Mexican food is both mystifying and fascinating. Not just in its infinite varieties and flavours, but in its origins and evolution that dates back thousands of years. Trying to figure out how some Mexican foods came to exist in their present form is like playing detective in a story full of twists and turns and plot twists. The story of Mole, the national dish of Mexico, may be the most enigmatic of all.
Mole reserves the honour of being the national dish of Mexico. But, what is it? A sauce? A dish?
The word ‘mole’ comes from Aztec “molli” meaning 'sauce' or 'mixture.' It is a dish that excites almost every part of our taste palate; sweet, nutty, roasted, and slightly bitter. The frequent translation of ‘mole’ is ‘chocolate sauce’, which is incorrect. Mexican food connoisseurs are quick to debunk this major misconception about Mole. Only a small percentage of moles use chocolate.
The mole typically contains a mixture of chilies, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. They sometimes include unsweetened chocolate, tomatoes, and raisins. Avocado leaves, epazote, and various spices might be used. Many, including the most famous 'Mole Poblano' or 'Poblano de guajolote', from Puebla, said to be the first, contain chocolate. Being so well known, this is probably the reason mole has been thought of as a chocolate sauce.
The savoury Mexican delight is used either as a base to build a stew or as a sauce to be poured over meat or poultry. But unlike most sauces, Mole seems to be in a class by itself – mysterious, surreal, and hard to define. It has an almost exalted status in Mexican culture. The author of the article speaks fervently about the beloved national treasure: “The point of the mole is the mole itself. Anything served with it is secondary! That’s why many call it a national dish, even though a sauce is not usually considered a dish in its own right. The mole is an exception to that rule.
The celebrated 'Mole Poblano' is rich, brown, and usually served with turkey. There are many interesting legends about how this mole was invented. As the story goes, a Dominican nun, Sor Andrea de la Asuncióna created the savoury dish totally by accident. While she was preparing a mixture of puréed roasted chile, cinnamon, pepper, cilantro, sesame seeds and turkey broth, she decided to add some chocolate. The Holy Sister insisted that the combination “sent the dish through the roof with an indescribable flavor.”
Another version portrays the origin of Mole as a haphazard discovery when a man called Fray Pascual recklessly dropped an entire tray of spices into his pot.
Mole probably developed over a long period dating back to pre-Hispanic times and then incorporating Spanish ingredients making it a true mestizo dish. The authentic Mole is a true labour of love with a long list of ingredients and hours of preparation. The traditional Mexican dish is a piece of history in a bowl - a time machine back to one of the most fascinating early civilizations on earth.