Chimayo, New Mexico Restaurant & Cuisine - Savor the Cuisine
The cuisine of Chimayo and Northern New Mexico starts with chile pepper, in time-honored and
tested recipes handed down from generation to generation. And yes, that's chile with an "e" not an "i," to
differentiate it from the beef and bean stew of other regions.
Chile has been a staple crop for the Chimayo community for centuries, even acting as currency in trade for other goods in generations past. A small, crooked heirloom pepper with a mild but robust flavor, called the Chimayo chile, is now on the brink of extinction. An agricultural growing project is reviving the Chimayo chile strain and encouraging local farmers to preserve and protect it.
Today, chile varieties large and small find their way into everything from soups, stews, breads, jams and even sweets. Authentic village foods that must not be missed include homemade tamales, torta (egg patty), hand formed yellow, white and blue corn tortillas, posole (hominy stew), and enchiladas filled with beef, chicken or cheese.
No visit to Chimayo is complete without answering the question red or green, either. Referring to the stage of ripeness of the peppers and most often their heat level, one reply might be "which is hotter?" Adventurous diners should ask for a serving of both, called Christmas for the combination of colors. Nothing cools the heat of a chile like a honey-soaked sopapilla, and these lightly fried dough pockets make dessert an assemble your own experience. Stuffed with meat and vegetables, sopaipillas also become a main dish when smothered with red or green chile sauce.
Chimayo's early growing methods relied on river irrigation directed to small fields via acequias (water ditches). Today, these same traditional methods bring water to the fields during the valley's short growing season of about 150 days. Chimayo's local agricultural bounty centers on the three sisters of indigenous New Mexico - squash, beans and corn - with the addition of garlic and onions, and often, wild greens called quelites or lamb's quarters. Growers also cultivate treasured fruit orchards of apple, peaches and apricot, and harvest wild pinon (pine nuts).
Spanish settlers brought pigs and sheep with them, and the tradition of matanzas (community gathering of pig butchering) continues to this day. Chile, combined with all these food stuffs, has created a rustic cuisine known for its surprising complexity and unique flavors.
Suggested readings and references
- New Mexico Department of Tourism - newmexico.org/cuisine/chiles/chimayo