This is a partial photo of what I managed to put in my grocery basket after wandering the long aisles of 99 Ranch the other day, the grocery store for all things Asian in Plano. It’s like what Tang Freres in Paris would be if, I guess, it were here — a bigger, more inclusive, store with lots of space, and aisles so wide you could drive a Mini Cooper through.
It is always a good idea when in Spain to eat jamon Iberico de bellota, the ham that comes from the pata negra (black foot) pigs, who, by the way, are also black all over — which is in part why the meat is so dark, along with the acorns (bellota) that these free-ranging in the forests pigs eat.
As Paris has fleur de sel, piment d’Espelette, and hazelnut and walnut oils on the shelves of the most common of supermarkets, so, too, does Santa Fe have its own region-specific groceries. Like Paris, eating the area’s particular cuisine is part of what brings people here.
And it’s all about spicy. Green chiles. Red chiles. In all sorts of ways, and added to and poured over just about everything.
This is not Tex-Mex, people. These are not jalapeños, and even though the esteemed Scoville scale says that green chile is really not that hot, I am here to tell that it is. Green chile is hot, red chile is hot, it’s all hot, and it’s not to be just ordered willy-nilly, like you’re sitting at the El Fenix in Dallas, with a free basket of chips and salsa and big ol’ margarita in front of you, and you think it would be fun to give the hot chile a try.
Know that “mild” in New Mexico means kinda hot to HOT. Medium means VERY hot. Hot is for the locals.
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I LOVE green chile. I’ve just learned that mild is plenty hot and doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the green chile, which is wonderful. There is nothing like a fresh roasted Hatch chile.
I have hauled back frozen green chile to Texas and canned (gasp) green chile to Paris. It is one of the things I most miss when I’m not here. I usually bring back jars of the stuff if I’m not traveling too far. You see all of those black specs? That’s the roasted chile skins. I can eat this right out of the jar, all on its own. I put it on pizzas, in scrambled eggs, and on top of nachos, too. I plan to make green chile stew as soon as it gets really cold.
Green chile is also available in a crushed and powdered form at the local Albertson’s, where there’s an aisle pretty much devoted to all things New Mexican.
I’ve become a big fan of corn tortillas. These tortillas are light and slightly sweet, not heavy and dry like so many others. These will fit into a suitcase quite nicely, I think.
I am obsessed with coffee. This one isn’t strong strong strong, and has a mild piñon flavor. The bright red and orange packaging is catchy, and sort of the reverse of the New Mexican flag, which is mostly yellow with the red sun symbol of the Zia in the middle.
Pistachios are grown here, and you can find them all over the place. Who doesn’t love pistachios?
The Lobos are University of New Mexico’s mascot, and people are loco for the Lobos around here. Yes, it’s a clothing item and not something you eat, but remember, this is America, where you can buy just about anything anywhere. Plus it’s a great souvenir.
I like to make my own blue corn pancakes, but for those who don’t, this mix is an easily packable take-home gift. Sopaipillas, too, which you simply do not end a meal without here. I have no problems with that. Fried dough with honey? Yes, please.
And what would a sandwich be without green or red chile mustard?
Or peanut brittle? They were sampling this one day at the store and it’s also hot hot hot.
I’ve been buying this Albuquerque raw honey with the adobe on the label lately and I like it a lot. No cute bear containers, just the honey here. I guess Santa Feans know that bears are a very real thing around here and not to be put on the breakfast table.
And because we’re in Santa Fe, smudge sticks — to ward off evil spirits– are a grocery store staple. Eight bucks to keep away the bad seems like a bargain, when you think about it.
I’m all about downsizing right now — in my life and in my travels– so I’ve tried to come up with souvenirs that will easily slip into a suitcase without going over the weight limit. Of course, a pair of boots – vintage or brand new — is always fun, too, but this may require buying another piece of luggage to carry it home in. Not that I would ever do anything like that.