Mole, mole, mole

the fidgety foodie_Mexican mole

Mole concentrate from Chiles Secos in LA

The iconic Mexican sauce not the facial adornment of course.

Growing up, mole was the sauce with chocolate (yes, chocolate!!!) that I tried at a few suburban Mexican restaurants and never understood. Was it a dessert or a savoury dish I wondered?? I envisaged a chef breaking up pieces of Cadbury Dairy Milk and adding them to a pot and the whole idea sounded bizarre (although delicious – what dish isn’t improved with chocolate?).

It took a little more culinary maturity before I understood that dark chocolate, with minimal milk solids and fats, was the key ingredient that added a richness and depth to the sauce.

the fidgety foodie_Mexican mole

Mexican mole at Mi Lupita in Mexico City

Mole of course means ‘sauce’, so guacamole for instance, literally means avocado sauce. Mole poblano from Puebla is the most famous of all the moles and arguably Mexico’s national dish. Dark chocolate, multiple chili peppers and up to 20 different spices make up this iconic dish. It takes time for the flavours to develop and layer up so it’s usually reserved for special occasions.

Sauce in most cuisines is the accompaniment, playing second fiddle to a piece of meat or other hero ingredient. But not mole. Mole IS the dish. It’s the star of any plate and the chicken or other protein served alongside is merely there to accompany the sauce to the mouth. A plate of sauce with a little pile of chicken on the side is not an uncommon sight.

My obsession with mole really began when I went to Mexico. My (only) preparation for a week in Mexico City was a thorough analysis of the best places to find mole, specifically mole poblano.

the fidgety foodie_Mexican mole

The best mole in Mexico City is to be found at Mi Lupita

That’s how I came across Mi Lupita, a little ‘fonda’ or casual restaurant in Centro Histórico that’s been making mole since 1957. It was tiny, with barely six tables and no one that remotely resembled a tourist. Perfect. There I had one of the most memorable dishes of my life: a plate of the house special of mole poblano with chicken on enchiladas.

the fidgety foodie_Mexican mole

Mole poblano with chicken on enchiladas at Mi Lupita

Even though I hadn’t tasted every mole in Mexico City, I was sure that this was indeed the best. What could taste better than this? The mole was rich, intense, spicy, smoky, chocolaty. The chicken was lean and the whole dish was topped with onion and grated queso fresco. Further proof shortly arrived at the table next to me. A local food guide was there with four travellers, explaining why Mi Lupita’s mole was the best in the world and I nodded on in agreement.

mole poblano with chicken on enchiladas

The mole spice mix selection at Mi Lupita

I overheard the guide mention mole spice mix could be bought to take away and I wanted in. I leant over to ask him how to request it and the first thing he wanted to know was how on earth I’d found this secret little place? It was almost as though I’d ruined his surprise. I may not be a local I told him, but I know how to use google to my advantage!

I left Mi Lupita with half a kilo of mole in a plastic bag with a knot at the top and somehow managed to get it back to Sydney (thankfully they weren’t filming Border Security that day). I had many a delicious meal from that mole base and wished many times I’d brought double, even triple, back home with me. Read More

Marvellous Market #3: Great Market Hall, Budapest

Great Market Hall - Budapest

The Great Market Hall in Budapest

You know a city is serious about food when it builds a giant, purpose built market smack in the middle of the city (Sydney are you listening? Take note please).

Great Market Hall - Budapest

The market’s beautiful interior, looking down on the ground floor

That’s what the Hungarians did in the late 19th century when they built the Great Market Hall. Despite some knocks during the World Wars, a renovation has kept it looking sharp as one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

Great Market Hall - Budapest

Rows of immaculately displayed local products adorn the food stalls

But it’s what’s inside that is really exciting. While the first floor features local handicrafts including traditional Magyar dress and collectables, the ground floor and basement are dedicated to food. Rows and rows of glistening fresh produce, endless stands of paprika and chilli and plenty of local delicacies are enjoyed by locals and tourists.

Great Market Hall - Budapest

Paprika and pepper in every possible form

The paprika stands are works of art – sachets, tubs and tubes of the stuff (spicy or sweet) are carefully arranged in colourful rows along with strings of dried peppers and garlic.

Great Market Hall - Budapest (5)

How can you not smile at the Smiley Shop?

Great Market Hall - Budapest (19)

Owls, ghosts, cats, mushrooms and other random pickle shapes

One thing Hungarians LOVE are pickles. Pickles and sauerkraut. They have their own dedicated area – ‘pickle alley’ in the basement floor. What I especially love is the creativity involved, with jars displaying cute messages and smiley faces made from the pickles, plus a massive array of sauerkraut-stuffed pickled vegetables.

Great Market Hall - Budapest

Sauerkraut is measured by the pitchfork

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Marvellous Market #2: Mercat Olivar, Mallorca


Tucked away in the Balearics, it’s easy to forget that this little island is part of Spain.

Until you walk into the Mercat Olivar produce market in the capital, Palma de Mallorca. One look at the bountiful produce, rows of hanging hams and tapas joints, and memories of Barcelona’s famous Mercado de La Boqueria come flooding back.

This is serious foodie territory.


Rosy red local tomatoes in an assortment of organic shapes

This place is packed with fresh produce, much of it sourced from the island. While my friends are cavorting by the beach, I am frolicking between knobbly tomatoes and mountains of jamón.


Delicious gazpacho with a side of salsa

Before I jump into the serious business of market shopping, I pull up a stool at one of the cafes for a refreshing bowl of gazpacho and side of salsa. I can’t get enough of this chilled tomato concoction, and find that even the pre-packaged versions across Spain are usually damn delicious. Nothing hits the spot better on a hot day.


Tantalising food display

Once revived, I head for the glistening deli goods. Stuffed olives, goat’s cheese, marinated sardines, salami and marinated vegetables are all calling to me. It’s all I can do not to buy a tub of everything and I limit myself to some giant green olives stuffed with almonds.


Locally caught sardines


Rock fish from the region

The fish market branches off the main market and is one of the most sophisticated I’ve come across. Each stand is packed with the fresh catch of the day, from rock fish to sardines (only €3.80 a kilo, so cheap!). Read More

Marvellous Market #1: Dolac Market, Zagreb


Dolac market in Zagreb

Food markets are at the top of my list (literally) when I visit a new town or city. Most fall on a Saturday and it’s crushing when my trip is mid-week and I miss out. First world problem I know.


Local lavender or ‘lavanda’ in Croatian

I’ve been to dozens of fantastic food markets recently, each so marvellous that they deserve their own post. This is the start of a series which will see me cover food markets from London to Stockholm, Mallorca to Sydney.


Fresh produce from Zadarska (Zadar)

I’m kicking off with Zagreb because it may not seem like an obvious choice. The stunning Croatian coastline seems to steal the lion’s share of attention and I know few people who detour inland to see the capital. It took three trips to Croatia before I finally made it to the continental part of the country and I’m pleased I did.



All the action is around Zagreb’s main square, Ban Jelačić, and this includes Dolac, the city’s biggest food market. The bright red umbrellas are a stunning contrast against the azure sky and the whole area is one big mass of colour, excitement, endless chatter and negotiations. And that was around lunchtime; my local sources tell me it’s really mental first thing in the morning. Read More