when in season), pipián verde, tacos árabes, and mole poblano. Try the cemitas from locally famous stall As de Oro, though several other stalls seem comparable.
El Mural de los Poblanos: Formal restaurants don’t usually serve cemitas, though El Mural, a beautiful space dominated by historic frescoes and refined versions of regional plates and mole degustations, is an exception. An authority on all things foodie in Puebla, it was here that Frontera Grill’s Rick Bayless oriented his annual staff trip to Mexico around in 2011. El Miral’s cemitas aren’t exactly classic though: they serve cemita sliders, which are part cemita, part chalupa.
Mercado Venustiano Carranza: If you are looking for a more authentic, grittier version of Mercado de Sabores Poblanos, you can just walk across the street to this large market with ten or so different cemita stalls with some of the lowest prices in the city.
Izucar de Matamoros: This village in southern Puebla, is known for giant cemitas, like those at Las Poblanitas, which they call semivolcanes and fill with carnitas instead of milanesa.