A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 23, 2008
Semita (Cemita)

Entry still in progress. Any speculation about the etymology (from “Semite” or “seed”?) will be appreciated.


Wikipedia: Cemita
Mexico
There are several kinds of cemitas in México.

Although the name is the same, there are diverse types of cemitas depending on the region. The cemita of Sahuayo, Michoacán, is a smooth bread, without sesame seeds and including piloncillo. Its flavor is somewhat sweet and very flavorful; usually it is accompanied by a glass of milk, a cornflour drink (atole), or some sort of hot drink. It is not used like a sandwich.

A cemita, also known as a cemita poblana, is a Mexican sandwich and street food that originated in the city of Puebla.

It is distinguished from a torta by the fluffy sesame-seeded egg roll that it is served on. Additionally, the ingredients usually are restricted to sliced avocado, meat, white cheese, onions and red sauce (salsa roja). Recently it has appeared on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, and other cities with Mexican food vendors.

The most popular meat in a cemita is beef milanesa, a thinly pounded and deep-fried piece of beef. Cueritos (pickled pig skin), queso de puerco (pork head cheese), and carnitas (stewed pork) are also popular. The cheese is often panela, a bland white cheese with the consistency of fresh mozzerella. Quesillo, a Mexican string cheese, is also used.

The root of the word cemita is said to come from “semite,” referring to the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico who introduced the particular style of roll that goes into the sandwich.

Argentina
In northern Argentina the term cemita (also spelled semita) refers to a type of bread made from brown flour, grease and other ingredients.

Central America
In El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua the term cemita refers to a kind of cake made with certain tropical fruits. 

Borderlands - El Paso Community College
Tempting Sweet Breads : Pan de Dulce
By Lynn Cordova, Inez Caldwell, Victor Canchola and Florence Brame comps.
(...)
There are three different types of “plain” bread. Semitas are similar in shape to pan de huevo but have no topping. They are honey-flavored and often have anise added. It is believed to be a traditional bread for the Semites, hence the name. Protestantes are oval, golden-brown with breads, for some reason associated with Protestants. Pan de suelo (floor bread) is round and not very sweet. 

14 May 1944, Brownsville (TX) Herald, pg. 9, cols. 1-6:
Another Border Blessing—Pan De Dulce!
War Hasn’t Curtailed This Delicious Mexican Dish; Herald Reporter Tells Where It Came From
By CLARENCE LaROCHE
(...)
Brother, you just ain’t lived if you haven’t devoured a rosca, or a semita, or a dozen or so moyetes, polvorones or chirimoyas.
(...)
SEMITAS AND ROSCAS—the semita is flat and oblong. It contains a fair amount of shortening and is flavored with canela (cinnamon) and some anis. The larger semitas—measuring 1 x feet—are elaborate pastries, being decorated with a plait around the edges. The rosca resembles a large doughnut but is flat. It contains more shortening and is crispier than the semita. It is flavored with canela and anis.

24 December 1959, Deming (NM) Headlight, pg. 16, col. 3:
Also Muchos Gracias to the local bake shop “La Fama” for their wonderful “Polvorones” and anise seed “Semitas” that were a hit,... 

9 April 1970, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 14A, col. 3 ad:
SOMETHING NEW AT G&G BAKERY
MEXICAN PASTRIES

ECHO POR JOSE HUERTA
PAN DE HUEVO MEXICANO
NOVIAS - POLCAS - CONCHAS
REVENTONES - ARMADILLOS
CAMPECHANAS - MANITAS
EMPANADAS - PASTEL DE POLVO
CAFE CAKE MEXICANO
SEMITAS DE CANELA
HERRADURAS

18 June 1972, San Antonio (TX) Express and News, “Mexican-Style Food Reflects S.A. Heritage” by Jane Terry, pg. 2H, col. 3:
Sweets range from the thin, crisp bunuelos sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon (and kept fresh by the addition of a drop of green tomato skin!), to fruits such as pineapple, to the delightful pan dulce (sweet breads) made from many different kinds of dough dictated by the shape of the pastry.

It’s fun to pick out varieties such as El Caracol, the snail, snail shape filled with jelly; La Pina, the pineapple, yellow-colored sugar paste with octagonal design; La Concha, the shell, egg bread with fan-shape design; Las Perlas, the pearls, topped with shiny loose sugar paste; Los Nudos, the knots, filled with a buttery paste and tied in knots; Los Cuernos, the horns, cinnamon flavor, sugar covered; Chilindrinas, the bright ones, round bread covered with shining sugar, and Semita de Anis, anise seed bun. 

7 July 1977, San Antonio (TX) Light, “Pan Dulce: S.A. Has the Best” by Ed Castillo, pg. 2B, col. 3:
Mi Tierra alone baked more than 30 varieties of the sweet bread which is so eagerly sought by local residents from all quadrants of the city.

Some of the more popular pieces of pan dulce are the “pan de huevo” (egg bread); “polvoron” (comes from the word “polvo,” or dust, which is the fine sugar sprinkled over it); “empanada” (Pg. 3B, col. 3—ed.) (turnover, usually filled with sweet potato, apple or pineapple); “Ricardos” (named after the head baker, bread topped with glazed sugar and nuts).

Others: “Florecita” (little flower); “piedra” (rock); “cuerno” (horn); “caracol” (snail); “concha” (shell); “perla” (pearl); “chilindrinas” (the bright ones), and “semita de anis” (anise bun). There are many others. 

Houston (TX) Chronicle
14 February 1990, Houston (TX) Chronicle, food section, pg. 10:
Reader requests:
(...)
Cemita or Cemita con Anise, a Mexican bread - Mrs. J.M. McGowan.

Google Books
A Guide to Ethnic Food in Los Angeles
by Linda Burum
New York, NY: HarperCollins
1992
Pg. 69:
La Mascota is also known for pan dulce—especially the large round white or whole wheat lightly sweetened morning breads called semitas...

20 May 1994, New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune, “Eating Out: A Sacred Spot for Salvadoran Fare” by Gene Bourg, pg. L33:
The rest of the decoration gives the Pupuseria a distinctly domestic cast. Lining the shelves along the right wall are shiny bric-a-brac and photos filled with the smiles of Salmeron family members. Nearby is a glass counter holding jars of home-made confections - snow-white coconut candies, little tarts of thick pastry dough filled with pineapple jam, and squares of semitas, the crumbly-crust fruit cookies whose taste may remind you of fig newtons, but without the extra sugar.

29 June 1995, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Kisses for Breakfast, Lightning for Lunch” by Barbara Hansen, pg. H24:
Also from El Salvador, the semita de pina, is a flat brown pastry with a layer of pineapple filling and a top crust decorated with slim strips of dough. The semita alta (tall semita) has the same decorative top crust and pineapple filling but is thick with yellow cake. All of the bakeries make semitas, and El Turco market on Vermont Avenue carries Lido-brand semita de pina from El Salvador. A sign at Liborio market a couple of blocks away advertises “La Tradicional Semita Salvadorena Cocida en Horno de Barro” (traditional Salvadoran semita baked in a clay oven). 

Houston (TX) Chronicle
11 September 1996, Houston (TX) Chronicle, “Mexican pastries taste of tradition/Beloved `pan de dulce’ gains favor in United States” by Nora Villagran:
Semitas are low in sugar and are flavored with cinnamon, molasses and anise. 

Google Books
A Cook’s Tour of Mexico
by Nancy Zaslavsky
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
1997
Pg. 169:
Cemitas. In Cholula, cemitas (sandwiches) are made on a round, sesame-seed-topped, chewy roll (also called cemita) rather than on the more standard bolillo (French roll). They are always heaped with shredded quesillo de Oaxaca, pickled vegetables, raw onions, sliced avocados, and are spritzed with oil and vinegar. One distinction is the addition of an herby, fresh leaf, papalo. Cemitas can be found all around town at stands, fondas, and coffee shops. At the town’s annual fiesta, cemitas sold from fair booths are especially fabulous. 

MySA.com
Pan de heaven
West Side bakeries offer best of pan dulce (June 9, 1999)
Hector Saldana Express-News Staff Writer San Antonio Express-News
Food Page 1F (1997 Words)
They are an endangered species - the mom-and-pop bakeries of the West Side. The beloved family-owned panader¡as, long the landmark of the barrio, are slowly disappearing. They are antiquated vestiges of a more flavorful past in this modern age of expansive baker’s cases at most grocery stores. But they do survive. Convenience is one thing, authentic taste quite another. There can be no argument that the best pan de huevo, campechanas, maranitos, cuernitos, orejas de wey, mojos, semitas de anos, ...

Houston (TX) Chronicle
5 April 2002, Houston (TX) Chronicle, “El Bolillo Panderia offers sweet selection” by Dai Huynh, Dining Guide, pg. 14:
Semitas: These flat round breads flavored with anise, cinnamon and molasses are popular among diabetics because of their low sugar content.

15 June 2004, New York (NY) Daily News:
Mexico’s street sub
A cemita plays its roll in the round
By RACHEL WHARTON

Tortas, we love you, but there’s another Mexican sandwich that’s winning our hearts. Called a cemita, it’s bigger, rounder and, sadly, a little harder to find throughout the city.

Named for its circular, slightly sweet roll, cemitas are stacked with meats, cheese and chilies, and are a classic street snack from the state of Puebla in central Mexico. They most likely get their name from acemite, a Spanish word referring to wheat flour.

“There are two things that distinguish cemitas from other sandwich-type foods, and from tortas,” says Karen Hursh Graber, food editor of the Web site Mexico Connect (mexconnect.com) and an author of regional Mexican cookbooks. “One is the roll itself, which is chewy, with a hard crust covered with sesame seeds. The other is the herb papalo, which is pungent and is definitely the
distinguishing taste of cemitas.”
(...)
The basic cemita
Serves 11 cemita roll, split horizontally and toasted (or substitute a
high-quality, chewy, seeded hamburger roll)
4-5 ¼-inch slices of avocado, cut lengthwise
3-4 large papalo leaves (May substitute cilantro or epazote, but papalo is
best.)
1 whole chipotle pepper in adobo
Filling of your choice, such as spicy pork, steak, shredded chicken,
pan-fried potatoes or refried beans
3-4 thin slices of white onion
3 ounces quesilla cheese, or another string cheese, shreddedBuild sandwiches
by layering the avocado, papalo, chili pepper and filling, topping it with the
onions and cheese. 

Google Books
Cooking with Texas Highways
by Nola McKey
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
2005
Pg. 5 (Name That Pan Dulce!):
pan semita: A rounded, anise-flavored bread often made with yeast. 

13 April 2005, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “A New World of Panaderias” by Barbara Hansen, pg. F1:
Semita (pineapple-filled pastry): This Salvadoran specialty is gaining in popularity and is often offered in Mexican bakeries. Panadería El Salvador. 50 cents

Roadfood - Mexican Bakeries
lennonlover 2005
Posted - 02/23/2007 :  03:25:31

Semitas (they look like oval cookies)
Semitas de Anis (Black Licorice) (ditto)
Cuernos (this means “Horns” so they are sugered horns)
Mexican Wedding Cookies - Powdered Sugar
Bolillos (not sure what they look like)
Campechanas -They look like empanadas but they are sweet) Empanadas (see other posts) But I will say empanadas vary from each Latin American country!!
Marranitos (the outside has little points and they’re filled I believe)
Molletes (sugary and yellow and have crisscrosses on them and they look like seashells a bit)
Piedras (sugary and yellow)
Pastel de Polvo ( S shaped and white and sugary)
Polvorones Roscas (look like sugar pretzels)
Huavaches (they look like crackers, oval shaped)

These are considered MEXICAN bakeries items. There are Guatemalan bakeries I have been to in Chicago and they have similar looking items but with different names , so you should know what to look for in shape etc.

Each Latin American country have their own special pastries so just try one that looks good...This applies to empanadas as well. They vary alot from country to country

Rico Pan De Dulce
Texas Mexican Secret Spanish Jews Today
Written by Anne deSola Cardoza
Saturday, 16 June 2007
(...)
Seventeenth century secret Jews who settled in what is today southern Texas, particularly around San Antonio took with them their Jewish foods, particularly what they call “Semitic bread” or pan de semita ... Sephardic Jewish foods in old Texas Why do Mexican Americans in Texas and in the Mexican province of nearby Monterrey eat “Semitic bread” on Passover/Lent? According to scholar Richard G. Santos, Tex-Mex pastries such as pan dulce, pan de semita, trenzas, cuernos, pan de hero, and pan de los protestantes (Protestant’s bread) are similar to familar Jewish pastries eaten by Sephardic Jews today in many other parts of the world. Pan de semita was eaten in pre-inquisition Spain by a Jew or an Arab Moor. Today, its popular in Texas and in that part of Mexico bordering Texas. It translates into English as “Semitic bread”. It’s a Mexican-American custom in the Texas and Tex-Mex border area today to eat pan de semita during Lent which occurs on or around the Jewish Passover. You bake pan de semita by combining two cups of flour, one half to two-thirds cup of water, a few tablespoons of butter or olive oil, mix and bake unleavened. Even among the devout Catholic Mexicans pork lard is never used, that’s why it’s called Semitic bread. Pan de semita is really the receipe for 17th century secret Jewish Matzoh, and it’s eaten by all Mexicans today in the north Mexican/Texas border area, regardless of religion. Only in Texas and along the Texas-Mexican border is a special type of pan de semita baked, according to Dr. Santos, who himself is descended from secret Spanish Jews of the area who’ve lieve in that part of Texas and Monterrey since colonial times. The special Texas pan de semita of the border has special ingredients : only vegetable oil, flour raisins, nuts, and water. The raisins, pecans, and vegetable oil were identified, according to Dr. Santos, as selected ingredients of secret Jews of New Spain. You take two cups of flour, a cup or less of water, a handful olive oil and mix with a half cup to two thirds cup each of raisins and pecans. Then you knead and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned and easty to chew. This pan de semita is only found in the Texas/Mexico border area and in Texas. Pastry bakers from Mexico claim this type of pan de semita is unknown in central Mexico. Other pan de semitas are found in Guadalahara made from wheat (Semita de trigo) in which milk is substituted for the water. In Texas and also in Guadalahara, one also finds Semita de aniz (anis). However, semita de trigo and semita de aniz never include raisins and pecans, and to use pork lard is forbidden. Only olive oil or butter can be used to make semitic bread.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (1) Comments • Wednesday, January 23, 2008 • Permalink


Hi,
I enjoyed reading the above article and comments on Pan de Dulce Mexicano, especially the one about Semitas.  There is a bakery in Laredo, Texas where they have the best Semitas I have ever eaten.  Whenever I visit Laredo I buy several Semitas and freeze them when I get home. 

I recall my grandmothers, mother and aunts, making Capirotada and Albondigas de Camarron during Lent.
Again, other regions make Capirotada and Albondigas de Camaron(en polvo/ground dried shrimp)differently.
Thank you for sharing this information.
Margarita K.

Posted by Margarita K.  on  12/18  at  05:39 PM

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