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 represents a combination of influences from Pueblo Indian to Navajo to Apache. What is common among all of these, is 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 have sharing of 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!”
From 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 home-made 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. Home-made 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. Check your local listings for Native American fine dining, and if you would like to take some classic recipes home with you, consider acquiring renowned Pueblo artist and farmer Roxanne Swentzell’s new book, 'The Pueblo Food Experience', which is chock full of savory recipes.
The options are endless— explore, experience, and try them all!
There is so much to see and eat during your stay in The City Different. Start planning your trip to Santa Fe by ordering the Santa Fe travel guide. While Santa Fe holds many secrets to be discovered, we want to share with you all the deals and specials our Santa Fe businesses have to offer you.
This blog was written in partnership with TOURISM Santa Fe and Rima Krisst, Native American Tribal Liaison for the City of Santa Fe. (Rima Krisst photos)