Overview:

Mole, like the Tianguis, has pre-Colombian roots, though many ingredients used in most modern varieties are not native to the Americas and would be unrecognizable to the Aztecs. The sauce has been made for centuries, and is recognized as one of Mexico’s national dishes. Mole dishes can be found in many cities outside of Mexico with high Mexican populations, as well.



Variety:

Mole comes from "mulli", a Nahautl word for “sauce”. Being a sauce is the only thing that all varieties of mole have in common, other than being used in traditional Mexican cuisine. A mole can be red, yellow, brown, runny, thick, sweet, sour, spicy, or savory. Many Mexican stews are considered mole, as well. It usually takes a very long time to prepare any kind of mole, and a mole with about 30 ingredients is not unheard of. Each region has its own mole tradition, and every family has its own recipe passed down from mother to daughter.

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Mole rojo, one of the many varieties of mole


The most popular and recognizable variety of mole is Mole Poblano, a thick brown sauce made with chocolate, and is associated with the town of Puebla. Mole Poblano is traditionally served over chicken or turkey for holidays. One of these celebration is Cinco de Mayo, only celebrated in Puebla.

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Mole poblano


Another town that is also famous for its mole is San Pedro Atocpan, south of Mexico City. About 60% of all of Mexico’s mole paste is made in Atocpan. Every year the town hosts a large mole festival, where people from all around the world to sample the great variety of mole made in San Pedro.*
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Mole festival in San Pedro Atocpan

Queretaro has been known for its mole verde for about a century. Every year the town hosts a cook-off called the Mole and Tortilla Festival, in which the women of Queretaro prepare their family mole recipes to compete against the others'.

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A chicken dish made with mole verde queretano





History and Legends:

Mole is a sauce that has been made since the Aztec empire. However, most modern mole varieties would be unrecognizable to an Aztec. Mole today uses spices and herbs from Europe and Asia, though most indigenous ingredients have remained in recipes through the centuries. Other than the widely-known Aztec origins and Spanish influences, there is some debate over the history of mole. Because mole is an important part of Mexican cuisine, but the first recipes and creation were never recorded, there are many legends about the inspiration for the first mole.


One legend goes like this: “16th Century nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla de los Angeles, upon learning that the Archbishop was coming for a visit, went into a panic because they had nothing to serve him. The nuns started praying desperately and an angel came to inspire them. They began chopping and grinding and roasting, mixing different types of chiles together with spices, day-old bread, nuts, a little chocolate and approximately 20 other ingredients. This concoction boiled for hours and was reduced to the thick, sweet, rich and fragrant mole sauce we know today. To serve in the mole, they killed the only meat they had, an old turkey, and the strange sauce was poured over it. The archbishop was more than happy with his banquet and the nuns saved face. Little did they know they were creating the Mexican National dish for holidays and feasts, and that today, millions of people worldwide have at least heard of mole poblano.”*

Though the origins of mole have not been recorded, the influences of Spanish colonialists have. Most of the first written mole recipes are based on how dishes were cooked in 18th-century elite Spanish courts. These recipes called for Asian spices such as cinnamon and cloves, which at the time of writing were marks of extravagant wealth. One can still see these ingredients and techniques used in modern mole.*



Identity:

Regional varieties of mole are a source of pride and sense of identity for many Mexicans. Most people see their own recipe as completely unique, and part of their family and regional histories.
Many people also claim mole as a symbol of mestizo, or mixing or Spanish and indigenous Mexican cultures. The majority of Mexicans have a mixed native and Spanish ancestry, much like mole’s past of mixing Spanish and native ingredients and techniques.*



References:
Graber, Karen H. "Demystifying Mole, Mexico's National Dish." : Mexico Cuisine. N.p., 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.

"Mole Poblano: Mexico's National Food Dish." Mexonline. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.mexonline.com/molepoblano.htm>.

Graber, Karen H. "October in Actopan." N.p., 1 Oct. 2008. Web.

Zavala, Leticia B. "En Querétaro, Cientos Disfrutaron De La Feria Del Mole Y La Tortilla." N.p., 23 July 2010. Web.

Pilcher, Jeffery M., and Rachael Laudan. "Chiles, Chocolate, and Race in New Spain: Glancing Backward to Spain or Looking Forward to Mexico?" Eighteenth-Century Life 23.2 (1999): 59. Web.