Life and Travel in Puebla, Mexico

Atlixco: Villa Iluminada

Every year the town of Atlixco, which is only 20 minutes from Puebla, creates a “Villa Iluminada” by filling its streets with Christmas lights. The theme is always different; this year’s theme seemed to be, oddly enough, jobs and farms. It’s always a treat to take a couple of hours after work to wander around the town and sample all the street food!

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Browsing the food stands!

Browsing the food stands!

After many figures shaped like corn, we came across the traditional Nativity scene.

After many figures shaped like corn, we came across the traditional Nativity scene.

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This is a jaguar man, a traditional costume during Atlixco's annual fair.

This is a jaguar man, a traditional costume during Atlixco’s annual fair.

Day of the Dead Is Coming

Last weekend I went downtown to see some of the ofrendas (altars to the dead) that were already up. It’s one of my favorite things to do in October!

The history of Puebla's cathedral in an ofrenda. All the skeletons are dressed as nuns and monks!

The history of Puebla’s cathedral in an ofrenda. All the skeletons are dressed as nuns and monks!

LEgend has it that angels helped put the Cathedral's bells in its towers.

LEgend has it that angels helped put the Cathedral’s bells in its towers.

The "voladores de Papantla" perform at many archeological sites, in an impressive ritual that involves swinging around a pole from their feet.

The “voladores de Papantla” perform at many archeological sites, in an impressive ritual that involves swinging around a pole from their feet.

I wasn't completely sure what this ofrenda was about, but it was based on a historical event in Puebla (I just don't know which one).

I wasn’t completely sure what this ofrenda was about, but it was based on a historical event in Puebla (I just don’t know which one).

Boo!

Boo!

It's unusual to see a skeletal giraffe (!), but this ofrenda was more of an ad for Africam Safari, an open-air zoo outside Puebla.

It’s unusual to see a skeletal giraffe (!), but this ofrenda was more of an ad for Africam Safari, an open-air zoo outside Puebla.

No Quesadillas After Noon and Other Culinary Curiosities

When you first come to Puebla, you may find yourself confused as to when you can find your favorite street foods actually being sold, and why certain products at the store seem to be called the same thing even if they are completely different. If language is failing you, or the quesadilla lady is never there whenever you have a hankering, then here are a few tips:

  1. Quesadillas, tamales, and gorditas: Since these are all considered breakfast foods, you won’t find them after 11am or noon. Arrive later than that and you’ll discover that your favorite vendor is scraping off his/her grill and packing up the gas tank. Tamales are available as early as 4am outside the clubs in Cholula, or 7am in most areas, while quesadillas and gorditas pop up around 9am-ish.

Side Note: Your quesadilla will not necessarily come with cheese. The word itself refers to a folded tortilla with some sort of filling. See this discussion from the magazine Chilango.

A torta de tamal, or tamale in a sandwich. Only available until roughly 11am!

A torta de tamal, or tamale in a sandwich. Only available until roughly 11am!

2. Halls: “Why do people here always have sore throats? They eat Halls like there’s no tomorrow!,” you might be thinking. Or, as my mom said when I offered her one, “No, thanks, I’m fine. Is your throat hurting?” Actually, Halls are used as breath mints in Mexico, and you’ll find them in every flavor you can think of. I even once found limited-edition “Paloma” (tequila with grapefruit soda) flavor.

Limited Beer and Lime Flavor. I told you there are some weird flavors! (From be-side.blogspot.com)

Limited Edition Beer and Lime Flavor. I told you there are some weird flavors! (From be-side.blogspot.com)

3. Jamón: Why, you wonder, does “jamón de pavo” exist? How can a lunchmeat be turkey and ham at the same time? The thing is, “jamón,” which you probably learned as “ham,” is just the generic word for “lunchmeat.” So you  can buy “turkey ham,” “turkey breast ham,” “pork ham,” and so on.

A big block of good ole

A big block of good ole “turkey ham.”

4. Carne: Speaking of meat, “carne” is another word you should know how to use. It does refer to meat in general, and you can request “carne de puerco” (pork), “carne de res” (beef), etc. However, most people use it only for red meats. If you’re a vegetarian but all you tell someone is that you don’t eat “carne,” then you’ll be served a healthy portion of chicken!

5. Calabaza vs. Calabacita: “Squash” and “little squash” are not quite what they seem. “Calabaza” refers to large squashes in general, sometimes pumpkin, while “calabacita” is actually “zucchini.”

Calabacitas.

Calabacitas.

Calabaza.

Calabaza.

6. Galletas saladas y dulces: Yes, “galletas” refers to both cookies and crackers. If you’re looking for some Ritz, get “galletas saladas,” and if you want Chips Ahoy, then ask for just “galletas.”

Galletas Saladas. This is like the Mexican version of Ritz (which is also sold here).

Galletas Saladas. This is like the Mexican version of Ritz (which is also sold here).

I hope that helps to clear up some of your confusion about the food here!

Non-Mexican Food in Puebla

If you want to know more about Mexican food, try taking Buzzfeed’s “Can You Guess the Dish from the Ingredients?” quiz.

If you’re fed up with all Mexican food, all the time, then here are some new restaurants for you to try!

Lebanese Food:

  • Yes, they have the traditional tacos árabes. But they also have tabbouleh, kepe, hummus, and stuffed grape leaves on their “Platillo Libanés.” It’s a bit pricey but worth it when you’re jonesing for something different. You can find these Lebanese delights at Tacos Dany, which is right by La Noria’s skating rink.
  • A buffet I’ve never been to but which everyone says is excellent, if a bit expensive: Centro Mexicano Libanés on Hermanos Serdán.

Korean Food:

  • Until recently, I thought Korean food could only be found in the esoteric barrio coreano in Mexico City. But lo and behold, it turns out there’s an authentic Korean restaurant, Min Joo Ne,  right here in La Paz. I thought the food was delicious.
    I'd like to go back here!

    I’d like to go back here!

     

     

    Japanese Food:

  • A far cry from the ubiquitous sushi places in Puebla, Stop By Ramen (on Zavaleta) serves– you guessed it– ramen. While the menu may seem a little pricey, their portions are generous. They offer a variety of ramen dishes with different toppings. The tricky part is that sometimes they run out of food, so you may find them closed when you were hoping for a nice bowl of noodles.
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Ready to dig in! The hardboiled eggs are my favorite.

American Food:

  • Of course there is tons of American food in Puebla. KFC, McDonald’s, IHOP, Olive Garden, you name it.  But I’m not talking about any of the fast food places. I’m talking about a restaurant that serves up the best food from my home state! If you’re craving good barbecue, Texas BBQ in La Paz has it! It’s the real deal.

Teaching Tips: Gamification and Reported Speech

(This is part of a new section of the site called “Teacher Tips,” for all you fellow English teachers out there!)

Last year I went to a “Congreso de Innovación Educativa,” and a lot of the ideas really piqued my interest. One of them was “gamification,” which is the idea of making a lesson, or even your entire class, into a game. Students can have characters and earn rewards for completing “challenges,” which can be anything from riddles to exams.

I’m just now trying to “gamify” my class a little more, and it’s been very time-consuming. For my first gamified topic, I chose Reported Speech because it is always so difficult for the students. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try a new approach.

If you’re not familiar with Reported Speech, it’s when we say things like, “Sammy told Julie to pick up some Chinese food after work. He also asked her if she was coming before or after dinner.” The thing that makes it so hard for students is that all the verb tenses have to change (in most cases); if Sammy says “Go to the store,” we use “He told her to go…” and if he says, “I forgot my homework,” we use “I had forgotten my homework.”

I decided to use the topic of zombies for my first attempt at gamification.

First, we started with the video “Zombies in Plain English,” which is on YouTube.

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Then, we did a reading on the science of zombies apocalypses. I adapted an article from Cracked.com by changing some of the vocabulary so that it would be more suited to my students, who are at an intermediate level.

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After that, I had the students read over my explanations of Reported Speech.

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This included some practice based on the video “How Does the Walking Dead Zombie Virus Work?”

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We did a quick review in the style of “Choose Your Own Adventure,” which I made in Powerpoint. A wrong answer got you “eaten” by the zombies.

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Lastly, we finished with an exercise which I based on the CDC’s “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic” (yes, the CDC really has a published comic about zombies).

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During all the activities, I was keeping track of the number of correct answers that the students had, and in the end the students with the most points won prizes like “1 Free Homework Assignment” and “Come in 5 Minutes Late.”

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As far as Gamification goes, the activities were pretty simple, and not too different from my normal lessons. But the students enjoyed it (only one complained “I don’t like zombies! When will we stop talking about zombies?”) and I did, too!

A Third Visit to Teotihuacán

Being so close to Mexico City, Teotihuacán is a must-see for many visitors to Central Mexico. The large site and enormous pyramids provide a nice introduction to Mexico’s past. If you’re coming from Puebla, Teotihuacán is less than 2 hours away by car, or you can take a bus with Estrella Roja directly from the main bus station (the CAPU).

Make sure to bring lots of sunscreen, water, and snacks, since there’s no shade and it’ll take you a few hours to see the whole site!

A view of the site from the Pyramid of the Moon.

A view of the site from the Pyramid of the Moon.

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Endless visitors.

I think the upper class supposedly lived here.

I think the upper class supposedly lived here.

Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun.

Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun.

All the people on top of the Pyramid of the Sun.

All the people on top of the Pyramid of the Sun.

This reconstructed pyramid has the most detail.

The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent has the most detail: You can see the heads of the gods Quetzalcoatl, or the Feathered Serpent, and Tlaloc, aka the god of rain (as the guide said, he’s the god that looks like Sponge Bob here). You can also make out some of Quetzalcoatl’s feathered body.

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That’s Quetzalcoatl’s head poking out of the pyramid.

 

 

How Many Types of Taco Are There in Mexico?

Cecina (salted meat) and longaniza (sausage) at a fair-- with salsa and toppings at hand, of course.

All the makings of a cecina taco: tortillas, cecina (salted meat), longaniza (sausage), salsa, avocado, onions, radishes, and cheese.

I don’t know the answer, but Buzzfeed has prepared a handy quiz (“¿Puedes adivinar qué taco es con sólo verlo?”) about whether or not you can identify twelve types of tacos in Mexico.

I got two wrong answers, one because I identified the meat incorrectly and one because the name, “taco acorazado,” isn’t used here in Puebla. Street food names vary quite a bit from state to state and even town to town.


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