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The State of Our Cuisine

“New Mexico: We’ll Have What the Mexicans are Having!”

March 26, 2014, 9:15 am

Honey, let’s go out for Chinese tonight. Or maybe Thai?

No way, sweetie! I’ve got a hankering for New Mexican food!

If you live around here, then you know the tourism and restaurant folks keep pushing the notion that New Mexico has its own distinct cuisine.

That has never sounded quite right to me. How can a state have a cuisine? God didn’t intend food to be divided up state by state. That’s why you never say, “Let’s get us some yummy Vermont carry-out…”

Because I am a trained skeptic, I decided to do some research into this state cuisine deal.

I began with this newspaper. SFR named La Choza as the city’s best New Mexican restaurant in its “Best of Santa Fe 2012,” based on readers’ votes, so let’s check that menu. Hmmm, very interesting.  La Choza offers tacos, burritos, tamales, tostadas, green chile stew, quesadillas, posole…

So there is a New Mexican cuisine! But wait. For the sake of drama, let’s contrast that menu with the fare at El Parasol, which was SFR’s best Mexican restaurant for 2012. 

Ah. El Parasol serves up tacos, burritos, tamales, tostadas, green chile stew, quesadillas, posole…

Do you notice a certain similarity? Because I sure as hell do.

I broadened my research, and it got even more confusing. I looked up Best Santa Fe Mexican Restaurants on Urbanspoon, and No. 3 on their list is La Choza, which you will recall is supposed to be a New Mexican eatery! The line between these two cuisines is getting very blurry.

Could Yelp help? Nope, they also list La Choza as Mexican, as does TripAdvisor.com. Incidentally, La Choza calls its own food “Northern New Mexican,” but a lot of outsiders just don’t seem to understand the distinction.

Maybe instead of the names of dishes, I should look at the ingredients. Wikipedia says: “Chile, beans and corn have been described as the ‘basic ingredients of New Mexico cooking.’”

Chile, beans and corn, huh? Really, Wikipedia? Have you ever been to a Mexican restaurant? Because I’m pretty sure you’ll find that stuff in their kitchen, too.

So let’s see if I have this right. Mexican and New Mexican cuisines use the same ingredients to make the same dishes with the same names?

If you’re a devoted Santa Fe foodie, by now you’re screaming, “Bob, you moronic dumbass!  Our chiles make our cuisine unique!”

Really? Then why does the popular restaurant Mucho Gusto, which bills its food as Mexican, proudly serve its house-specialty burritos and enchiladas “with New Mexico green chile.”

My head is spinning here. I’m not saying New Mexican cuisine doesn’t exist, I’m just saying it’s pretty, pretty similar to Mexican food. 

Please don’t kill the messenger, but maybe our new state motto should be, “New Mexico: We’ll Have What the Mexicans are Having!”  

Calm down. It could be much worse. You could be living in Florida, officially the “I Can Shoot You and Get By With It” state. 

I’m keeping an open mind about all this. If you want to take me to dinner at a really good New Mexican restaurant to educate me, feel free. A pitcher of margaritas wouldn’t hurt, either.

Meanwhile, I’m going out tonight for Tex-Mex…


Robert Basler’s humor column runs twice monthly in SFR. Email the author: bluecorn@sfreporter.com


 

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