Only one place serves Puebla’s special sandwich
Whenever Sabino Sanchez feels homesick, instead of boarding a plane to Puebla, Mexico, he goes to La Fiesta Mexicana in Mott Haven and has a Cemita.
The Cemita, a sandwich filled with avocado, chipotle chili, an herb called Papalo, Oaxaca cheese and chicken or meat, is one of the Mexican city’s typical treats.
“It brings me back so many memories. I remember when I use to work in a car factory back in Mexico and had Cemita for lunch,” said Sanchez, 51, who has been living in the U.S. for nine years.
Sanchez is one of the many immigrants from Puebla who have found a home in Mott Haven.
As the number of Mexican residents has grown, so have the number of Mexican restaurants and delis. But only La Fiesta Mexicana on East 138th Street offers the authentic Cemita Poblana, Sanchez said.
“Before this place opened I could never eat Cemita. I didn’t know where to find it,” he said.
Laurentino Mendez, 43, and his brother Juan, opened La Fiesta one year ago.
“We are from Puebla, so for us it was an obvious choice to include Cemita in the menu,” says Mendez, who has 12 years of experience working in Italian and French restaurants.
Mendez makes Cemita with the speed of a McDonald’s employee packing up a burger. He takes the round-shaped bread, slices it in two and places it on the grill. Then, he spreads a chipotle mix, puts the milanesa (breaded chicken or meat) in, and adds the cheese, papalo leaves and slices of avocado.
The result leaves Sanchez satisfied. “I have Cemita at least once a week,” he said.
“People come from Brooklyn and Queens to buy Cemita. On a good day I can make up to 30,” Mendez said.
La Fiesta Mexicana offers nine kinds of Cemita in their menu. There’s the “Hawaian Cemita,” filled with pineapple; the “Cemita Al Pastor” with meat, onions, pineapple and chipotle; and “Las Carnitas Cubanas” which includes three types of meat.
But the main ingredient of the Cemita, according to Mendez, is the special type of bread from which the sandwich takes its name.“We make the bread in my brother’s bakery,” he said.
Angel Alvarez, 40, is the baker who makes La Fiesta Mexicana Cemitas at La Casa del Latino Grocery located a block from Mendez’s restaurant.
“It has flour, oil, a bit of salt, a bit of sugar and sesame seeds on top,” Alvarez said. “This kind of bread is only used for making Cemitas sandwiches.”
Mendez buys the bread daily, so Sanchez and others like him can have a taste of Puebla for lunch. “It tastes exactly like the ones I use to have back home,” Sanchez said.