{perfect day} A Tale of Two Cities – Cholula, Mexico

Cholula is a town that’s just outside of Puebla, but there are actually two Cholulas, in more ways than one. The first way: literally. There are literally two Cholulas–San Andrés Cholula and San Pedro Cholula–that are connected to one another but that are absolutely different towns. I know this because they use the same numbers and addresses for their streets, so if you give an address in “Cholula” to a taxi driver and don’t specify which one, you might not get to where you think you want to go and you might have the driver running around asking every Tomas, Juan, and Pablo where the heck you’re going.

The second way: there are some very old things in Cholula and some very new things in Cholula, often separated by only a short walk.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the main attraction of Cholula is thought to be the Pirámide de Cholula, ostensibly the largest pyramid in the world, with a 16th century church perched on top. I say “ostensibly” because it is covered in grass and trees so although manmade, it really just seems like, well, a big hill. There, I said it. It’s no substitute for Teotihuácan, Monte Alban, or Giza. Still, despite its inherent lack of pyramidness, it’s pretty cool to walk up to the church on top and get a view of the town below. On a clear day (which does not describe the day I visited) you can also get a view of Popocatepetl–a majestic snow-capped volcano.

Outside the Pirámide you can buy crispy potato chips that get limed and hot sauced to order. You’ll be fighting over the soggy, spicy ones at the bottom of the bag.

Or, you can buy homemade ice cream from a barrel.

I would argue that there are other attractions in Cholula that far outrank the Pirámide. Among the old things, my vote is for the central food market, which is one of the very best market I have visited. The market is in San Pedro Cholula.

A blue corn quesadilla made to order with your choice of fillings is not to be missed. Among the local specialties you can request in your filling are huitlacoche (corn fungus, corn smut, corn mushroom, or even the highly aspirational corn truffle are common English translations for this) and flor de calabaza (squash blossoms).

There are also mushrooms, onions, and chicharrones (pork cracklings) to choose from. Whatever you decide on, you will get a thick, hand-formed blue masa tortilla made in front of your eyes, and a complement of stringy white cheese melted inside.

And the meat. Oh the meat! Or should I say MEATS? (If meat grosses you out scroll down past the next five photos!)

Vic seems like a good guy to know…

I have never seen these stacks of meat in a Mexican market before, and at first I thought it was for carne asada. It is actually for a local specialty called tacos arabe (“Arabian tacos”). Layers of this thinly sliced meat are packed onto a spit and roasted, then put into a thick, flatbread-like tortilla. It’s like the Salma Hayek of street food–the sexiest and most wonderful combination of the Middle East and Mexico you can imagine.

But maybe you’re not into Salma Hayek tacos. Perhaps you prefer chicken.

There’s a whole shop just selling viscera–brains, intestines, glands, and other unspeakable things. Wonder if Vicky is related to Vic? Seems like a good partnership. He sells the meat, she gets the rest. (side note: IWWW.)

If meat grosses you out, focus on the flowers–displayed in recycled oil cans.

Of course, you will want to pick up a souvenir–some authentic mole Poblano to take home, either in paste or powdered form. After all, you are in the birthplace of mole!

Now let’s talk about the new things in the other Cholula.

The new thing that is the most beautiful and smart and unique and interesting in Cholula is Container City–a 50,000 square foot commercial area comprised entirely of shipping containers painted brightly and opened up to be like the coolest little outdoor shopping/dining/entertainment center you’ve ever visited.

Container City has been featured on fancy design blogs which is how I found out about it.

If you like modern architectural wonders a visit to Container City is a must.

Be sure to remember, Container City is in “the other” Cholula–San Andrés Cholula. Luckily it’s only about a 10 minute walk from the Piramide and about a 20 minute walk from the market. To reach Container City from the Pirámide, walk downhill along the walled street that is at different points called Hidalgo, Morelos, 14 Pte, or 14 Ote. When you hit 5 de Mayo Street and see this Pollo Feliz, turn right and then a quick left on 12 Pte. It’s just there next to the empty lot.

A perfect day in Cholula for me would be a noontime stroll through the market, sharing a quesadilla and buying some mole paste to take home. Next I would climb the Pirámide to work off the quesadilla, and get an ice cream at the bottom. Finally I’d walk over to Container City for a late afternoon drink and a spot of shopping rolling into dinner. You’ll get all of the best of all possible Cholulas, in every sense of the word.

My drink of choice whenever in Mexico: a sipping shot of Herradura Reposado and a beer. Qué rica indeed. Hasta la próxima vez, Cholula(s). I’ll miss you most of all, exciting trash can.

Hat tip to A Life Worth Eating, whose photos of the Mercado de Cholula were instrumental in inspiring the visit.

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6 Responses

  1. gerardo says:

    A very nice post and wonderful pictures. Congratulations!

  2. Laura says:

    Great photos, especially the market shots! I’ve read about the container city but have yet to actually visit. It looks so interesting. I’ll have to plan another trip down there to check it out! 😉

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