Our Local Food Culture

For me, cooking is an expression of the land where you are and the culture of that place. - Wolfgang Puck
Whenever I am traveling, I enjoy the local culture via their food, music, art and language. The food that the locals call their very own is what I want.

When I was seven, my military father was transferred to Japan from Albuquerque. From Kirtland Air Force Base, my father was assigned to Yokota Air Force Base next to a Japanese town, Fusha Naka. While I did not realize the benefit initially, my mother, who was born in Lordsburg, New Mexico, for some reason wanted to live off base in the Japanese community. We learned passable Japanese and mostly ate Japanese meals. It was a gift to me for the rest of my life to have lived in a Japanese community, speaking Japanese, and participating as part of the community. We went full-local with the food which to this day I still highly treasure. I cook some Japanese dishes, though I discovered early on that some of the tastes of Japan are uncommon in our country. They seem to be an acquired taste. One person told me that a Japanese dish I presented was like licking the bottom of an aquarium, which seemed to be an odd thing to do.

For most of my adult life I have cherished the food and culture of Southern New Mexico. I simply love the vistas, music, language, smells, and tastes of this little slice of heaven. Have I lived here all my life? Not yet, but that is my plan. In the late 1980s, I moved from Las Cruces to Southern California. Ventura was my home for two years. There were three main problems: too many people, no blue sky and, horrors, no Green Chile. One day in a grocery store I saw what looked like Hatch Green Chile Peppers and my heart sang with joy. At home I Fire-Roasted a couple of peppers on my stove’s burner. The smell was great but when I placed the Chile on a hamburger, it had little or no capsaicin. Hence, it had no heat taste. It was an Anaheim Green Chile Pepper lacking a New Mexico Kick. I pitched the hamburger in the trash and sulked the rest of the night.

When I returned to Las Cruces I marveled at the exquisite blue sky and reveled in my daily dose of Green and Red Chile. The same is true today, thirty some years later. I love everything about Southern New Mexico. Even to the point that the dust windstorms do not really bother me. Or mosquitoes. I slap the dust away and if fast enough the mosquitoes and go get some good Chile for my food.

When you have visitors to our area, be sure to introduce them carefully to the full flavor and heat taste of our treasure, Green and Red Chile. We are not nice if we start people with Chile that is too hot for their taste buds so all they get is an incredible burn. Hint: give them some dairy to mitigate the burn. Start with mild Chile and let them acclimate over time to medium or hot. Add extra cheese to their enchiladas to help with the heat taste. A spoonful of sugar helps the heat to go out if need be. But they should get the Chile afterglow.

Our area is the Chile Capital of the World and the Great Taste Capital of my world. Every day and in every way, I hope you enjoy our food with Hatch Chile.

If you have any question or comments, please don't hesitate to reach out to me, Michael Swickard, by email at michael@freshchileco.com. Thank you for reading, and Eat More Chile!

Written by Michael Swickard, Ph.D.
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