Without a doubt, food in Albuquerque is diverse, and this is largely due to the vibrant history of New Mexico. Before the arrival of Europeans, New Mexico's current borders overlapped the areas of the Navajo, Mescalero, and Chiricahua tribes. When the Spaniards brought their food, the Spanish cuisine mingled with the indigenous cuisine. Because of this blending of cultures, chile, beans, and corn became the staples of New Mexican cuisine.
But New Mexico's claim to fame is New Mexican chile in red and green varieties. When New Mexicans refer to chile, they don't mean Tex-Mex Chili. They mean the sauce made from the New Mexican chile plant.
The New Mexican chile, especially when harvested as green chile, is perhaps the single most unique ingredient of New Mexican food compared to neighboring Southwestern styles. Chile is New Mexico's largest agricultural crop. Probably the thing many people do not know is that the red chile and green chile are actually from the same plant. They are not different varieties of chile; they are just at different points of maturity. The green chile is immature and will turn red as it ripens.
After green chiles are picked unripened, they are fire-roasted and peeled before further use. During chile season, you can find drums of roasting chile on the streets of Albuquerque. New Mexico green chiles are simply a variety of Anaheim peppers, and can range from mild to hotter than habaneros, and come in grades of spiciness at markets that cater to chile aficionados. The climate of New Mexico tends to increase the capsaicin levels in the chile compared to other regions.
Generally more piquant than green chiles, red chiles too can be roasted, but are usually dried. Red chiles can be added whole to spice an entire dish, but more often than not, they are ground into powder or sometimes flakes.
Red chile sauce is made from blending the dried chile pods with garlic and other ingredients. Freshly dried red chiles are sold in string-bound bundles called ristras, which are a common decorative sight on porches and in homes and businesses throughout the Southwest. Ristras are thought to ward off evil.
Within New Mexico, you can find green chile on everything, including the expected enchiladas and burritos to the less expected french fries, burgers, pizzas, and bagels. Many national American chains, including McDonald's, add chile to the standard menu.
Loren, the owner of New Mexico's own ChileMonster.com, describes it best when she says, "New Mexico chile is a culture. The food of the Land of Enchantment is a tapestry of Native American, Mexican, and Spanish foods. Add the local New Mexico Chile and you have pure lust and craving. Chile is truly the heart and soul of New Mexico, and is expressed in so many ways, from the Officially Designated State Question, 'Red or Green' to Hatch, NM being called the 'Chile Capital of the World.'"
Other distinctive components pf New Mexican cuisine include blue corn (particularly tortillas), posole (a hominy stew), stacked enchiladas (instead of rolled), and sopapillas topped with honey.
While not everything is spicy, Burquenos do love their hot food! Albuquerque is home to the annual Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show.
Called the hottest show on earth, the Fiery Foods Show comes to Albuquerque every March, and attracts thousands of spice-loving visitors to the most-visited spicy foods and barbecue show in the world. Over 200 vendors and exhibitors offer over a thousand different products.
If you love barbecue, you'll be pleased to hear about the annual Pork & Brew State BBQ Championship. This outdoor event brings together over fifty barbecue teams to heat things up compete for the title of barbecue champion.
Though New Mexico's claim to fame is chile culture, there is originality in the cuisine that makes people come back for seconds.