15 Signs You Grew Up Eating (New) Mexican Food in New Mexico

Categories: Mexi Meals

Smothered burrito bought from a food stand during the Hatch Chile Festival--OLD SKOOL...
While everything New Mexican is in right now because of Breaking Bad and the emerging hipster paradise that is Albuquerque, longtimers of the Land of Enchantment know better than to let hype ruin their culture. After all, this vast, epic state has been on-and-off trendy since the days of Charles Fletcher Lummis, through Georgia O'Keefe and the Southwestern cuisine movement of the 1980s, exporting New Mexico's resources for easy consumption in the form of terrible salads and turquoise. But while fads come and go, NM remains as confoundedly beautiful as ever--especially when it comes to its foodways.

It's a hell of a land, with food that seems familiar to non-New Mexicans as Mexican food but that New Mexicans know as New Mexican food, which is a bit Mexican but not completely Mexican...um, what? Let us explain this and other subtleties in the following listicle that should be a valuable lesson for non-New Mexicans and a validation for New Mexicans...enjoy!

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15. You've Never had a Santa Fe or Southwestern Chicken Salad in Your Life

Mickey D's Southwestern salad

During the 1980s, as I always explain in my lectures on Mexican food, it seemed every other "Mexican" restaurant had agaves out front and statues or silhouettes of howling coyotes or Kokopelli inside. The last national remnant of that era is something alternately called the Southwestern or Santa Fe salad, usually with chicken in it. When I gave a lecture at the legendary Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe some years back, I asked the audience if anyone had ever had such a salad; no one raised their hand. When I told everyone about how the salad now represents New Mexican cooking nationwide, people got PISSED.

14. Your Grandparents did Matanzas, Your Parents Saw Them--But You Only Know About Them Through Books

Photo by Professor Salt
Behold, the snout!

Matanzas are an Hispano tradition in which a pig is slaughtered, then processed to become food, lard, and everything else to last a village through the rest of the year--I wrote about it in my ¡Ask a Mexican! column some years back. It's been the stuff of academic discussion, folklore documentation, documentaries--and it's a quickly disappearing way of life, although the current locavore movement is interested in keeping the tradition alive. But more on that in a bit...

13. Reading the Word "Panocha" on a Menu Doesn't Make You Snicker

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Panocha from Chimayó, which makes it holy panocha...

Panocha is a sprouted-wheat pudding made with brown sugar that pops up in New Mexican restaurants during Lent, which is now. In Mexican Spanish, however, "panocha" is slang for "pussy," leading to many hilarious misunderstandings over the decades. Here's my treatise on the subject in my ¡Ask a Mexican! column--oh, how I love sweet, sweet panocha!

12. Your Favorite Cookies are Biscochitos

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Biscochito stand somewhere...

This anise-flavored, usually star-shaped, cookie is a Christmas tradition so beloved across the Land of Enchantment that the New Mexican government deemed it the state's official cookie--the first cookie in the country ever to earn such an honor. Take THAT, Famous Amos!

11. You've Been "Eating Local" for Over 400 Years

Wikimedia Commons
Santuario de Chimayó

New Mexican food is the oldest regional American cuisine in the United States, beating those pilgrims of Plymouth by more than half a century. By necessity, New Mexican food was about local and organic long before hipsters made it cool. And the locavore movement means that New Mexican cuisine is probably treasured now more in the state than at any point in a generation. Even better? Actual New Mexican cuisine--as opposed to the excesses of the Southwestern cuisine movement during the 1980s--is starting to become popular nationwide, as evidenced by the cult of the Hatch chile roast--which we'll get to in a bit...

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