Design a site like this with
Get started

A Dive Into Cemitas

Prior to taking my Taco Literacy class at St. John’s University, my experience with Mexican food was different than how I am looking at foods now. When I went to a Mexican restaurant to have some quesadillas or tortas, the thought of knowing the history of the food that I was eating was something that wouldn’t cross my mind. I was simply a hungry guy that wanted Mexican food and knew where to get it. I also knew I was having the real thing since the places I went to were owned and by Mexican families. There was already a trust established between me and my food and the ones making my food so I never thought of wanting to know more beyond that. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I am still that very hungry guy that craves Mexican food when I want it, but being a food lover — and now a young writer of food — I feel that it is my duty to take that extra bite into Mexican cuisine to the next level. To become one with my food and understand the history the food has alongside the people that prepare it. What better place to pursue this journey of mine of further experiencing Mexican food than at my favorite restaurant, Taquería Coatzingo. 

I remember coming to this restaurant when I was a kid and always excited to get my food. Do you know the typical food commercial that has someone rolling their eyes dramatically after taking a bite into their food? That was ten-year-old me — and that is still me over ten years later — when I would come here with my family. The restaurant still looks the same, just with newer televisions playing soccer, an updated menu, more waitresses, and an expanded area to hold more hungry customers. Walking into the restaurant you can hear the workers conversing in Spanish with each other. There are also waitresses with menus nearby ready to sit any customer down with some delicious salsa and tortilla chips.

I look through the menu and see so many options to choose from. Do I want a platillo or do I want a tamale? Enchiladas sound great too but so do quesadillas. I typically get my usual, quesadilla de pollo con arroz y frijoles. It comes in a large platter and three quesadillas that leave me full every time. However, something on the menu had my eyes gravitating toward the second page on the top right corner, and it wasn’t the first time that it happened. The corner of the menu was showing tortas and cemitas with pictures on top so the customer can see how they look like. I’ve had tortas at other Mexican restaurants and they always satisfied my hunger, but I had never had a cemita before despite it looking very similar to a torta. I always was curious to try one for myself so I made my order in Spanish, and I waited patiently for my cemita to arrive. But what exactly is the difference between the torta and the cemita sandwich? That is where the food explorer in me wanted to look into some more history with the cemita and its relationship with the torta.

The cemita, also called the cemita poblana, has traveled far from its original birthplace in Puebla, Mexico. The naming of this particular sandwich comes from the sesame seeds that cover the top of the toasted brown bun. The word “cemita” has its etymological ties from the Spanish word of “acemite,” which is in reference to the “outside of a seed or grain” (Peterson). This particular food consists of layers of onions, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, papalo, hot sauce, and choice of beef or chicken sandwiched together to bring the customer a delicious and filling cemita. Despite there being many ingredients packed in the cemita buns, it is prepared in such a manner that allows for every bite to have the ingredients work together.

Now that I understood a little bit more as to where the cemita came from, another question comes to mind in relation to tortas: what is the difference between these two Mexican sandwiches? It really comes down to how the customer is feeling at that moment in time. With cemitas, there is a more “restrictive” ingredient selection that makes the cemita different from the torta. With the cemita, the ingredients mentioned prior marry with the sesame-speckled bun that makes the cemita the sandwich many Poblanos understand it as. However, with tortas, the customer is given more options to what they want their sandwich having. The choice of bread, such as bolillo or pan frances and telera or birote, and the meat selection are two examples of how this sandwich can be prepared when in comparison to the cemita (Walansky). At Taquería Coatzingo though, there are plenty of choices to pick to pair with either the torta or the cemita like eggs and sausage or even mole poblano. However, in this case, the only difference that the two sandwiches have is the bread that they are served with.

After waiting not too long for my sandwich, and finishing all my tortilla chips and salsa, my cemita finally arrives. I can immediately see all the layered ingredients carefully stacked and beautifully presented. Avocado spread onto the sides with the cheese and carne asada glistening under the light. Red onions centered in the cemita hugged with lettuce and tomato slices. And finally the bronze cemita buns; dotted with small sesame seed ships that made its way to the Coatzingo kitchen. 

Taking a bite into the cemita the flavors moved around in my mouth. At one moment I’m savoring over the carne asada and cheese mixing with the toasted cemita bun, then I’m tasting the tomatoes and onions that leaves a satisfying crunch to the overall soft cemita. The papalo takes me by surprise. Resting near the cemita buns, the papalo was pungent — almost like cilantro — that paired with the taste and smell of the nutty sesame seeds very well. It was an explosion of flavors, and every bite taken just left me wondering which flavor would I taste next.

Despite my frequent visits at Taquería Coatzingo, the experience of trying a new food on the menu was one that was enriching and eye-opening. I stepped out of what I was accustomed to having at this restaurant and tried another meal that is another taste of Puebla, Mexico. Having my first cemita I got to try a new herb that I didn’t know existed but now appreciate that I have. Now I’m only more inclined to try other parts of the menu and as a young writer of food is a push in a great direction. It feels good to try something new. It’s also good knowing that I am not only enjoying the food, but I’m also helping a smaller business continue to keep its doors open. That is an amazing thought to have and all because of food. The start of this larger journey of food soul-searching has sparked within me from this experience and I am looking forward to taking some more bites into the world and culture of Mexican cuisine. 

Works Cited:

Lindeman, Scarlett. “Cemita Versus Torta: Your Mexican Sandwich Primer.” The Village Voice, 1 Mar. 2012,

Peterson, Lucas. “Dive Into Sandwich Heaven at Cemitas Don Adrian in Van Nuys.” Eater LA, Eater LA, 19 May 2015,

Walansky, Aly. “Battle of the Mexican Sandwiches: Cemitas Vs. Tortas.” Men’s Journal, 4 Dec. 2017,

%d bloggers like this: