A well-constructed bowl of pozole. Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel.
Pozoleria Dona Maria1660 BroadwayChula Vista619-425-8820
Pozole, a Mexican pork and hominy soup, comes in every color of the national flag. A combination of dried chilies gives pozole rojo its ruddy hue. Pozole verde get its green from herbs and tomatillos. And pozole blanco has an unadulterated, almost transparent, broth.
It's a beloved, iconic dish in Mexico, though different regions are known for their own distinct versions. The soup's also been incorporated into New Mexican cuisine—I had my first bowl while visiting an uncle in Santa Fe, where I also had my inaugural tastes of menudo and sopapillas. Mmm—sopapillas.
At Pozoleria Dona Maria in Chula Vista, the pozole is in the style popular in the Mexican state of Guerrero: blanco. It's offered on the menu as either pozole with meat or mixed pozole. The latter is probably the most traditional and not for those unfamiliar with pleasures of nose-to-tail eating. Among the bits of mystery meat in the soup are pig's ear, tongue, cheek and something that even this adventurous foodie had never tried: paladar, which translates to what I think is the upper part of the mouth, or palate, of a pig. If that sounds like just too much for you, the pozole with meat is good, too, and you can ask for either shredded pork or chicken.
Made from a base broth of long-simmered pork bones, onion and garlic, pozole is just as equally about the hominy, or large-kerneled white corn, that comes from Mexico. It's not a sweet corn that you can eat out of hand but, rather, a starchy variety that starts out dried and is then soaked in slaked lime to remove its papery hull. The little brown nubbin at the point of each kernel is then removed so that when the kernels boil in the soup, they burst open to look sort of like popcorn and have a nice chewy texture and nutty flavor.
The thing I like best about pozole, besides the taste, is the interactivity. It's a dish that really engages you in part of the preparation, since the soup comes to the table unadorned but accompanied by all sorts of garnishes and condiments for you to make it all your own. At Dona Maria, the pozole comes with chopped red onion for sweetness and limes for juicing to brighten up the soup. Red-ringed, translucent slices of radish and shredded green cabbage are there to add crunch, as well as a basket of crunchy fried tostadas. For extra flavor, there are two thin salsas—I like the tangy tomatillo with chunks of avocado—and two shakers of must-add seasonings: earthy dried Mexican oregano and crushed flakes of chile piquin that give smoke and spice to the broth.
Even if you're really hungry, there's no need to order a large bowl. The small bowl is more than ample for good appetites. If you want to leave room to sample other food—and there are some other interesting options on the menu—you can order the petite, junior-sized bowl, which is only $3.75. There are enchiladas, tacos and tostadas, including one topped with pickled pig's feet, and flautas stuffed with a filling of potato, green chile or a type of fresh, curd-like salty cheese called requeson. (For the best flautas in the neighborhood, get the lamb-filled ones at Aqui Es Texcoco at 1042 Broadway.) One of my favorite Mexican dishes is sopes, griddled cakes of masa dough thicker in heft than tortillas. We tried some topped with chicken tinga, a stew of chipotle and chicken that, while tasty, made the crispy sopes shell soggy. Though we hadn't planned on dessert, I am defenseless against a well-made flan, which is exactly what Pozoleria Dona Maria serves up, so we ate two and got a couple more to go.
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