With a picture like that to the left, it’s fair to say that New Mexican food tastes better than it looks. And don’t be fooled, that mess of a plate will set your mouth on fire too. After last week’s overview on my get-to-know-you session with the “Land of Enchantment”, now it’s time to talk food.
Red and green chile sauce
Expect most all New Mexican dishes to come with a serving of red or green chile sauce for dipping or dousing. We’re not talking about that canned stuff that you like to put cheddar cheese on, but instead salsas made of the hot chiles themselves. However, this is no harmless condiment; the sauce tastes borderline-torture hot, unless you’re a local and extra-used to having your mouth feel like it’s on fire (even you California Mexican-food buffs will likely find yourselves scrambling for a glass of something to wash away the pain). And these aren’t just any chiles, but rather indigenous varieties that locals proudly consider uniquely superior. New Mexicans like to down their picante poison by putting it on or mixed with just about anything. No dish is safe, and neither is your mouth. (The above hideous-looking dish is mixed with various chile sauces.)
New Mexican cuisine isn’t all spice and heat – it also has a softer and sweeter side. To combat the battle-zone of hotness that is your mouth, nosh on the ubiquitous sopapillas. Forget Mexican tortillas, this fried and puffy flatbread typically comes with a bottle of honey to elevate you to new levels of food euphoria. You’ll be happy to forgo the basket of bread when served this side reminiscent of funnel cake or beignets. In related news, since my trip to NM, I’ve become convinced that honey is a logical condiment for just about anything. That, and peanut butter (duh).
I’ve got a soft spot in my heart, or perhaps my stomach, for empanadas, which are Northwestern Spain’s pie-like pastry stuffed with savory concoctions made of meat, tuna or cod. Then New Mexico comes along with their sweet version, complete with “heat up and serve me”-worthy fillings made of peach, blueberry, or, holy-get-in-my-mouth-awesomeness like sweet potato. Sprinkled with sugar, the eat-on-the-go pastries will almost make you forget the fire still radiating from your mouth.
And finally, no trip to 100-year-old New Mexico would be complete without a pig-out fest on the state cookie (yeah, they have an official cookie!). Inhaling a biscochito, you might be reminded of a light shortbread cookie, with a hint of fennel, and dusting of sugar. To my now uber-Spanish palette, it seemed more like a thin version of Spain’s mantecados. Whatever they resemble, the final verdict is in: I want more and I want it often.
As I shared in last week’s post, there’s a lot more to New Mexico than the food. But just the temptation of these few treats seems reason enough to start training your mouth for a chile marathon, and your stomach for a biscochito fiesta.
*Please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page to see more pictures from my trip to New Mexico.