May 28, 2011, 3:29 PM
Post #14 of 15
First of all, DavidHF, You are mixing up New Mexican cuisine with Mexican cuisine. New Mexican cuisine IS a regional Mexican cuisine, at least it was until February 2, 1848 when New Mexico became part of the United States.
But since New Mexico was actually physically separated from what is now México by hundreds of miles of rather forbidding desert (the Chihuahua desert), the Spaniards who settled in northern New Mexico pretty much developed their own unique cuisine (as did the similarly isolated Spaniards in the Yucatán) based primarily on corn (nixtamalizado), chiles (particularly dried, red chiles), squash (and other indigenous foods), and the European vegetables, spices and beef they brought with them.
As Spaniards, with very little contact with the growing mestizo culture of México, they actually were a quite different culture in many ways and non-participants in the 1810-1821 War of Independence. And you must remember, they were really only part of México for the 27 years between Independence and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo when they, quite peacefully (with little exception), became a part of the United States. As late as the 1950s, it was still nearly "fighting words" to call a native Spanish-speaking New Mexican a "Mexican". They were, and in some cases still are, "Spanish" or "Spanish-Americans", and they still resent being called "Mexican" or "Chicano". Interestingly enough, many were "conversos" and the very recent studies and identification of some families' traditions as having Judaic origins (in all of México and New Mexico) actually began in New Mexico. The fact that many were conversos may explain why no mestizo culture grew up in this distant outpost of New Spain.
After being opened to trade with the U.S. after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, other European foods, particularly wheat and wheat flour became common and the New Mexican cuisine drifted further and further from any particular purely Mexican regional cuisine. Even the most common "salsa" in New Mexico came to depend on canned tomatoes (about the only recipe in "traditional" New Mexican cuisine that is tomato based.) As late as the 1960s it was still a shock to many northern New Mexicans how different the regional Mexican cuisine in the closest Mexican city, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, was from northern New Mexican cuisine.
Of course the coming of the gringo tourists, something that began in the 1920s and grew exponentially after the Second World War, the local cuisine began to change, at least in the restaurants seeking the tourist business, and this change was accelerated by the influx of transplants from the eastern U.S. from the 1960s onward, until now, native Spanish-speaking New Mexicans are less than 50% of the population, and the gringoized, tourist style, "Mexican" restaurants far outnumber the authentic New Mexican ones.
However, authentic New Mexican cuisine is still relatively easy to find in the Spanish-speaking neighborhoods of northern New Mexico from Socorro at the southern end, Taos (maybe-it has become pretty touristy) at the northern end, Gallup at the west, Cuba at the northwest, Mora at the northeast and Tucumcari on the east.
For chinagringo in Albuquerque, he should check out the small restaurants in the neighborhoods Martineztown and Five Points, and also in the little town of Bernalillo only 15 miles to the north. He will find authentic New Mexican cuisine there, but yes, as it was from the beginning, it is heavily based on dried red chile, although with the coming of inexpensive refrigeration, green chile, formerly a very, very seasonal food (August-September) has become available to locals as well as the country.
There's lots more I could write about New Mexican cuisine, particularly the growth of the gringo "green chile cult", but enough is enough.
(This post was edited by mazbook1 on May 28, 2011, 3:53 PM)