Puebla is one of those Mexican cities that is supposed to be beautiful. Everyone you meet while travelling tells you to stop there for a day trip. They will inevitably tell you about the architecture, the history of the French invasion, the battles, Cinco de Mayo, and the incredible local foods: Poblano peppers, Mole Poblano, and Tacos Arabes, all originated in Puebla, as did the Mexican tricolor dish, Chiles en Nogada. Anthony Bourdain claimed that every decent chef in Manhattan could trace their lineage back to Puebla. And the best climb in Mexico, Pico De Orizaba, is not far from Puebla.
Frankly, I’ve never liked the place. Not for any one reason, I’ve been a bunch of times. Puebla is a perfect day trip from Mexico City. There is great food and beautiful architecture, and one of the best import beer bars in all of Mexico, Utopia.
But every time I stop in Puebla, something off happens. The first time I went, I met a girl and we were having a romantic evening and stroll, then she got sick and vomited all over the gorgeous cobblestone streets. The second time, I watched a teenager get robbed and cracked over the head with a rock, and no one (except yours truly) stopped to help him get up or staunch the bleeding. The third time, it poured rain incessantly, torrentially, and sadly, as the Poblanos marched in the streets vociferously protesting the rash of violent crime against women and the lack of a police presence or government action.
The last time I went to Puebla, I decided to talk to as many locals as I could. They have an odd reputation, as second city to Mexico City, and nearest neighbour, they are the butt of many Chilango jokes. Most notably and crudely, they’re called Pi-Po-Pe’s, which you can look up yourself if you’re inclined to slang. But as I got to know the place a little better, I started to think that Bourdain had been onto something.
Puebla is a city with an underdog mentality. Always struggling to prove itself, whether it was against the French invaders or visitors from the capital, it was, and continues to be, the home to many immigrants who can’t afford life in the big city (there were large waves of German and Lebanese), and more recently, it is the landing spot for many deportees from the United States. As a result, Poblano’s juggle many perspectives and the city is paradoxically both welcoming, and always on guard.
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