January 24, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Trips to the US

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.

6 Responses to “New Mexican food tastes better than it looks”

  1. Sabrina Says:

    I was laughing when I read your post 🙂 Tex-Mex in Texas was too spicy for me for the longest time – duh, I’m from Germany and white pepper is as spicy as it got in my mom’s kitchen. Then we went skiing in Taos, NM one year, went our for dinner, and I ordered a burrito with extra-mild green chili. I couldn’t actually eat it if you can believe it. It’s been a few years since then… I now figured out that you can order the chili on the side (so I can use much less than the locals) and I’ve had enough of it, so that my mouth doesn’t feel like it’s on fire every time I eat it 🙂 Soooo, solution for you? Come here more often! (And let me know if you do of course!)

  2. Erin Says:

    Oh, I can believe it. My friend and her husband who’ve lived there for three years seemed pretty unfazed, but I just couldn’t hang. Which was a pity, because I could tell the food was soooo good. I just couldn’t taste it, though, given that I felt like I should be taken to the emergency room! It’s definitely an acquired taste. Regardless, for what they lack in mildly spicy cuisine, they make up for with sweets – which is just fine by me!

  3. Sabrina Says:

    So true! By the way, I have a huuuuge sweet tooth, so I can’t believe I didn’t know about biscochitos. Have to try next time we go!

  4. Melinda Says:

    Once again great post, love the chili pepper photos! Just looking at the photos makes me want to go there and sample the food. Would also love for you and Jacobo to come to Templeton for wine and food pairings. Got your sweet note, we need a post about Paso Robles AVA wines! Last night Doug and I went to a fabulous wine pairing with 4 courses, unbelievable flavors – but I can’t describe it like you do! Hugs.

  5. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Says:

    Gorgeous shots! Thank goodness I don’t live there because I’d be 300 pounds!!!

  6. Erin Says:

    Melinda – I would LOVE to go to Templeton and talk food and wine pairings! The next time J and I are in CA, we must plan on it!

    Andi – too bad living in Spain isn’t any less tempting! It’s a miracle I don’t top out at 400 lbs!

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