Traditional ingredients, modern cooking at Pujol Restaurant in Mexico City
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Have you ever eaten authentic Mexican cuisine? I know you’ll be tempted to say you have, but I mean truly authentic foods, using ancient ingredients like chochinita pibil and huitlacoche. I would venture to say that most people haven’t even heard of those ingredients. I certainly hadn’t, at least until last month when we visited Pujol in Mexico City, the #16 restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, which features prominently on my own 10 Fine-Dining Experiences Definitely Worth Traveling For. I’ve been wanting to eat at Pujol for a while now, knowing that the chef, Enrique Olvera, employs ancient ingredients to create and invent modern Mexican cuisine.

Mexico has a rich culinary history dating back long before the Spanish settlers. The Aztecs and Mayans, among other ancient civilizations, obviously had a major influence on what we call Mexican cuisine. While we don’t see many ancient recipes being made today, we can still taste the influence through the ingredients that are still available today. Many of these ingredients are one we’ve never heard of, despite really enjoying and eating Mexican food often. At Pujol, these rare ingredients are celebrated and brought back to life in new and fascinating ways.

Mezcal and agave cocktail
Mezcal and agave cocktail

Dinner at Pujol begins with a cocktail (if you so choose) and delivery of the evening’s menu, folded in a white envelop, closed with a red seal. There is only one menu, so you can catch a glimpse of what’s to come by peeking at your neighbors who are likely all on different courses of the seven-course menu. As I go through the courses, I’ll try to explain the ingredients that are the most fascinating.

Starter Course: Street Snacks

Street Snacks
Street Snacks

Bocol Huasteco (corn dough with cheese, lard) – I never got a clear answer as to what exactly “Bocol Huasteco” means. The dish was a small fried corn cake topped with cheese.

Castilla pumpkin chileatole, mulato chili chicharron – Chileatole is a pre-Hispanic drink of corn dough and sugar cooked in water. This was more of a typical pumpkin soup, topped with a chicharron made of a mulato chili. It was slightly sweet, but not very spicy.

Chia tostada – This airy tostada was almost like a rice cake in texture, with a bunch of little crispy chia seeds mixed in. It was topped with a little bit of guacamole.

Baby corn, powdered chicatana ant, coffee, costeño chile mayonnaise
Baby corn, powdered chicatana ant, coffee, costeño chile mayonnaise

Baby corn, powdered chicatana ant, coffee, costeño chile mayonnaise – one of the most interesting and exciting dishes of the night was the baby corn. Served in a hollowed-out gorde full of smoke, the presentation was quite unique. As the gorde is set on the table, the smoke begins to waft around the room, and inside is one skewer holding a single, slightly charred baby corn, dipped and covered in chile mayonnaise and coffee and dusted with powdered ants. No, you can’t tell you’re eating ants. The corn was slightly crunchy, smoky and flavorfun.

Second Course

At the point in the menu, you choose between four options. Since Nick and I were dining together, we were able to try two of the four choices:

Cuitlacoche and molleja
Cuitlacoche and molleja

Cuitlacoche, molleja, chicken liver – I’ve always seen this ingredient spelled with an h – “huitlacoche”. It’s a fungus that grows on corn and has a vibrant and earthy taste, much like a mushroom. It was served with molleja, or chicken liver in English.

Jerky tartar
Jerky tartar

Jerky tartar, preserved lemon, radish, watercress, creole avocado – I’m not sure what I expected from jerky tartar, but it was basically beef tartar with radish mixed in, topped with watercress and crumbled preserved lemon, then topped with a thin tortilla crisp.

Third Course

Suckling lamb taco at Pujol in Mexico City
Suckling lamb taco at Pujol in Mexico City

Suckling lamb taco, avocado leaf adobo, avocado puree – I loved the handmade avocado tortilla this taco was built on. It was soft and chewy and topped with pieces of crispy and delicious suckling lamb, a zucchini blossom, and avocado puree. Beautiful.

Suckling Pig taco
Suckling Pig taco

Suckling pig taco, smoked tortilla, salsa tatemada, chinicuil, chickpea puree, coriander, red jalapeño – The smoked tortilla used for this taco was also very good. The suckling pig was topped with salsa tatemada, which means charred salsa and chinicuil, which I hear is the edible larva of the moth.

Fourth Course

Rabbit, red pepian, carriot, guajillo, hierba de conejo – If you’ve ever done a long-format tasting menu like this, you might have some sympathy for my current predicament. We have no photographic evidence of the rabbit dish. All I can say is that it must have been so good that we ate it without even thinking about photos!

Chicken, chili marinade, nopal

Chicken, chili marinade, nopal

Chicken, chili marinade, nopal, romeritos, black radish, bean, onion ash – The chicken was covered in a chili marinade and served on top of a bed of romeritos, which is a wild plant also known as seepweed — the little green nettle-like vegetable on the bottom, with some bean and nopal (cactus) mixed in. There is shaved black radish on top and the whole dish is dusted with an onion ash.

Fifth Course

Mole sauce cooked for a very long time at Pujol.
Mole sauce cooked for a very long time at Pujol.

Mole madre, mole nuevo – The mole is one of Oliviera’s greatest dishes. He cooks the mole madre for a very long time (849 days in this case) and then combines it with a mole nuevo. Instead of muddling the flavor of the mole by smothering it over an enchilada, as we typically do, he serves it cleanly on a plate with just some corn tortillas to sop it up with. The contrast of the two sauces is dramatic.

Sixth & Seventh Courses

Pre-dessert and Happy Endings – I’ve surely mixed up the order of these courses, being that it was at the end of the night and we’d already had cocktails and shared a delicious bottle of Mexican wine. Happy Endings included a few different small sweet bites, along with a crazy good churro with dulce de leche for dipping. That was quite possibly my favorite part of the whole meal. The churro was really delicious. Another high point of dessert was the guacamole ice cream.

Mexican hot chocolate mousse with guacamole ice cream
Mexican hot chocolate mousse with guacamole ice cream
Crispy deep fried churros with cinnamon and sugar.
Crispy deep fried churros with cinnamon and sugar.

This meal was definitely special. Indulging in a highly skilled seven-course menu from a very highly regarded chef is a fantastic experience and one of the top reasons why I love to travel. If you are ever in Mexico City and want to try something really unique, Pujol is definitely the place to go. Just make sure you make reservations far in advance (at least a month).

Laura Lynch
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Laura Lynch is the creator and writer of Savored Journeys, an avid world traveler and lover of great food and wine.

29 thoughts on “Authentic Mexican Cuisine with a Modern Flair at Pujol in Mexico City

  1. Eloise says:

    Wow! No, I definitely have never eaten authentic Mexican cuisine! I’m going to Mexico in 2 months, not sure if we’ll include Mexico City in the trip. I keep this restaurant in mind if we do. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jon says:

    Looks a lot classier than what I was eating in Mexico City! I pretty much stuck to street food, I think anything is going to taste good in Mexico though.

  3. Shobha says:

    7 courses!! now that is a meal. How did you not waddle out of there?? I’ve got to say that I’m embarrassed to have only had Tex Mex (which I love but its not ‘real’ Mexican food).

  4. noel says:

    OMG, I could almost taste every dish offered on your post, stunning photographs. Wish there was a scratch and sniff board on your post just to make it nice 🙂

  5. Megan says:

    This looks like such an amazing evening. So often we just see Mexican as street food, which is amazing, but it’s so much more than that. I think the tartar looks the most interesting.

  6. RaW | Ramble and Wander says:

    Haven’t had proper Mexican meals before but right now I certainly could do with one. Skipped dinner last night and haven’t had breakfast & lunch today, and I’m famished! The photos and descriptions are killing me, haha!

  7. Shandos says:

    That looks amazing!! I went to a restaurant here in Sydney last week, that’s run by some Mexicans and has authentic Mexican food, and was quite surprised by the menu, including a hibiscus flower dish and lots of seafood. Would love to do this degustation!

  8. Katie says:

    Oh. My. Gosh.

    I don’t even really know what to say! I am super envious that you got to have a food experience like this. How amazing to have such a high class, authentic, beautiful and delicious meal. I think the starter of the ant-covered-baby-corn-smoking-gourd-bowl is the most intriguing course. Also the guacamole ice cream. Also the suckling pig taco. Also…all of it!

  9. Nancy says:

    Gorgeous photos Laura. I have not eaten authentic Mexican cuisine, but want to after reading this post! Time to book a flight to Mexico City.

  10. Mags says:

    This food looks amazing. I went on a culinary trip in Cancun a while back and was so impressed with the upscale food in the area. I didn’t have any experience with upper end Mexican food before that and it’s amazing. I’m still trying to find a good mole here.

  11. Anna @ shenannagans says:

    Nope, I definitely have not eaten authentic Mexican cuisine, well not in this setting anyways. I dated a man who lived there and came home with many delicious recipes that he used to wow me with. Tasty post, wish I could eat it now. 🙂

  12. Melanie says:

    Great post and nice pictures. 7 course meal, wow! I’m jealous hahaha everything looked too good to be true. Happy for you you went there and had this experience. I did have mexican food already quite often but never in Mexico so I’m not familiar with these ingredients.

  13. Himanshu says:

    Laura,

    Thanks for this article which gives a glimpse to History also.
    And really nice shots.
    WOuld love to go there some day to taste them first hand.

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