Santa Fe is one of America's most popular foodie destinations because, just as the culturally diverse landscape offers a variety of options for exploration and adventure, there are worlds of culinary culture to delve into as well.
Many of the region's favorite foods represent a blending of the Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and New Mexican traditional foods, including a delectable variety of classics such as enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, tacos, tamales, and more. However, the key ingredient for local fare, from fine dining to home cooking, is the delightful addition of roasted, locally grown New Mexico red and green chile, or "Christmas," referring to a combination of both. Many a visitor to the land of enchantment has become an instant devotee to dishes smothered or infused with chile, which adds heat and heartiness to our foods, and spice to your life!
Native American foods in New Mexico represent a combination of influences from Pueblo Indian to Navajo to Apache. What is common among all of these? The preponderance of farm to table whole grain, organic foods. Many of our Native communities have their origins rooted in traditional farming, and preservation of seeds and raising livestock are part of the cultural history that live on to this day. Native peoples' seasonal religious activities and social dances are often tied to the planting, growing, and hunting seasons. Our Native neighbors are deeply connected to the land and the natural world. For example, animals such as bison and horses, are referred to as relatives. Gratitude is always expressed for the bounty of a good harvest and great respect is offered when an animal is butchered and prepared for cooking.
A hallmark of regional Native American foods are "The Three Sisters," which refer to corn, beans, and squash. These three staples can be found in many dishes and stews, as a key ingredient, or as a side. Sometimes, all three are even served together, hot or cold. The Three Sisters are even part of popular folklore and oral history in the area.
Whole grain blue corn comes from an ancient strain of seed, and is very high in protein content. For a memorable treat, try delicious blue corn flour pancakes, muffins, or blue corn enchilada huevos rancheros, served in many Santa Fe breakfast spots.
Traditional Native stews will warm your heart and your belly. Many of our local tribal celebrations and ceremonies share foods as a hallmark of hospitality. At a Pueblo feast day, for example, you will be treated to an array of dishes that will overwhelm your senses and arouse your appetite, and you will be encouraged to "eat good!"
Try the red and green chile, corn, garbanzo, and posole (hominy) stew, each has a unique character that features meats such as beef, pork, mutton, lamb, elk and buffalo. Delicious horno Pueblo oven bread loaves are served at every table and often dipped in stews, along with piping hot homemade flour tortillas and Hopi-influenced blue corn paper thin piki bread. You will also find green chile chicken and red chile beef enchiladas, baked in large pans, and a variety of side dishes that include everything from fruit dishes like ambrosia, bread pudding, and salads. Homemade flat fruit pies, sugar cookies, and fresh watermelon are among favorite desserts.
Popular specialty items that are sold in restaurants and at seasonal Native events such fairs, powwows, and arts markets, include Indian Tacos, made with famous Indian Fry-bread and Frito Pies, both loaded with meat, beans, chile, cheese and toppings. Giant grilled corn ears, pickles, and roasted turkey legs are also popular fair foods, along with flavored snow cones in the summer months.
Native American fine dining options include a fusion of contemporary and traditional recipes, as well as selections of wines from local vineyards. Specialty wines might even be flavored with, you guessed it, chile! For the savvy gourmand, Native chefs in local restaurants and hotels specialize in combining the elements, offering culinary delights with a Native twist. On the menu, you might find items such as Buffalo Carpaccio, Red Chile Corn Bisque, Bison Filet topped with blue-corn-encrusted fried onion rings, Green Chile Pinon Pasta Alfredo, Three Sisters Salad, Roasted Mutton Indian Taco, and locally harvested Baked Tewa Trout, just to name a few.
Roxanne Swentzell seated at an Horno Bread Oven with her book "The Pueblo Food Experience"
Discover what Santa Fe dining has to offer or if you would like to make some classic recipes, consider acquiring renowned Pueblo artist and farmer Roxanne Swentzell's The Pueblo Food Experience, which is chock full of savory recipes.
The options are endless—explore, experience, and try them all!
This blog was written in partnership with TOURISM Santa Fe and Rima Krisst, former Native American Tribal Liaison for the City of Santa Fe. (Rima Krisst photos)