Dominica Rice-Cisneros was 12 years old when she had a revelation. During dinner at a friend’s house, she sat around the family table watching each member receive a bowl of hot pozole. It wasn’t her first time eating the traditional Mexican stew, but she was stunned when a bowl with clear broth was placed before her.
“I was just like, ‘Oh my God,’ I didn’t even know that you were allowed to make pozole that wasn’t red,” recalled Rice-Cisneros, chef-owner of Oakland’s Bombera restaurant. “It just opened my eyes.”
The experience would leave a lasting impression on Rice-Cisneros, who eventually discovered green pozole years later and promptly added the dish to her now-defunct Oakland restaurant, Cosecha. While Cosecha is no more, Rice-Cisneros continues to make large vessels of the same green pozole at her other Oakland restaurant, Bombera, for customers hoping to warm their bones during the chilly winter months.  
Kitchen staff member Melida Rodriguez  serves up pozole at Bombera in Oakland, on Monday Nov. 14, 2022. 
Some of the key ingredients for the pozole recipe at Bombera in Oakland. 
Dried corn is a key ingredient for the pozole recipe at Bombera in Oakland. 
Bombera chef Dominica Rice Cisneros  tastes their latest batch of pozole, on Monday Nov. 14, 2022. 
Often enjoyed during holidays or celebrations, pozole dates back to pre-Spanish colonization, when the sacred dish was prepared for Aztec rulers. Today, pozole is best known as the ultimate Mexican comfort dish, made with tender hominy (dried corn kernels) — its key ingredient. At the base of every pozole is a pork or chicken broth (or both) that, depending on additional ingredients, can take up the colors of the Mexican flag: green, white or red.  
Rice-Cisneros prepares her aunt’s special chicken green pozole, which is made with a rich pork shank broth that’s enhanced with garlic, serrano peppers, jalapeños, cilantro and other spices. 
Once plated, the green pozole is garnished with crunchy cabbage slaw, onion relish and creamy avocado. It’s then served with fresh lime wedges and handmade tortillas on the side. 
Rice-Cisneros was in her mid-20s when she first tried green pozole. At the time, she worked as a chef at Berkeley’s seminal Chez Panisse, with plans to eventually open her own restaurant. After chatting with her cousins about her career goals, they insisted that she make their mother’s green pozole. 
Kitchen staff member Melida Rodriguez adds shredded chicken to the green pozole served at Bombera in Oakland. 
“We all got on the phone and jotted down Lupe’s recipe, and I was just blown away,” Rice-Cisneros said. “I served it to some of the chefs at Chez Panisse, and they loved it. When I opened Cosecha, I knew that was the pozole I wanted to showcase in Oakland.”
On a recent Thursday, Rice-Cisneros said that her kitchen staff scanned ticket orders and found that nearly every table had requested pozole. 
Across the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, Gonzalo Guzman diligently fulfills orders of red pozole at his popular restaurant Nopalito, located on Broderick Street. Recently, the Mexican restaurant has had an uptick in pozole orders, with an average of 35 bowls served every night during the past couple of weeks, when temperatures have dropped to 50 degrees.
“It’s a lot of orders when you look at all the items on our menu,” Guzman said. “During this time of year, people go crazy for it … but San Francisco weather is perfect all year-round for pozole.”
Guzman, who is from the southern part of Mexico, said he didn’t grow up eating the national stew but favors the classic red version, a regional standard from the state of Jalisco. At Nopalito, the stew is made with hominy, pork shoulder, and a pork broth infused with dry, crimson ancho chile and other spices. 
Gonzalo Guzman, chef-owner of Nopalito, offers classic red pozole at his San Francisco restaurant. The traditional stew is served with fried tortilla chips, purple radish, chopped onion, lime, and Nopalito spices. 
Unlike customary red pozole, Guzman said he ditches the dry guajillo chiles, which can pack a slightly bigger kick compared with its ancho chile counterpart. He prefers to focus on one pepper for his pozole and serves the bowls with a side of house-made tortilla chips, Mexican oregano, fresh onions, lime, purple radishes, and Nopalito spices made from guajillo and chile de árbol powder.
Of the dual styles Rice-Cisneros and Guzman make in abundance, I’m most familiar with the red version. Pozole has long been a staple in my own Mexican household and a dish my mother makes best. At 16 years old, she learned to make pozole in Mexico while helping her mother make the time-consuming dish from scratch. It all started with the nixtamalization of maize.  
Nixtamalization is the hourslong process of transforming dry corn kernels into hominy by using an alkaline solution (like lye or cal) that helps remove the corn’s tough exterior. 
Nopalito chef Gonzalo Guzman plates his pozole dish, on Nov. 15, 2022. 
Nopalito is located on Broderick St. near the Panhandle in San Francisco. 
An interior view of the bar area at Nopalito, in San Francisco, as seen on Nov. 15, 2022. 
Nopalito chef Gonzalo Guzman plates his pozole dish, on Nov. 15, 2022. 
During a process of boiling, soaking and deshelling, you’re looking at about eight to 10 hours of prep before the kernels become hominy, known for their soft yet firm center. Next, the fresh hominy is cooked in a flavorful broth for another two hours before it’s finally ready to eat.
During the stew’s preparation, my grandmother made a point to share stories of her childhood growing up in her hometown of Unión de Tula, Jalisco. Like many of her neighbors, my grandmother had a meager and humble upbringing where she began to work at the age of 8. 
Often, she’d miss school to assist her mother in making batches of red pozole, handmade tortillas and other classic dishes to sell to local farmers in the area to help make ends meet. For her, the cooking lessons with my mother were more than simply memorizing a recipe. They were about fortifying family history and preserving tradition.
The lengthy process of nixtamalization might seem daunting, but it’s a pivotal step that Rice-Cisneros and Guzman don’t overlook to ensure their pozoles reach optimal flavor.
“We try to make everything from scratch,” Guzman said. “It’s easier and less labor-intensive to buy a can of hominy … but I like to [nixtamalize the corn] myself because you can actually taste the corn. We nixtamalize it, and then we cook the corn for a couple of hours until it flowers.”
Nopalito chef-owner Gonzalo Guzman is pictured inside his Mexican restaurant at 306 Broderick St. in San Francisco. The restaurant makes classic red pozole with tender pieces of pork. 
Rice-Cisneros said her customers appreciate the extra steps she takes at Bombera to nixtamalize the corn. Both she and Guzman said that they source corn from Masienda, a wholesaler that partners with farmers in Oaxaca who cultivate heirloom maize in various colors. At home, Rice-Cisneros said she likes to use dehydrated pozole hominy from local Rancho Gordo to avoid the curing process without skimping on the flavor. 
Pozole is as diverse in color as it is with its toppings and even how it’s consumed. Guzman said that sometimes customers enjoy the spicy broth first and then leave the pork meat and hominy for last, which can easily be scooped up with tortilla chips. 
Rice-Cisneros has a different approach.
Not long ago, she made a fresh batch of pozole at home for her husband, who was feeling under the weather. She took it as a teaching opportunity for her daughter to show her how she ate pozole as a child. 
“Some families set pozole with tostadas, cream and chile on the side, but growing up with my family, I never did,” she said. “For me, it was always with corn tortillas that were hot, and I would roll them up into a tight tube and then dip it into the soup. That’s the way my grandmother and mother would serve it to me. So, when we serve pozole [at Bombera], it’s with fresh corn tortillas, not tostadas.”
Kitchen staff member Panfila Soltera makes tortillas at Bombera in Oakland, on Monday Nov. 14, 2022. 
The dining room of Bombera in Oakland, on Monday Nov. 14, 2022. 
The pozole dish at Bombera, in Oakland.
Pozole continues to be among the best sellers at Bombera and Cosecha during the chilly months — and, for Guzman and Rice-Cisneros, a stew with significance. Guzman is particularly drawn to the history of the ancient meal and how it’s remained a cornerstone of Mexican cuisine. 
“There’s so much about the story and about our culture in this soup that makes it so special,” Guzman said. 
As for Rice-Cisneros, pozole represents her heritage and a dish she plans to make for a long time. 
“This is the chain that’s never been broken for a thousand years,” she said. “And I’m not going to break my traditions. Pozole is my birthright.” 
Bombera, 3459 Champion Street, Oakland. Open Monday, Wednesday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m.; Nopalito, 306 Broderick Street, San Francisco. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday 4:30-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 4:30-10 p.m.
Susana Guerrero is a reporter for SFGATE covering the Bay Area’s food scene. She received an M.A. in journalism from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and earned a B.A. in English from UC Berkeley. She’s a Bay Area native. Email her at Susana.Guerrero@sfgate.com

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