Santa Fe, Frozen in Time I arrived in Santa Fe early on May 23, 1971. I remember it like it was yesterday. I drove in from Las Vegas, NM, where I had toured Highlands University for a NM State teacher’s credential. At the time, I knew that I wanted to...
The Long History of Great Food in Santa Fe
Santa Fe is a hybrid culture, a unique blend where the parts make up a greater whole. The traditions and foodstuffs of the pre-Columbian peoples, the stylistic influence of the Hispanic culture (both recent and hundreds of years old) and the modern fusion of contemporary upscale dining, all combine to form the distinctive and delicious elements of modern Santa Fe food.
The Puebloan peoples that inhabited the area we now call Santa Fe were, in many ways, defined by their diet and their farming activities. Other tribes and peoples that relied on subsistence hunting and gathering were forced to engage in a constant migration as they followed the brief periods of seasonal abundance, while the peoples who engaged in agriculture were able to become settled and develop agricultural surplus. These factors led to the complex society we call today Anasazi with its later development into the myriad Pueblo peoples that make up New Mexico.
The Puebloan diet was dominated by their staple crops of corn, beans, various gourds and chiles. Seeds and nuts such as acorns and pine nuts would be gathered to supplement the Anasazi diet. Despite domestication of the turkey and the dog, neither of these species seemed to have made up a significant source of dietary protein. Meat seemed to come predominantly from small pest species like mice and rabbits, with larger prey like deer or bighorn sheep being rarer.
Food required a great deal of preparation. Corn would be processed into a more nutritious form through an alkalization process that involved repeated soakings and boilings in solutions of lime chloride requiring significant amounts of labor. Following the process, known as Nixtamalization, the kernels were ready to be ground. Daily hours were spent grinding dried corn or seeds into flours which could be cooked over hot flat rocks, forming the precursor of today’s tortilla. The usage of pottery in cooking indicates that stews, soups and porridges likely made up most of the prepared diet. During the harsh New Mexico winters the Puebloans would rely on their stored and dried food, predominantly corn.
The Spanish brought with them their own cultures and food habits. They introduced multiple species of domesticated animals which greatly increased the proportion of meat in the native diets. They introduced crops like rice and brought the technology of cheese making with them.
The dominant Hispanic culture, with its emphasis on meats and cheeses, influenced the native cuisine and was, in turn, influenced by the agricultural innovations of the native people. Hybrid cuisine developed. The New Mexico enchilada, for example, is a prime example of this fusion. Traditional indigenous chili sauces and corn tortillas were melded with European foods such as cheese and chicken or pork to create a delicious hybrid cuisine.
For nearly 300 years the New Mexico territory was a largely neglected colonial backwater of New Spain, which led to isolation and the development of local culture and cuisine. This isolation accounts for the differentiation between New Mexico cuisine and the more familiar hybrids found in California and Texas.
The evolution of tastes and dining following the incorporation of New Mexico into the United States provided the final element in the hybridized cuisine of this region. Throughout the 20th century, new people brought their tastes and left their imprint on the diets of Santa Feans. In 1944, for example, Rosalea Murphy brought elements of traditional French and American cooking to Santa Fe in the form of the Pink Adobe. French Onion soups and Tournedos of Beef met Chili Rellenos and the resulting fusion cuisine continues to be popular. In 1978 Upper Crust Pizza brought the Italian-American classic to the city, incorporating local elements like Green Chili and Piñon nuts. Many chefs have brought their unique perspectives and influences to Santa Fe and have left their mark on the tastes and appetites here.
We pride ourselves in producing a well-balanced menu based on locally grown regional cuisine, presented artistically, to assure a memorable and nurturing dining experience. Regional classics like the chicken enchilada or empanadas with mole sauces meet dishes like the Alsatian Tart or the baked encrusted goat cheese. Specialties like the New Mexican Cobb salad coexist next to excellently realized classics like Caesar salads or onion puffs.