Sunday, June 16, 2024

How to sample Tlaxcala’s fast-growing reputation for fascinating food

It’s often been one of Mexico’s more underrated states, but Tlaxcala is fast becoming a food destination, thanks in part to its many culinary promoters and its reputation among top chefs for pulque, edible insects, heritage corn, wild mushrooms and more. 

As one of the few states whose cuisine has been named part of UNESCO’s World Heritage (along with Puebla and Oaxaca) Tlaxcala is surprisingly under-the-radar for a destination only an hour or so from Mexico City. 

Here’s a little help in exploring this biodiverse state, starting with its capital city, also named Tlaxcala. 

Cuatro Volcanes Distillery 

The brainchild of brother-sister team Ernesto and Celeste Vargas Mendoza, Cuatro Volcanes is worth venturing out of the city center to explore one of Tlaxcala City’s more residential neighborhoods. 

The Cuatro Volcanes Distillery and gastropub, started by brother-and-sister team Ernesto and Celeste Vargas Mendoza, is a cozy location to sip fine artisanal spirits with a fine meal.

While the gastropub above the distillery has a menu full of local spins on classic bar food, the real stars here are its spirits — an aged rum made with local panela sugar, a gin infused with cacao and one of Mexico’s only local whiskeys made with fair-trade corn from the region. Ernesto and Celeste are consummate hosts, and this will become your favorite new bar in no time. 

Friday Alternative Market 

A decades-long tradition in Tlaxcala city, the Friday Alternative Market in San Nicolás Park is more than just a farmers’ market, it’s a showcase for local cuisine and culinary delicacies and food sown, grown and cooked by the people you buy it from. 

Fresh pulque, roasted crickets, rabbit barbacoa and homemade cheeses are just a few of things to sink your teeth into here. 

Most locals make it an event rather than a mere shopping outing, using the time to meet up with friends and sample some of the countryside’s best food. 

Unless you’re a vegetarian, you’d be remiss to pass up some of Don Pepe’s barbacoa. The meat comes from his own cattle farm.

Centro de Investigación de la Cocina Tlaxcalteca

Chef Irad Santa Cruz has long been an advocate for his state’s food and has been working with traditional cooks for almost a decade, learning the recipes and culinary history of his region. 

Now he has opened a cooking school and culinary center that hosts classes, culinary events and teach-ins about local ingredients and cuisine. The center will soon be open to guests who want to stick around as well, with two rooms that they will be renting on Airbnb. 

At Chef Irad Santa Cruz’s Centro de Investigación de la Cocina Tlaxcalteca, they are compiling a history of Tlaxcala’s food and traditional recipes. He has preserved examples of over 100 varieties of corn alone.

Brindisi Cocina Artesanal

With all the great local cuisine in Tlaxcala, it seems a shame to eat pizza, unless that pizza is from Brindisi’s brick oven and made on their fresh sourdough crust. 

Brindisi is a laid-back spot right near the city’s main plaza whose other goodies include fresh bagels, sweetbreads, a house-made cocktail and freshly brewed espresso. 

Emilio Sánchez Piedras Market

Everywhere I go, I seek out the local market, not the touristy ones full of tchotchkes, but a real-deal market where people do their grocery shopping for the week. The Emilio Sanchez is that. It has all the glorious fruit and veggie displays I have come to expect in Mexico, along with prepared food stands and a surprising number of flour tortilla mills. 

Piensa en Mi Cantina

A favorite local watering hole, Piensa en Mi Cantina tries to bring the old-fashioned charm of a classic cantina into the new age. 

Besides regular beers and snacks, it has handcrafted mezcal and rum cocktails and a list of classic Mexican dishes — tortilla soup, tlacoyos, chiles rellenos, and lots of tacos, just to name some. 

At Chef Irad Santa Cruz’s Centro de Investigación de la Cocina Tlaxcalteca, they are compiling a history of Tlaxcala’s food and traditional recipes. He has preserved examples of over 100 varieties of corn alone. 

Molino de los Reyes

For upscale weekend brunch, head to the Molino de los Reyes, also the town’s most famous boutique hotel. Here you will find lots of classic Tlaxcala dishes on their menu of family recipes dating back generations, dishes like pipian rojo and oxtail.

Simple roasted shrimp is an upscale dining event at Tlaxcala’s Molino de los Reyes.

Molino de los Reyes was nominated by the Prix Villegiature Awards as the best breakfast in the world — let me repeat, in the world — in 2022. 

Hotel Posada Tlaxcala 

There lots of places to stay at in Tlaxcala, but I am partial to the Hotel Posada Tlaxcala for a couple reasons: the rooms are clean, comfortable and cozy without being overpriced; the central location cannot be beat for walking around; and the staff are extremely friendly and helpful. 

The orange and lemon trees in the back patio perfume the air, and the morning breakfast nooks are as welcoming as the cats that walk the hotel’s fence line. 

Saniz Maguey 

If you’re willing to go outside town, about an hour from the city is the Saniz Maguey farm, where you can take a tour, hunt for maguey worms, have a homemade breakfast or drink some of their just-made pulque liquor, fresh from the still. 

Alejandro and Isela welcome groups of all sizes to come and see what it means to farm maguey plants and all the products derived from them. Nearby are the Tecoaque ruins that tell the history of the region, reaching as far back as A.D. 450.  

To reserve a tour call +52 749 106 7084.

Lydia Carey is a freelance writer and translator based out of Mexico City. She has been published widely both online and in print, writing about Mexico for over a decade. She lives a double life as a local tour guide and is the author of Mexico City Streets: La Roma. Follow her urban adventures on Instagram and see more of her work at www.mexicocitystreets.com.

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