I love summer travel, but it is tough to leave the Pioneer Valley when there is so much ripe, local produce. The strawberry season has just ended and in the next few weeks raspberries and blueberries will ripen, as well as peaches, tomatoes, and corn.
Yet summer travel, any travel really, brings an opportunity to explore the local cuisine wherever you visit. At best you can enjoy delicious local food that you might never have tried. Even if you find nothing to your taste, you’ll appreciate even more the local products from your own region.
I recently travelled to New Mexico, where I lived as a young child. I have returned over the years to visit family in Las Cruces. Going back 40 years, there was little local food to celebrate (except pecans and chiles of course), fast food dominated the landscape. Our family trips would always include a trip to the sleepy downtown farmers market, which back then had more craft vendors than food. We always brought home a ristra (string of dried red NM chiles) and some New Mexican spices to cook with, plus some pecans.
The city of Las Cruces has grown since then and people now appreciate its unique cuisine (a mixture of Mexican, Native American and Texan) and local specialties. Any visit to Southern NM should include fire roasted green chiles, either as a sauce over enchiladas, pork chile or eggs; or whole as chile rellenos or on a chile burger. Don’t discount NM red chiles which have a deeper spice flavor that is sometimes hot and sometimes mild, they are cultivated here as well.
The best way to savor the difference between the two chiles is to order a dish “Christmas” style and they will split the dish with half red chile sauce and the other half green chile.
There are a number of familiar foods that are given a New Mexican twist, like kettle corn dusted with red chile powder that you can buy at the now expansive Las Cruces Farmers Market. Note that this is not the bland McCormick version but freshly ground, dried chile from the fields just outside of town. There are several micro breweries that serve good local beer alongside green chile burgers and green chile poutine. If you are in the NMSU neighborhood try Bosque Brewing Company. Another local favorite is frozen custard topped with roasted, salted local pecans and caramel sauce at Caliche’s; where you can even get green chile sauce for your custard.
On a recent trip to Southern NM, my cousin (a local) took us to a steak house way out in the midst of ranches (effectively the middle of nowhere) where the steak and smoked meats were tender and full of flavor: no sauce, just salt and pepper, grilled over mesquite- a fragrant local desert tree.
Whenever you travel, I recommend tapping into the local food scene: talk to locals at your inn, B and B, or cafe; stop into small local shops, and ask in restaurants about seasonal local specialties. You may not love everything you’ll try, but it’s likely to be fresh and served with a bit of local culture and a whole lot of pride.