I have to say it: I’m proud of my hometown, I’m proud of Tehuacan, the second most important city in the State of Puebla, after Puebla capital. Among its many traditions, La Matanza is a unique ritual that takes place the last two weeks of October and the first week of November.
This festival, brings families around the table, within the environment of Día de Muertos. The tradition began in the early seventeenth century, product of miscegenation between the spanish colonizers and natives of the region.
By being introduced the caprine cattle in New Spain, began the crossbreeding food that contributed to the popular cuisine a variety of dishes, including the “mole de espinazo”, now known as “mole de caderas”.
History says that since 1784, every third Thursday of October, is sacrificed the caprine cattle that have been fed only whit grazing and to which salt has been given each five days, they drink water every 15 days! The feeding of these cattle is special: commonly good pasture, chilaco flower, encino branches, canalilli, guayavillo, and biznaga. Taking care of the cattle not eat poisonous weeds. If some cabrito born the way, is surely roast, avoiding the delay of the goat.
In addition, the cattle of “la matanza” grazes from the coasts of Guerrero and Oaxaca to Tehuacan Valley, an approximate distance of 300 km. Grazing as they move, the land where eats in the morning cannot be used again in the evening in order to not exhaust the field. However, hundreds years of both “la matanza” and local grazing have contributed to the ecological deterioration of the zone.
As a result of special feeding and exercise done during his long journey, some experts consider this the best goats in the country, because the quality of their meat whitout fat and skin is indisputable.
One day before the start of the season, between 9 and 10 pm, more than 100 matanceros wake up, turn on a campfire on the site that has been allocated for their work, which they limit with twine and arrange it with grass to start with their task. Then occurs the “pica”: the first goat to sacrifice is adorned with cempoalxochitl “flor de muerto” and offered to the gods as a request for permission and adoration, by a Tetlale (Chaman), who contact the gods to bury the first pica with a knife in the goat’s neck.
I should mention that the ritual methods have changed in recent years, the knife was replaced by an air gun, weapon that the Protection of Animals Society demanded to avoid the ruthless and bloody spectacle.
Near the time of sacrifice, several people crews involved in “la matanza” are prepared. At the opening, crews of San Gabriel Chilac (10 crews of 12 people who have inherited the job), lit up by tallow candles, sing “El alabado”, a litany prayer, to beg God that “la matanza” be good, that coming years continue to bless them and that not misfortune happen to the matanceros. They also dances the “Danza del Chivo”.
San Gabriel Chilac crews are in charge of killing the cattle, remove the skin and chop them. By tradition, these crews account for a leg and a hand of each goat, a kidney, and all that they call bofe (lungs, etc..), apart from their salary. The skins of animals are washed, soaked in water prepared with salt and dried in the sun, then are packed an shipped to tanneries in Irapuato and Monterrey city.
The crew that comes from Zapotitlan, village near to Huajuapan (about 25 farmers) are responsible for making tasajo chito, is called so, because that meat is jerked and purged in a large tank with salt (form Zapotitlan Salinas), where it is left overnight and then let it dry in the sunshine, lying on petates for four or five days. Once dry, go to warehouses and packed in bundles, with the particularity that meat transpires, so it can last up to a year.
Among the crews, are also about 15 fritangueros of Huajuapan and some of Atzingo and San Bartolo.
The end of “la matanza” season is celebrated with a feast in honor of the Virgen of Guadalupe. At night the matanceros make a dances lighting with achones, covering their body with furs, as the ancestors did in tlacaxipehualiztli celebration, in which they used to sacrifice men, women and children.
The Mole de Caderas
The mole de caderas is a tradition not only in Tehuacan, but also in Huajuapan de León, Oaxaca.
The spine and hips, are the essential parts of the traditional mole de caderas, these are classified in special and regular according to the amount of meat offered. The guts are used to make sausages, horns and hooves are ground and become calcium to animal feed and are also used in the manufacture of combs, buttons etc So the goat has the particularity that, in “la matanza”, is used in its entirety.
Over 300 years ago, the farmers paid the servants of “la matanza” with goat bones: the hips and spine. With these bones, they made a stew with tomato, tomatillo, several chilies as: miahuateco, cuicateco, guajillo, serrano, ayocote beans and guajes: The “mole de caderas”.
Having prepared the mole de caderas in my own house, I can tell you that its preparation is long and complicated, but the working hours and the lack of sleep are rewarded for its magical flavor.
Even though the price paid for a dish of “mole de caderas” at the main restaurants of the city is quite high (between 300 and 500 mexican pesos), this is justified by the exquisiteness of its flavor, and the great work of caring for these animals for a year and involving more than 100 people, number that increases almost triple when “la matanza” season arrives.
Where to taste the “mole de caderas”?
A place to enjoy the mole of the hips, is undoubtedly the Restaurant Mi Lupita, which since 1956 is recognized as a place of gastronomic tradition in Tehuacan and where you will surely find the best mole de caderas, among restaurants in the region.
Restaurant Mi Lupita: 5 Sur No. 307, Centro, Tehuacan, Puebla. Phone: (238) 38 04 12
Now, if you are lucky enough to be invited to enjoy the “mole de caderas” prepared by any of the tehuacanenses families in their home fires, the experience will bemore than unique.
Have you ever eaten “mole de caderas“? If not, visit Tehuacan in October and November, taste it and you’ll stay there!
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